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  • Dom Gilroy

200 Years of St. Austin’s Wakefield

2028 will see the bicentenary of the opening of St. Austin’s Church, Wakefield.  The “Wakefield Chapel” was designed based on plans by the eminent Catholic architect Joseph Ireland and run by the Jesuits until 1931.


Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was St. Austin’s.  The first known activity began in 1823 and in recognition of this the bicentennial celebrations started early in Wakefield with a historical display and presentation on Thursday 25th January 2024.


Dom Gilroy of St. Austin’s parish visited the British Jesuit Archives in Farm Street to view the records held there on the very early history of the parish.  The visit was a fruitful one bringing to light numerous records and documents detailing the foundation of St. Austin’s.  Letters between the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Nicholas Sewell, and various correspondents highlighted some of the challenges of setting up the new church and shone a spotlight on our first parish priest Fr. John George Morris SJ, about whom little was previously known.


There are account books meticulously recording who donated what in the fundraising efforts, and how much was paid out to the tradespeople who built the church in Wakefield.  The highlight of the visit was unexpectedly uncovering a copy of the memorandum agreement for the sale of the land on which St. Austin’s was built, revealing for the first time the names of the four individuals who agreed to purchase the land for the church.


We were also able to locate images of many of the Jesuit priests who served the parish over the years, including remarkable photographs of our second parish priest Fr. Francis Jarrett S.J. and our first assistant priest Fr. William Thompson S.J.


 

The resulting display and presentation were a great success with over 50 parishioners and others with an interest in the parish attending and enjoying the evening.  It will be the first in a series of events leading up to our bicentenary.


 Thanks to Rebecca and all at the Archives for your assistance and hospitality.


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Note: This is the first blog contribution from a researcher to the British Jesuit Archives sharing the discoveries made and how such research is then put to use. We hope to bring more such blogs in future. Thank you to Dom for sharing this with us.

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