History of the Church
By Canon Mervyn Tower, Parish Priest at Corpus Christi, Headington, Oxford.
The first Parish Mass in Headington was celebrated at Easter 1932 by Fr. Fabian of Greyfriars. For about three years after this a Sunday Mass was celebrated at 9.00am for a congregation of thirty to forty in a café in New High Street. In 1935 Christmas Midnight Mass was celebrated in the parish hall of All Saints, Highfield and thereafter for a short time in a room in Bury Knowle Library. By this time the Catholic population was estimated to be about 150.
A Parish Committee was active from 1934. The Chairman, W.F. Gillan, was a bus inspector, the Treasurer, E.E. Bateman, was Clerk of Works to the Warneford Hospital and the Secretary, R.E. Harvard was a medical doctor. All three signed a circular letter, dated April 1935, appealing for building funds. Their letter included the following:
‘The Catholic population of the proposed parish consists almost entirely of artisans and labourers with very little money to spare even when in work. The existing parishes in Oxford are heavily in debt and consequently unable to spare us much from their own limited resources.’
Nonetheless, the first Parish building to be completed was the hall in 1936 so that, as the records describe, ‘the people could have a proper place for Mass on Sundays and for fund raising on weekdays’. Fr. William Flint had been sent by the Archbishop of Birmingham in November 1935 and Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new Parish Hall on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 12th June 1936. Thereafter there were two Sunday Masses at 8.00 A.M. and 11.00 A.M. Meanwhile Fr. Flint lived with the Salesian Fathers at Cowley but is reported to have slept for some time in the kitchen area of the parish hall.
With the help of an anonymous donation of £1,250, the first stage for the plans for the Church, drawn up by Gilbert Gardner FRIBA, began to be executed. Cardinal Hinsley blessed the foundation stone on October 1st 1936 and a solemn opening by Archbishop Williams took place on February 18th 1937. The entrance to the Church was originally on the South side where the statue of the Sacred Heart now stands.
Partly because of World War II and the scarcity of money and materials, the second stage of the original plan was not completed until 1953. Oak benches were acquired for a total of £1,246 and Fred Brown, a parishioner at that time, carved the baptismal font. The simplicity of style of the Church has been described as ‘Californian Romanesque’.
The existing Altar and Lectern, in French limestone, executed by Geoff Coppock, date from May 1980 and stone coping over the windows was completed in 1981. The baptismal font was repositioned and the porch where the baptistery used to be was opened up in 1982. A new boundary wall for the Church dates from 1983 and most of the existing garden was designed by Nicholas and Pam Coote in 1985.