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The History of St Mary’s Willenhall

The history documented here is almost exclusively taken from “St Mary Willenhall 1864 - 1964”, which was researched and produced for the 1964 Millennium celebrations by the late Arthur James Morris and the “The Archdiocese of Birmingham Archives”. The history of St Mary’s is extensive, with numerous benefactors and workers, many lost in the mists of time, so apologies to anyone who is not mentioned.

February the 14th marked a great occasion for the people of Willenhall. A Chapel of Ease was established, on the site where now stands St. Giles, as part of the prebend of the Wolverhampton Collegiate Church by Mr. Richard Gervaise.
William-in-the-Lone was the resident Priest at Willenhall.
Fr. Hugh Bromehall is recorded as possessing a house and land worth eight marks.
William Leveson is recorded as being the Prebendary, dwelling with the Bishop at Exeter, holding the glebe lands and tithes. It would appear then that Willenhall was, at that time, in the diocese of Exeter, but one cannot be sure.
C 1533
Priest-in-charge (curate) Richard Greene.
Priest-in-charge (curate) Richard Bradely (afterwards at Walsall).
Priest-in-charge (curate) Hugh Bromehall.
As a result of the Reformation Willenhall Church ceased to be Catholic
Venerable Francis Leveson, Willenhall's own Catholic martyr, died at the age of 34, of gaol fever at Worcester prison, while awaiting death for 'his part in the imaginary Titus Oates Plot'.
C 1680
Richard and Edward Leveson both brothers of the Venerable Francis, held a school at the house of Mr. Luson (old name for Leveson) in Willenhall until raided and the boys found handed over for Protestant 'protection and bringing up'.
Mary and John Leveson appear on the 'recusants register').
Move towards setting up a new church at Bilston (Holy Trinity) said to have been motivated by the sterling work in Bilston by three Catholic priests from Wolverhampton, Fathers O'Sullivan, Mostyn and Ross, during the disastrous cholera epidemic.
Bilston church opened on 11th September with Father Thomas Sing as the first priest. This became the church for the Catholics of Willenhall.
C 1853
Willenhall 'mission' set up at the bottom of Union St.
12th November First stone laid for Hall St Church followed by procession headed by E. W. Pugin.
The Rev John Clarke recorded as being at Willenhall.
Documents state that 'The school at Willenhall is also to be in their (Convent of Our Lady of Mercy - Cheadle) charge'.
Under the direction of the Rector, Fr. Peter Davies of Holy Trinity, Bilston, the chapel-of-ease, dedicated to St. Mary, was opened in Hall St Willenhall and served from Bilston. This was designed by the architect E. W. Pugin. The Chapel was described as having side aisles and six pillars and originally had no adjoining presbytery.
Willenhall becomes a Parish with the Rev. John Clarke (1864 - 1867) as its first Priest. It was customary in those days to form a school for the local Catholic children which would be held in the Chapel itself and this was how Catholic Education started in Willenhall. Before it could receive a Government Grant the Priest himself was the unpaid teacher
7th November - First Holy Matrimony, Bernard Qualter and Bridget Murtough.
25th December - First Baptism in new Church, John Bird by Fr. Clarke.
20th September - The Rt. Rev. William Bernard Ullathorne, Bishop of Birmingham holds the first Confirmation. 74 candidates confirmed.
Property adjoining church bought and school formed.
Rev. Joseph Redington (1871 - 1873) becomes Parish Priest and it was during his time that serious thoughts about a proper school were mooted and he, together with the next two succeeding priests, worked hard to bring this about
New School in Hall Street first recognised for Government Grant and the services of a Certificated teacher obtained.
Main Room in School enlarged.
Rev. Abraham Bromley Crane, (1880 - 1882), proposed modifications to the church wishing to build a gallery and close the existing entrance and make a new one at the side.
School staff increased to Head teacher, one assistant and one pupil teacher.
Separate room provided for Infants and staff again increased to a Head teacher, 2 uncertificated Teachers and two monitors
Responsibility for Darlaston transferred to St Mary's by Bishop Ullathorne.
During the tenure of the Very Rev. Walter Philip Hanley (1895 - 1905) a site in Cemetery Road was acquired for the construction of St Mary's school
Building commenced on the new School and presbytery in Cemetery Road. The foundation stone was laid on 22nd November 1897.
13th June - New School officially opened by 'the Bishop.'
In this year Fr. Hanley left Willenhall and was followed by Rev. William P. Wells (1905 - 1906) who carried on the work instigated by Fr. Hanley which was later to result in a new church, built in the austere Early English style from designs by Canon A. J. C. Scoles.
New church built and opened in Leveson Street on February 4th.
Rev. William P. Poulton (1906 - 1912) requests from Canon Glancey a 'free hand' in the matter to dispose of 'at least a part of this wretched property {the Hall St Church} which is a dead loss to the mission'.
New Altar and 'Reredos' installed in memory of Mrs M. A. Tarbuck.
