The following article, by the late Jim O'Brien, appeared in the Autumn 1994 Edition of St. Jude's Journal. Jim, who was presented with the Bene Merenti Medal on Christmas Eve, 1993, was a most devoted parishioner of St. Joseph's and St. Jude's, and had served the Church throughout his life. His death, in September 1996, was a sad loss to the community.

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Those were the days my friend . . .

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In the 1930's, the Wallgate area of Wigan was very busy. It was packed with people who lived there, it was close to the town centre with its two well-used railway stations, and the parish (St. Joseph's) straddled the main trunk road through Wigan. In common with every other small town in those days, private cars were the exception rather than the rule and people walked everywhere. The mills and factories around Wallgate employed hundreds from the whole of the Wigan area, which was a hive of activity.

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St. Joseph's was already a thriving parish in 1937 when Fr. Gerrard Rimmer, an assistant priest there, started the first section in England of the Young Christian Workers movement. Initially, its members were mainly St. Joseph's lads. Jim Tickle, Frank Foster, Tom Sullivan, Larry Sharkey and Jim O'Brien were prominent members who, along with Father Rimmer, went to Belgium in that year to study the YCW movement, which had been started there by Canon Cardizn.

Right: On board ship to Belgium - Rev. Fr. G. Rimmer with Jim Tickle, Tommy Sullivan, Larry Sharkey, Paddy Keegan, Jim O'Brien and Frank Foster.

 

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The movement progressed throughout England and, in 1939, Fr. Rimmer organised a September pilgrimage to Rome to present members of the English YCW to Pope Pius XII. Unfortunately, those plans had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

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Fr. Rimmer eventually organised three pilgrimages to Rome in the early 1950's. At the end of the War, Fr. Patrick Kelly and Jim O'Brien organised dances in St. Joseph's Club, the proceeds of which were used to send home-coming servicemen to retreats at Loyola Hall, Rainhill, (near Liverpool).

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St. Joseph's Club was built in the early 1920's by the Parish Priest, Fr. Van Wassenhove. He appealed for a donation of 1 from each parishioner - a lot of money in those days, when, for many, it represented more than half the weekly wage - but he promised it would be paid back later.

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He then asked for volunteers from the parish to help build the Club, which they did, and, sure enough, when the work was completed, the loan was repaid! Fr. Van was a very clever man and a great judge of human nature. He was also responsible for building the marble altar in St. Joseph's Church.

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At one time, a feature of the Club was the four full-sized billiards tables, which were always occupied. Many other social activities centred around the Club, and, on annual outings, three packed coaches would set off for favourite places such as the Ribble Valley and Blackpool. Trips with the snooker or darts teams were also enjoyable times. A good bowling club was formed and two teams played in the CYMS leagues. Two of our priests, Fr. Brown and Fr. (now Canon) Culhane were members of the Bowling Club and were two good bowlers at that.

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St. Joseph's was a prominent parish in the town and, at the end of World War II, when the Whit Monday walking days were resumed, made a contribution in no small way to those wonderful spectacular events, which one will never forget. It was great to see all the people lining up in Hodson Street and Caroline Street - the children in their colourful clothes and the adults in their finery - it was a very special day. There were plenty of 'butterflies' flying around in empty stomachs but there was excitement too, when the procession started off opposite Joe Lytham's and Burn's shops. The brass bands would start up and then the swinging of the arms . . .

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With the introduction of the Spring Bank Holiday, Whit Monday ceased to be recognised as a national holiday, but the Walks continued for a while. Eventually, employers began to object to the widespread absenteeism resulting from workers taking two holiday Mondays instead of one, and so, in 1968, the Parish Priests and the Walking Day Committee decided to cancel the event.

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James Fairhurst, who writes in the Wigan Evening Post, mentioned that fact in an article in 'Ireland's Own' only a month ago. He said: " . . . they would have been banned anyway."

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When Whit Monday is mentioned today in the parish, one talking point is always raised: "Where did the four big banners go?" (i.e. St. Joseph's banners carried in the Walks) Well, years later, one of the sockets for holding a banner was discovered in a store room in the Club, but the actual banners were never found!

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There have been many priests and curates at St. Joseph's. Fr. Shee will always be remembered as a saintly man who received hundreds of converts into the Church and for whom people queued for Confession in rows of benches until late on Saturday night all through the year. From Monday to Saturday, Fr. Shee would distribute Holy Communion and hear confessions every quarter of an hour from 6.00 a.m.. First Mass each day was 7.00 a.m. but on holydays it would be 6.30 a.m., mainly to accommodate the Irish nurses at Wrightington Hospital and Wigan Infirmary, factory workers and others.

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It was Fr. Shee who built the marble altar rails in memory of his mother. One of the curates at that time was Fr. Brown, who remained at St. Joseph's for 22 years.

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Fr. Cronin, who first arrived in the Parish in 1949, soon won the hearts of the parishioners and got things going with his pleasant and likeable manner. It was he who started the annual Reunion, which still takes place around the feast of St. Joseph on March 19th. He left for another parish, to return many years later as Parish Priest at St. Jude's.

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Father Tobin, "the Builder", arrived in 1959 with the task of starting a new parish in Worsley Mesnes. He built the church, club and presbytery, named the parish for St. Jude and became the first Parish Priest.

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Over the years, a number of St. Joseph's lads were ordained to the priesthood. These include: Frs. Clarkson, Patrick Duffy, Edward McGuire, John Johnson, Edward Murphy, Christopher Cunningham, Francis Corrigan and Stephen Alker.

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Among the many parish organisations at St. Joseph's, the Third Order of St. Francis was very popular. Fr. Johnson, who was much later to become Parish Priest at St. Mary's, Wigan, was a member of the Order before entering Upholland College as a seminarian.

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In the 1950's, Fr. Rimmer and Fr. Brown organised a pilgrimage to Walsingham and chartered a train to convey the pilgrims from Wigan. The parishioners provided their own bar on the train.

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Fr. Rimmer was a great walker and for many years after he left the parish he regularly made his pilgrimage to Walsingham on foot and he did that until he was well into his seventies!

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Another man, John Ryan, a parishioner of St. Joseph's who lived in Worsley Mesnes but sadly now deceased, also made his annual pilgrimage to Walsingham on foot. As Walsingham is in Norfolk, close to the east coast and a distance of about 300 miles SE from Wigan, that was a truly amazing achievement!

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Those were remarkable people - and remarkable days!
St. Joseph's Archive