1840 The first public Mass celebrated in St.
Albans after the Reformation was on 3rd May – the Feast of Corpus Christi
– in 1840, when a room in the White Hart Inn on Holywell Hill was used as
a chapel. Fr. William Crook commenced the mission in St. Albans, travelling
from St. Edmund's College, Old Hall, Ware in a pony and trap once a month.
Fr Crook set up a kitchen table using it as an altar to offer Mass for a
congregation of 43 St Albans’ Catholics. It was the first public Mass in
the city since the 16th century and the embryonic start of our parish.
1848 In 1848, Alexander Raphael, a newly elected MP
and a convert to Catholicism, decided to build a Catholic Church in Verulam
Road. Shortly after the building commenced Mr. Raphael died intestate. The
church site was purchased by Mrs. Worley, who had the church completed according
to its original design and donated it to the Church of England. Known as
Christ's Church, it’s now converted to offices. The mission of St. Albans
from 1852 to 1854 was described as vacant. No mention is made of it in the
Catholic Directory for 1857 to 1861 and in 1861 the Barnet priests commenced
to serve St. Albans once a month. From 1870 Mass was said every Sunday. 1876 In 1876, Fr. Bampfield of Barnet decided to build
a small church in London Road. It was dedicated to Ss. Alban and Stephen
by Cardinal Manning on the Feast of St. Alban, June 22nd, 1878. Thus the
first Catholic Church was opened in St. Albans. Fr. Bittleston became the
first resident priest in 1883. The clergy who served the Catholics in St
Albans were then missionaries from Barnet; it was not until 1886 that responsibility
for the parish passed to the diocese. In 1899 the Missionaries of the Sacred
Heart were invited by Cardinal Vaughan to take charge of the mission of St.
Albans. Fr. Michael Tierney MSC was appointed Rector. He realised by 1900
– only a year after the arrival of the MSCs – that the church in London Road
was too small (seating for 80 people) and too insignificant for a place as
important as St. Albans, the scene of the first martyr of England, so he
decided to build a larger, more ornate church that would help to restore
the place to its former glory as a Catholic centre, when it was renowned
throughout the land as a place of pilgrimage.
1902 On the 12th April 1902, the Herts Advertiser
reported: "Considerable activity is being displayed by Roman Catholics in
St Albans in raising the necessary funds for the new church which it is proposed
to erect, the accommodation of the present building having been found totally
inadequate to meet present requirements." The report then goes on to talk
about "a most successful and enjoyable concert" held in the own Hall. The
new church for which they were so enthusiastically raising funds was, of
course, this church. (It was smaller than it is now, because of the extension
that took place in the mid-1960s.) When the nave was completed the church
was dedicated and blessed by the Most Rev. Francis Boume, Archbishop of Westminster
on New Year's Day 1905.
St. Albans had now become a real mission centre, with the priests administering
to the faithful in the surrounding districts, eventually building a church
in Harpenden in 1905 and in Radlett in 1910. 1903 In 1903, having purchased a site in Beaconsfield
Road and after raising another £6,000 to build the church, the church
1954 In the south side of the city sites were secured in Vesta
Avenue for church, school and presbytery in 1954. A Mass centre was established
at St. Columba's College in 1955, in the temporary chapel. The Mass centre
was continued at St. Adrian's School, which was built in 1959, and served
the people until the new church of St. Bartholomew's was completed in 1964
and blessed by Cardinal Heenan.
1959 The people of Marshalswick were catered for in
1959 when a Mass centre was started at Skyswood Primary School and later
transferred to St. John Fisher's School. A modern presbytery has been constructed
to replace the three old houses which served the priests for so long. Also
a new parish centre had been erected providing space for a limited car park.
With the unit complete, and all debts cleared, the church was solemnly on
the 4th May 1977 by the Right Rev. B. C. Butler, Bishop in Hertfordshire. 1999 In 1999 the parish exuberantly celebrated a centenary
of continuous ministry by the MSC priests and the Mercy Sisters. 2005 In the Summer of 2005 the roof of the church as
well as all the top windows were replaced through the generous offerings
from the parishioners. Around the church noticeable changes have taken place;
In the mid-1960s, the side aisles were added, the Church was lengthened back
towards the railway, and the tower was added. The Church was then very much
as we see it today. On 12th June 2005, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor led us
in our celebration of the centenary of that pivotal event in the history
of the parish.
2007 In June 2007, the parish and MSC community jointly celebrated
the Golden Jubilee of Fr Jerry Daly.
2013 In 2013, the Sacred Heart Centre was opened, following a
complete renovation of the meeting rooms and hall, and provides a welcoming
space for parish groups to interact. The Catholic community is an integral
part of the religious, civic and social life of St Albans.
So, here we are From our small
beginning we now have a splendid church, five schools to nurture our children,
an incredibly evangelistic parish, and a wonderful history of Christian witness
and public service.
Many thanks to the late Malcolm Smith RIP
for this article, based on the book "Celebration" by the late James Corbett
RIP, and to Geoff Miller for updates.