It appears that the Hall St property has been leased as The Rev. Poulton writes 'The lessee of the old church at Willenhall, a cinematograph man, wishes to make alterations in the building.' The building became The White City, 'a place of entertainment, music hall and moving pictures' under the management of Mr. Fred Redfern. With the improvements in films it became dedicated to 'moving images.'
Very Rev. Francis Joseph Ryan D.D. (1912 - 1936) took over from Fr. Poulton and took the parish through the dreadful war years of 1914-1919 when he never ceased to inspire and comfort.
Darlaston established as an independent parish (St. Joseph) by The Most Reverend Dr McIntyre Archbishop of Birmingham.
It was in Dr. Ryan's time that a gallery was erected in the Church and a fine pipe organ installed. On the 28th of September the organ was played for the first time.
On the 11th of January, the Society of St. Vincent De Paul at Willenhall came into being. It commenced with eight active Brothers.
On the 11th of April S.V.P. received a Letter of Aggregation. Bro. A. V. E. Hodgson, who was for many years President of the Wolverhampton Particular Council of the S.V.P., became Willenhall's first President. He was a man of great kindness. The first Secretary was Brother C. MacLaughlan and the first Treasurer Brother F. Owen.
Catholic Women's League formed by ladies of Willenhall parish. Mrs. P. Kelly was the founder President, Miss C. Marren the Secretary and Mrs. C. Hill the Treasurer.
A new Acts of Parliament brought about a major change in Education. Pupils began to be divided into Junior and Senior Schools, the Senior Schools having their own facilities for such new subjects as Domestic Science and Boys' Handicrafts.. With his usual foresight, Dr. Ryan purchased an adjacent factory (Marston's Lock Factory), which had closed during the serious trade recession, for Educational purposes.
Social Club first formed and run by the S.V.P in the ex. Marston factory. Billiard tables were installed and it quickly became a popular rendezvous for the young people of the parish.
Inaugural meeting of the Social Club held and a Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Mr. Urban Hickin to run the club and in March of that same year a license was granted by the local magistrates and a bar installed for the sale of alcoholic drinks.
S.V.P. gave up running the Social Club and its running reverted to a members committee. The lower rooms of the Premises were taken over for Educational purposes and became a Woodwork/ Domestic Science Room.
The lower rooms of the building were taken over for the exclusive use of the schools and became an extension of the same. In this way Catholic Education was able to keep pace with the trend of the times.
Following the sad death of Dr. Ryan the Rev. J. J. Cregan (1936 - 1957) took over the running of the parish. He quickly realised that the School annex in the Institute could only be, at the best, a temporary arrangement and he began the long effort of raising funds for a new Secondary School. He envisaged a school to be proud of and it is largely through his heroic efforts that the Ven. Francis Leveson School was built.
The original choir loft above the sacristy in the west wall was closed off and incorporated into the presbytery which also underwent extensive rearrangements.
St. Mary's Boys Brigade disbanded.
Catholic Women's League disbanded, because of war-time difficulties.
Rev. Glynn arrives to become curate to an ill Fr. Cregan and became parish priest (1957 - 1962) upon Fr. Cregan's death.
Fr. Glynn's leadership inspired the reforming of the Boys' Catholic Brigade, an organisation which had made a name for itself during Dr. Ryan's time. So successful did this become that the Girls' Catholic Brigade was formed and has more than proved itself. With its magnificent Pipe Band it became a by-word in the district.
St. Mary's Boys Brigade re-formed.
27th January - Parish branch of the Legion of Mary set up.
12th of March - Union of Catholic Mothers formed under the Presidency of Mrs. C. Amos, assisted most ably by the Secretary Mrs. D. Turpin and the Treasurer Mrs. C. Leeson.
St. Mary's Girls Brigade became St. Mary's Catholic Pipe Band.
Major extension to the Catholic Social club was completed.
In April, the new Venerable Francis Leveson School was opened by the Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Reverend Humphrey Bright for all the children of secondary age from Holy Trinity, Bilston; St. Mary's, Willenhall; St. Joseph's. Darlaston, and Corpus Christi, Wednesfield. This marked the culmination of effort started in the 1930's.
Fr Glynn left the parish and after a short period served by Dr. Duffy and Fr. Keating the parish saw the arrival of Fr. Brewster.
Organ rebuilt thanks to the efforts of the Union of Catholic Mothers who raised, entirely by their own efforts, the monies needed for the rebuilding (over 200 pounds). Their efforts also allowed the purchase of the beautiful vestments used at Solemn High Mass on the occasion of the Centenary Jubilee.
Centenary Year.
Four stained-glass windows in the sanctuary, carefully executed by Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham, were installed to commemorate the Centenary of the Church and show representations of the Ven. Francis Leveson and St. George in the East wall and Our Lady and St. Thomas of Canterbury in the West wall.
'St Mary Willenhall - A Short History' produced by Arthur James Morris - 12thSeptember 1964.
February 16th - Mass centre set up in the 'Laureate Room' in the 'Poets Corner' public house to serve the Catholics of Short Heath and New Invention courtesy of Mr William Henry Chamberlain M.B.E. This was served from Corpus Christi church Wednesfield.
St. Edmund Gennings Church opened.
