The Final Mass at St. Joseph's Church, Wigan - A Mass of Thanksgiving
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[27th October 1995]
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"Look to the Future"
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"Look to the Future", Archbishop Warlock's  message to all those at the final Mass of thanksgiving, was conveyed by the principal celebrant, Bishop Vincent Malone. He was addressing more than seven hundred and fifty people who had come to the old church to pray within its walls for the last time; to honour the faithful who had gone before them, and to give thanks for the strong faith which had sprung from the life within its community. Concelebrating the Mass were many priests of the Parish, past and present.
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Bishop Malone spoke with deep feeling on this historic occasion. His words are printed here with his permission:
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"Christians try to make funerals rather more joyous occasions than natural human instincts normally do. That is not because they go in for make-believe or 'let's pretend'; it is because they know that our human existence is not the whole story. They - that is to say, 'we' - can acknowledge the goodness of a life- on-earth completed, knowing that its goodness continues in a life beyond death. When we gather to celebrate the funeral of a church, it is legitimate to ask whether the same considerations apply.

 

 

 

 

 

St. Joseph's Side Altar

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" No doctrine concerning the immortal life of a parish church, after its physical demise, sustains us. Or does it? After all it is not the flesh and blood of our dear ones that the Church teaches us will live for ever - except in their totally transformed, glorified state. It is the spirit, the soul, the essence of the deceased that we assist in its passage to eternity; not the frail and worn body, which we commit reverently to the earth.
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"So, perhaps there is a parallel between a Christian funeral and the celebration of the completion of a Church building's lifespan.
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"There is, after all, a spirit of St. Joseph's, Wigan, which we are not burying tonight. It is a spirit many of you here could say a lot about. It is a spirit whose memory will remain precious for just as many generations as our family members remain hallowed in the memory of succeeding generations. It is not the same kind of spirit as an individual being's mortal soul, but it is a kind of collective spirit emanating from the goodness and devotion of the holy souls of many parishioners over a period of over 124 years. It is a spirit within which we can identify some noble individuals, and a spirit which we know embraces many more holy men, women and children that anyone but God, Himself, would be able to record.

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"A few days ago, I took time to look through the Catholic Directories for the years between 1871 and the present. I was more surprised than you may be to find that in the late 1940's there were five priests assigned to St. Joseph's! These are some of the names I found, taking jumps of ten years at a time after the earliest period:
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"The first Parish Priest was Father Henry John Lamon, who was joined in 1875 by Father William Kearney, and, in 1878, when the new church was built, by Father Patrick Monaghan.
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"For the next fifty years, three priests usually served the Parish - and it is perhaps worthy to note that the first Mass on Holydays at that time was 5.00 a.m.!
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"When Father Shee arrived as Parish Priest in 1925, his curates were Father Grant and Father Turner. About this time, St. Joseph's address starts to be given as 'Caroline Street', rather than 'Wallgate'. Ten years on, Father Shee was still in place, with the assistance of Father Jackson, Father Rimmer and Father Brown.
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"Father Gerard Rimmer made his mark at this time by starting in 1937, here at St. Joseph's, the first section in England of Canon Joseph Cardijn's Young Christian Workers. Having died only a couple of years ago, Father Rimmer would be glad to know of the revival of the YCW currently taking place in the Liverpool Archdiocese.
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"Move to 1945, Father Shee, now PP for 20 years, has as his assistants Father Joseph Brown, Father John Hutton, Father Patrick Kelly and Father Eugene Hopkins. The last named subsequently became National Chaplain to the YCW and is currently PP of St. Anthony's Parish, Onchan in the Isle of Man.
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"In 1955, Father Shee is still in place, still with Father Joseph Brown, with Father Gerard Rimmer returned, and with the young Father Michael Cronin. Father Brown's special contribution was, over a period of 22 years as curate, to organise talks for non-Catholics. And Father Cronin clearly needs no commendation to you. What a tradition of Apostolic priests, energetic in the Lord's service, St. Joseph's has enjoyed in its century and a quarter!
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"In 1958, Father Shee died and was able to present at heaven's gate the gratitude of parishioners of St. Joseph's over a period of 33 years, for his long hours in the Confessional, his patient instruction of converts, his team leadership and his love of his parishioners.
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"In 1965, thirty years ago, Father Richard Tobin was your Parish Priest, Father Michael Reilly and Father J.J. Byrne being his assistants. Father Dan Cadogan replaced the last named for a year or two before the Directory entries start to read 'St. Joseph's, Caroline Street, served from St. Jude's'. And so it has been to the present day when we celebrate the final Mass.
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"But the story of a parish is not simply the story of its clergy. Among those whom individuals of you will remember, are many whose names grace the parish registers - of Baptisms, of Confirmations, of Receptions into the Church, of Weddings and of Funerals. (Some of these registers will be brought up in the Offertory procession tonight). But outstanding among your lay-heroes are Millie Wallace and her husband, Sammy - loving caretakers of the vacated Presbytery and of the Church, for the last thirty years.

Millie Wallace

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"It is the tale of these good people that we tell as we thank God for the completed story of the worship-life of this Church. We thank God for those who have died and for those who are still alive, who have made St. Joseph's a place of worship of God and of inspiration for service.
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"Each of the living, I am sure, dies a little tonight as they experience the all-too-human emotions we go through at partings, and especially at final partings. But we look for the good in what has been achieved, and we look for the continuation of the spirit of St. Joseph's in other places, under other names.
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" 'The witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you,' says St. Paul in tonight's first reading, 'so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be (finally) revealed.
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" 'I never stop thanking God,' he goes on, 'for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ . . . that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers.'
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"Several of the hymns we will sing tonight will 'take us back', as they say - 'Hail St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary', 'Sweet Heart of Jesus', 'Faith of Our Fathers'. And some will take us forward, recognising the changing Church which leads us ever onwards, however reluctantly, to new depths of understanding of how to celebrate God's presence amongst us.
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"The congregations of the 1870's and 1880's and of the early 20th Century may have sung some of the hymns I have just mentioned, but they would not have had the joy of singing the Penitential Rite, joining in the Responsorial Psalm, singing our Offertory, and so on.
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"The Church is a living thing, animated by Christ's own Spirit, for ever changing its externals, as it is ever constant in its essence.
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"As we lament the passing of this old and lovely church building, we rejoice that the Church's heart beats strongly still, that faithful parishioners are, by God's grace, faithful still - to sing His praise, to serve Him in one another, to give thanks for blessings received, and to entrust to Him our hopes for the future, now on earth and for ever in heaven."

 

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