[From Manx Quarterly #7 1909]

St. Mary's Church (Douglas) Jubilee,

History of Catholicism in the Isle of Man.

A most interesting series of services was held on Sunday, August 1st, 1909, in connection with the golden jubilee celebration of Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Douglas. A number of former pastors took part in the services, and the church was crowded several times on Sunday. The Bishop of Liverpool (Dr Whiteside) was present, and with him his Vicar-General (Monsignor Carr), who founded the church.

At the service at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning, Father Walsh was the preacher, and the following was the sermon.

Father Walsh took as his text the closing words of St. Matthew's Gospel: All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you and, to I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

The preacher said: Today is a great and solemn occasion for us-the golden jubilee of this noble church. Just fifty years ago this church was first opened for the worship of God. The young priest who built and opened this church is with us in the sanctuary today, with fifty years of fruitful labours now crowning his white hairs. The Bishop of the Diocese, has put aside all his manifold cares at home in order to honour us with his presence and to rejoice with us. This term of fifty years is an epoch in the life of this church; and it reminds us of that undying life, of the one world-wide church which Jesus Christ founded 2,000 years ago. The words of my text tell us of the perpetuity of that universal church-" Go, teach all nations: I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The history of the Church naturally divides itself into three epochs. First, there is the period of 300 years when the Church was subjected to the enemy without her fold, to the persecutions of the great pagan Roman Empire. This was the age of martyrdom; but the blood of the martyr is the seed of the Church ; and so she grew and expanded on every side. Then came the second period in the life of the Church, extending from the fourth to the sixteenth century, a term of 1,250 years, when the enemy was within her fold. That enemy was the proud opposition of crowned heads-the Kings of Spain, of England, of France, and the Emperors of Germany, as well as the corrupt lives of many of her own children. The third epoch was when the enemy was again to be without, when different countries in Europe rebelled against the one universal Church in favour of national home rule. in religion. I speak not of the Eastern schism, because that does not affect the course of the. Church's life in Europe. Yet This last epoch, though it exposed the Catholic Church to fierce persecution on every side, still it has but in reality, according to the over-ruling designs of Providence, only strengthened the Church; and at this hour Pope Pius X. rules over a world-wide church of 1,460 bishops, hundreds of thousands of priests, and some 280 millions of the faithful dwelling in every land beneath the sun. They are all one in faith, in worship, and in church government. And what, I ask, is the relation of the Isle of Man with this threefold life of the universal Church? She has no share in the first period, because Druidism and varied forms of paganism possessed this Island at that early date. Then comes the second period. Early in the second period, towards the fifth century, St. Patrick and his disciples planted the Christian faith in this Island. Their named are still stamped upon the soil-Patrick of Peel, and Patrick of Jurby, St. Patrick's Isle, Patrick's Chair (at Marown), Bride (St. Bridget), Maughold (St. Maughold), Braddan (St. Brandon), Lonan (St. Louanus), Malew (St. Lupus). German (St. Germanus), and Arbory (St. Cairbre). Then the treen chapels arose throughout the Island and noble churches were built -St. German's Cathedral, St. Trinian's, St. Michael's, and the glorious abbey church at Rushen. This was the Westminster Abbey of the Isle of Man. There king and bishop, warrior and abbot, lay entombed. Let us glance at the life of those days. Let us see that spacious church at Rushen Abbey on the occasion of a royal marriage. There within the sanctuary, fronting the high altar, are six chairs of State. In one is seated Cardinal Vivian, the Cardinal Legate of Pope Alexander III. ; in another, King Godred, and by his side Queen Fingula ; in another, the Bishop of the Isle of Man; in another, the Abbot of Rushen; and in another, the Abbot of Rivaulx, who performed the nuptial ceremony. This took place in the twelfth century. The Silver-burn flowed close by then as now, through grassy vales, watering the brio of Rushen Castle. and finally emptying itself in the sea. Two centuries later there is recorded a special mark of the Pope's care of this Island by the Bishop-elect of the Island, William Russell, being invited to Avignon. there to be consecrated as Bishop of the Isle of Man by Pope Clement VI. in person. This special mark of the Pope's solicitude we saw manifested a few year; ago, when Pope Pius X. consecrated 18 bishops in the basilica of St. Peter's at Rome for the widowed dioceses of France. Then a century later (in 1459) we are told in the letter addressed by Pope Pius II. to Thomas Stanley, Lord of Man, what were the effects of all this teaching and discipline of the old faith upon the inhabitants of the Isle of Man. The effect was this The old faith so moulded their lives that the manifest virtue of the people secured for the Island the sacred title of the " Holy Island." On every side there :are pledges of Catholic piety-the Cistercians at Rushen, the Franciscans at Arbory, and the Bridgetine nuns in the vale of Douglas. And when the revolt of different countries took place against the universal Church in the sixteenth century, how fared the old faith in the Isle of Man? So far as we can understand, it would seem that it soon became starved out, and the treen chapels, and the glorious cathedral on St. Patrick's Isle at Peel, the monasteries of Arbory and Rushen, all became moss-grown ruins. And so the old faith perished, but the sweet names of the ancient saints still cling to the land. The religion of Elizabeth, and of newer forms of belief hence-forth reigned instead. Two centuries passed by, and there was no gleam of a dawn. Then in the third watch of the night of the Catholic Faith's extinction, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the first humble Catholic Chapel was built, by Father Macpharlan, on the Castletown-road, about a mile from Douglas. This was in the year 1814. The after-history of Catholicity here is easy to tell; it all gathers round two names-the names of Father Gahan, of Clongowes Wood, Dublin, and of Father Carr, the present Vicar-General of the Catholic Diocese of Liverpool. As the white marble monument erected to Father Gahan at the entrance to this church informs us, he left his own people in Ireland to minister to the spiritual wants of the Catholic population of the Isle of Man. His heart burned with zeal and charity. He opened a Catholic Church in Douglas at the corner of Athol-street. He gave us our first Catholic school. He erected the fine church of St. Mary's at Castletown, then the Manx metropolis.