Windows, donated by the Union of Catholic Mothers, dedicated to St Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne installed in the East wall of St. Mary's church.
C 1969
Window dedicated to St. Vincent de Paul, donated by the SVP, together with a window dedicated to St. Jude, donated by Mrs. D. Taylor, installed in the East wall of the church.
C 1970
Windows dedicated to St. Teresa of Lisieux and St. Anthony of Padua installed in the East wall of the church.
Laurie Hicken presented with the Benemerenti Medal upon his retirement as choir master.
St. Edmund Gennings was dedicated on Saturday 11th December 1971 by the Rt Rev. Joseph F. Cleary, Bishop of Cresima.
Mr Bernard Smith and Mrs Henrietta Smith both presented with the Benemerenti Medal for devoted service to Corpus Christi (Edmund Gennings) and previously to St Peters.
A double window dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, donated in memory of William and Christian Marren installed in the West wall.
Despite reaching membership numbers in excess of 70 each the popularity of the Boys and Girls brigades began to wane in the early 1970's and despite an attempt to merge both organisations they were eventually wound up in the mid 1970's
With the departure / retirement of long standing committee members, the membership and activities of the UCM and Legion of Mary declined and both were disbanded.
St. Francis Leveson school combined with Francis Martyn school and is renamed St Thomas More School.
Fr. George Brewster left the parish and was followed for a short period by Fr. Michael McKenna who left after becoming ill.
Fr Martin Meagher became Parish Priest.
C 1978
St. Mary's Cub Pack set up.
Mr Arthur Fallon presented with the Benemerenti Medal in recognition of 58 years as an altar server.
Fr Meagher leaves the parish an is replaced by Fr. Brendan Joseph Carrick.
St. Mary's Junior School closed due to high maintenance costs. Pupils transferred to adjacent parish schools.
Mr. Patrick Biggins presented with the Benemerenti Medal for his many years as headmaster at St. Mary's School.
St Mary's Catholic Social Club closed as un-economical.
C 1988
St. Mary's Scouts and Cubs disbanded.
Church social functions carried out in remaining section of demolished primary school despite the poor condition of the roof etc.
Mr. Thomas Bradley presented with the Benemerenti Medal for services to the parish.
Fr. Dominic Joseph Kavanagh becomes Parish Priest.
Building fund set up to raise monies to build a church hall and other civil works. This fund was financed by donations, social functions and the '100 club.'
On 6th December 1990 the Guild of St. Stephen was established at St. Mary's.
C 1990
The Legion of Mary re-established under Fr. Kavanagh. Was again disbanded after about 5 years.
New 'Parish Hall' opened adjacent to St. Mary's Presbytery.
Church and parishioners of St Edmund Gennings transferred to the Parish of St Mary.
Mr. Charles Sims presented with the Benemerenti Medal for devoted service on the altar.
Mrs. Teresa Walford presented with the Benemerenti Medal for services as school governor and long standing work in the parish.
Mrs Monica Higginson presented with the Benemerenti Medal for services to the church.
This year saw the arrival of Fr. Frank J. Toole, a widower and late entrant into the priesthood, who took over from the Rev Dominic Joseph Kavanagh.
Mr. Charles Sims presented with the Guild of St Stephen Gold Medal for 50 years membership as an altar server.
Work commenced on the opening of new main doors in the north wall of the church and installation of a porch / vestibule by Fr. Frank. Unfortunately prior to the works completion Fr. Frank died in hospital shortly after celebrating Holy Mass at St Edmund Gennings on the 29th August.
Fr Paul Wyn Edwards appointed Parish Priest.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols celebrated mass at St. Mary's at the 100 year celebration of the building of the church in Leveson Street.
Mr. Thomas Bradley presented with the Guild of St Stephen Gold Merit Medal for 50 years as an altar server.
Fr. Paul Edwards leaves St. Mary's and is replaced by Fr. Michael Amalados.
A refurbishment of the church floor and presbytery undertaken with the church floor being re-instated to 'as new' condition.
Internal porch installed in 2004 extended across the width of the church to incorporate the 'welcoming area', repository, book storage and notice boards.
On Friday 10th May The Right Rev. David McGough celebrated the silver jubilee of the ordination of Fr. Michael Amalados.
Mr. Thomas Bradley receives a certificate and medal to recognise his 60 years service to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society (SVP).
On the 24th December The Right Reverend David McGough concelebrated the Christmas Vigil Mass and launched the Anniversary year of the formation of St. Mary's Parish in 1864.
The period from 25th December 2013 to 12th October 2014 was celebrated as the 150th Anniversary Year of the founding of the Parish of St. Mary Willenhall and was marked by a series of special events.
On Sunday 12th October 2014 a celebration mass was held to mark the 150th year anniversary of the founding of St Mary's Parish at which Archbishop Bernard Longley presided.
On Sunday 26th July 2015 Bishop McGough celebrated the final mass to be held at the church of St. Edmund Gennings New Invention before its closure after 48 years.
With effect from Monday 26th October 2015 Fr. Amalados became Parish Priest in charge of St. Joseph's Darlaston, in addition to his duties at St. Mary's.