31 July 2018:

Blue Plaque unveiled to commemorate first Catholic Parish in Oxford

On Tuesday 31 July, Bishop William Kenney unveiled a blue plaque in Angel Court, St Clement’s Street, on the former St Ignatius Chapel which was the first Roman Catholic Church in Oxford after the Reformation.  The Chapel was built in 1793 through the inspiration and commitment of Fr Charles Leslie SJ, who was a member of the small Jesuit mission in Waterperry whilst living with the Catholic Curson family in Waterperry House; the Chapel was dedicated to the Founder of the Society of Jesus, St Ignatius Loyola.  Fr Leslie celebrated Mass on alternate Sundays at Waterperry and St Ignatius for the small Catholic community, now free in law to attend Mass after the 1791 Catholic Relief Act.  Thus the post-reformation mission of the Catholic Church in Oxford began in Waterperry, within the current Parish Boundary of Corpus Christi, and so the Parish can rightly claim to be the mother mission for the Church in Oxford.

But the association of St Ignatius Chapel with the Parish is stronger still because the adjacent house and Chapel became part of St Joseph’s School.  Founded in 1869 as St Ignatius School, it was renamed as St Joseph’s in 1932 with both primary and secondary years, the secondary school moving to St Edmund Campion in 1958.  However, the primary school remained on the St Clement’s site until 1968, when it moved to its present site on Headley Way.

The ceremony was attended by Sr Bianca of the International Centre for Neman Friends in Littlemore, Mrs Sue Tomkys, headteacher of St Joseph’s, Sr Marie Ann and Canon Mervyn (photograph above), and many people from the parish.  Among the particular guests were current parishioners, Gerald Fulham and his sister, Anne Pittick, both of whom had been children at the school.  Mr Fulham had not been back to the school for decades and remembered with affection the buildings “and those school steps which I climbed every day as a child.”  Also present was parishioner Kate Gills whose forebears were married in the Chapel.

Sr Marie Ann (photograph above right) told the assembled dignitaries and guests about the history of the School.  She had come to St Joseph’s as a teacher in 1971 before being appointed Deputy Head.  She said “It is wonderful to think that the school is still going from strength to strength.  On 3rd September this year, we will be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the opening of the new school buildings in Headley Way and next year, on 4thOctober, we will reach the 150thanniversary of its foundation as St Ignatius School.”

Although the ceremony took place after the end of the school year, current pupils from St Joseph’s also attended the ceremony.  Pictured (left) alongside Fr Mervyn are Sean and Mark Hanlon.  Sean, a guitarist at the Corpus Christi 6.30pm Mass, has just completed Year 6 and will be moving to secondary school this autumn whilst Mark, who serves on the altar, is about to enter Year 6.

For full text of Sr Marie Ann's talk, click here.