He spared himself in nothing. His health, never robust, was frail in the extreme at the beginning of February, 1837 ; a sick call to the far north of the Island won for him his martyr's crown. He gave all the last sacraments to the dying man, but the effort was his own death warrant. He returned home only to die, a martyr to charity. A few years more, and then Father Carr, young, fearless, and zealous, came to champion the cause of Catholicity in this Island. In the short space of seven years he built this noble church of St. Mary's, with its adjoining presbytery; he erected our first proper school, for the old school was little more than a cellar; he made Ramsey an independent mission, and arranged for the immediate opening of a new chapel at Peel. That he did so much in so short a time, and with such scant resources, is to us a matter of grateful remembrance and sincere admiration. The work that has been done since bas been a natural growth on the lines laid down by Monsignor Carr. The present energetic Rector of St. Mary's, Dean Crookall, has founded a new shrine of the faith at Port Erin; and the late Father Barton added an excellent school to the mission at Ramsey. The Nuns of St. Bridget have returned to us in the persons of the Sisters of Mercy. May all these self-sacrificing labours be abundantly blessed ïr, the future, and may they even tend more and more to win back for the Isle of :Man its once peerless title of "Holy Island."

Interesting Presentation.



In connection with the celebration of the golden jubilee of the St. Mary's R.C. Church, Douglas, an interesting presentation took place on Sunday afternoon in the school hall, when an illuminated address was presented to Rev Monsignor Carr, Vicar-General of the Liverpool Diocese, who was in charge of the Roman Catholic Mission in Douglas when the church was built. The Bishop of Liverpool (the Rev Dr Whiteside) was present or the occasion, and in addition to the local clergy, the Very Rev Dean Crookall, the Rev Father Carr, and the Rev Father Devine, there were present the Revs Father Walsh, Father Little (Penrith), Father Welsby (Preston), Father Neenan ,(Dubuque, U.S.A.), Father Bridges (Longridge, Preston), Father Millar (Ince), and Father Leeson (Widnes).

The hall was beautifully decorated with flowers and plants, and an admirable portrait of Monsignor Carr in his robes of office occupied a prominent place on the platform. As the audience assembled and did homage to the Bishop, an orchestra, provided for the occasion by Mr W. J. O'Connor, played an overture.

The proceedings were opened by the Bishop. He said his position was a very simple one. He had to preside over that congregational gathering, strengthened by visitors from far and near, called together to show the affection of that congregation for their old pastor, Monsignor Carr. But as this was the first opportunity he had had of addressing the congregation, be felt it his duty to say a few words. It was not seldom he had, in the course of his episcopate, to attend the jubilee of a man or a church. If there was one such occasion that delighted him more than another, it was this one, that brought him to Douglas and the Isle of Man (applause). They were accustomed in. England to speak of Lancashire as God's own county, for, from their point of view, so much was it so that one-third of the Catholics in England were to be found there (applause). This came to pass, first, because the lamp of the sanctuary had never been extinguished there. They had the old English stock of Catholics there. That had been reinforced, and doubly so by the band of immigrants from Ireland, who came over in the " black forties." Providence and the Holy See had assigned to Liverpool the Isle of Man. And they had heard that morning the words of the preacher, which showed that this Island shared with Ireland the distinction of having been evangelised by St. Patrick or his immediate followers. So much was this so, that they had, in the names of the different missions, villages, and parishes, names connecting them with his times. The preacher had not mentioned that in the neighbourhood of Douglas they had a reminiscence of St. Patrick's old mother. Concessa was the mother of St. Patrick, and that name had been retained in Conchan, now called Onchan (applause). This showed how they still had clinging to the Island the connection with it of ouch a distinguished apostle and saint (applause). It was especially interesting, therefore, to him to come over to this island, evangelised by so great a saint. But it was the more deeply pleasing to him to come to the Island on this jubilee occasion, especially considering that the connecting link between the past and the present was no less a person than his own Vicar-General (applause). It was, he thought, a unique event in the history of a man, that he should build a church and live to see the golden jubilee of it. That was the privilege of Monsignor Carr. He was not in Douglas for many years, but the short time he spent here had left its mark on the Island. And although he had been so long at Formby-and no one would dare say a word against it in his presence (laughter)-he knew he had still a warm corner in his heart for Douglas So much so that he never allowed the Bishop to visit it without going himself (applause). This, he thought, indicate what a. pride the Monsignor still took is the old place, and how dear it was to him (applause). He called on the Dean to read the address.

Dean Crookall then read the address which contained a portrait of the Monsignor taken half a century ago, and one taken recently, and the church and other sketches also adorned the address, which was handsomely framed.

The Dean said that in presenting the address, he would like to say, in the first place what a source of unspeakable joy it was to them to have with them the father and founder of their church. It was also a pleasure to see so many visitors the in the St. Mary's School about which from time to time, they heard so much It was, he said, given to very few priets to live to see the golden jubilee of their priesthood, but it was given to fewer still to see the golden jubilee of the church which they had erected. That was the unique privilege of Monsignor Carr, and it was very right that they should hold high jubilee. They might rejoice, for their Father who was there had " builded for them a tabernacle." No one, unless conversant with the early history of foundation of the church, could understand what Monsignor Ca had gone through in erecting St. Mary's Church and St. Mary's Presbytery (applause). Things were not so peaceful then as now. They had been told of the difficult situation in which Monsignor Carr was placed. The surroundings at the time were not always the most pleasant. But one thing stood out in the work of Monsignor Carr. It was this-his determination, his resolution, and his courage. When they thought of the time, and the difficulties, and side by side with these placed their magnificent church and presbytery, they saw indeed what a grand work he had done. Their people had told them that when he began the work of building the church he was told he was mad, and that it was outrageous to put up such a building. But after events had disproved. these statements. The church that was declared to be too large was many a Sunday in the season found to be too small. For instance, three or four times that day it had been full to overflowing, and that led them to recognise the great foresight of the builder. He saw the trend of the times. He saw that Douglas was likely to be a big resort. He saw that it was likely to develop into a large place, and they now had a church that was scarcely able to hold the number of Catholics who came over for pleasure and recreation (applause). Therefore, in presenting that address, lie should like, on behalf of the clergy and people, to say how deeply they felt the privilege of having with them that day the founder of their church, and they made manifest to him their heartfelt devotion, love, and affection in presenting to Monsignor Carr that address. Their present state of Catholicity here was mainly due to him, not merely for the building of that church, but for his work among the people, and especially among the children. He had been told over and over again of his love for the children-his determination to put into them the great faith. If the people had become possessed of the spirit of faith and loyalty to the priesthood, he was sure it was due in a part to the priestly zeal and zealous labours of Monsignor Carr when he was among them. He had pleasure in presenting that address as but a slight token of their reverence and cordial affection for him (applause).

Mr Jos. Phillips said he had been asked by Dean Crookall to say a few words on behalf of St. Mary's congregation. Fifty years was easily said, but it was difficult to realise what it meant. He had practically been in the Island all his life, but fifty years ago he was only a lad of four years; and fifty years ago their present Rector, Dean Crookall, was not born (laughter). But if they looked back fifty years, in the town of Douglas there stood a priest, and if they would look at that address they would see by one of the photographs it contained that he was not a strong priest, but he planted the flag in the midst of his enemies and of those who did not agree with his views (applause). And from that beginning had been raised the beautiful church of St. Mary's. On behalf of the people of St. Mary's, lie begged to offer thanks to Monsignor Carr for building such a lovely edifice in which to carry on their devotions to Almighty God.

Mr J. J. Proctor supported Mr Phillips. Like Mr Phillips, he must agree that fifty years was a long time. He could not remember Father Carr, but his father had told him about him often, and everyone he had heard speak of him was loud in his praise. And well they might be. It was not possible now to realise the difficulties which Father Carr had to contend with. Fortunately they lived in happier days. He supposed that their church buildings was the most magnificent pile in Douglas, and they were a fine monument to Monsignor Carr's work. He hoped he would be spared to pay many more visits to Douglas with the Bishop (applause).

Monsignor Carr, who was received with much applause, was apparently deeply moved. He said that after all that that been said about him, he was sure that would have heard enough, and it were simply presumption, he took it, if ventured to trespass on their time saying much. Indeed had he the best will in the world to do so, he was simply unable, because whilst they had been telling about him being made canon, prelate, prognotary, or Vicar-General, they had pleased him most when they themselves had spoken in that address, and begged that they might still call him Father (applause). Whilst he was amongst them, he sought no honours. And he went there that day under such circumstances that it was almost too much for him. "Where are my old companions gone, priests gone? Where are the older ones of my people gone-your fathers and your grandfathers? I see an odd one now and again. They come up to me in the street, or wherever they meet me, to speak more than kindly words, more than loving words. Their eyes tell me more than their words. The clasp of their old hands is dearer to me than a thousand words of love (applause). God bless them. And those who are now amongst us are becoming older. Those whom perhaps I baptised or instructed for the taking of the sacraments. And I cannot think of them without a thousand holy memories. The speakers have spoken much of what I have done in Douglas. It is not what I have done. It is what God has vouchsafed to do through me. Whatever has been done, it was His doing, not mine. He chose a weak vessel to confound the strong, and on this day it is not for you to thank me, but rather God who called me to come amongst you, and thus to do a good work for Him. When I see this meeting to-day, surely I may thank God that my work was a good one. His it is indeed, because it was for his glory and the glory of the Church of God and the Catholics in the Island, and so to His name be glory (applause). It would be unfair for me to think that the praises of this day are due to me. What could the commander do without his officers and generals of staff ? And if the good work that has been done here may have been started by me or suggested by me, the work had practically to be done by those good priests who were with me to assist me. We have here on this platform at this moment one who was ever true, good, zealous, earnest, and faithful-Father Bridges. I will not see his name passed over on a day like this. He has come a long way, and he as much as I rejoice in the glory of to-day. But a word or two more. You have spoken so much about St. Mary's as if Douglas were the only place in the Island worthy of my remembrance and my love. Nothing gives me greater strength or comfort in the work in the Island than to think, not that I built a church, but that I succeeded in getting a great public spirit manifested among the people of the Island. When I came here, the Catholics were cowed in spirit, surrounded as they were by an overwhelming number of persons of hostile faith; but I felt in leaving them, as I feel now, that I helped, and my fellow-priests with me helped, to raise you up to think better of yourselves, better of your church, better of your faith. And not only to love it, but to struggle for it bravely. Perhaps my greatest comfort was in having got your children into school hero and having Masses said in other parts of the Island. When I came, no Mass was said at Peel or Ramsey. People had to travel miles and miles away if they wanted to hear Mass or go to Confession. The children were without schools, the children were without instruction. New, I had been able to start a regular service for every town-all of those three towns-of the Island, and though I had to say Mass and those with me in a loft over a cow-shed in Peel, and in a workshop over a tallow chandler's in Ramsey, I look back to saying Masses in those places as the greatest work I have performed here, and one that I am sure will bring the greatest blessing on me hereafter. Now I will say no more, except to thank you for your kindness, and thank you for your abiding love. I can now only ask you not to content your-selves with these kind words and this loving address, but that sometimes your-selves and your children may say a little "Hail, Mary," when I may have passed away. Never since I left you have I passed morning or evening without praying for you Whatever may happen to me, I cannot forget you. I cannot fail to love you. And may I say it, my Lord, in your presence, God bless you. God keep you good and faithful children, and give you good and faithful pastors" (applause).

Father Bridges was called on to the platform from the rear of the hall, and his years notwithstanding, he is still full of life, and he greatly amused the audience while for five minutes he talked to them. He claimed to be one of the old soldiers of the fighting line a full private, he jocularly added-and while they must show every respect to their superiors, he said their work must not be overlooked. His sprightly conversational style of speaking delighted his hearers. He moved a vote of thanks to the Bishop.

Mr Fanning seconded the motion, which was carried.

The Bishop, who had another enthusiastic reception, in. replying, said he was very grateful to them for the vote of thanks, and to the mover and seconder for their kind words. He said he felt it would not have been a jubilee if they had not had Father Bridges on his legs for five minutes (laughter and applause). They had many things to be grateful for. They had reason to be grateful to Almighty God for the blessings with which the little flock there had been visited. Monsignor Cam had told him how, when he came there in spite of a strong feeling in Douglas, that he had to have half-a-dozen stalwart men by his side to protect him when he went about. And Father Bridges had invited him (the Bishop) to visit a portion of the Presbytery where a large indent in the door marked the place where a stone had been thrown by some hostile person at the presbytery. Times were now changed, and instead of the priests having to be protected in that way, they knew the position occupied by the last rector (Father Walsh) in the town — (applause) — and they knew of the respect entertained for his successor, Dean Crookall (applause). For this change for the better they had reason to be grateful. He hoped it was due to the fact that they were better understood, and not to the spirit of indifferentism and materialism that was probably creeping in here, as in most other places in the world. One did hope and believe, and feel, that this changed attitude towards the Catholic Church was a thing that they had reason tc, be grateful for, because they had come to understand them (Catholics) better. He concluded by again expressing thanks.

The ceremony concluded with the singing of a hymn.



Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003