An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 9 (of 89 parts) - St. Anne’s Church - History of Religion in Sutton Part 2

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 9 (of 89) - The History of Religion in Sutton Part 2 - St. Anne’s RC Church
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
History of Religion in Sutton Part 2 - St. Anne’s
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII

St. Anne's Church, Monastery and Convent

Engraving entitled 'St. Anne's Retreat Sutton' of the original 19th century church and monastery

Engraving titled 'St.Anne's Retreat Sutton' of original church & monastery

Engraving of St.Anne's Retreat Sutton

“John
Benefactor John Smith
During the first half of the 19th century, there were not many Roman Catholics within Sutton and Bold. According to articles published in the St.Helens Newspaper in 1862 and 1863, there were only thirty or forty followers of Rome. Without a chapel of their own, the Catholics were forced to walk or ride to St.Helens, Blackbrook or Rainhill in order to attend Mass. So in 1849 John Smith (1794–1863) , a wealthy railway magnate from Mount Pleasant in Sutton, decided to build a Roman Catholic monastery and church. Smith sought advice from Cardinal Wiseman and he suggested discussing his ecclesiastical project with the Passionists. They were a religious order, who although founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1720, had only recently arrived in England. So Smith travelled to Aston Hall, near Stone in Staffordshire, to meet Father Dominic Barberi (1792-1849) at the first Passionist Monastery in England. The Italian priest had opened it in February 1842 and Smith made him the offer of building another Passionist retreat, plus church, in St.Helens.

This was gratefully accepted by Fr. Dominic and in January or February 1849, he arrived at St.Helens Junction to choose a site. Initially the priest was shocked to see the high works’ chimneys belonging to Sutton Glass Works and other firms. Such an industrial landscape was not what Fr. Dominic had been expecting and he briefly contemplated whether he’d made a mistake in choosing Sutton as the location for his next Passionist place of worship. However his spirits were soon raised when he met John Smith, who greeted him at the station, along with his non-Catholic friend
Arthur Sinclair. The latter would later reside at Waterdale House, which after his death would become the home of Sutton Convent. As Fr. Dominic had only limited English, a local resident called Mr. Wallace, who knew some Italian, was brought along to translate. Upon hearing that Wallace was also non-Catholic, Fr. Barberi said "I will pray for you; you will become a Catholic". A year later his prophecy came true and Wallace was converted.

Father Barberi was given a choice of three sites by John Smith. Upon seeing the third near Sutton’s Intersection Bridge, he declared: "Here have I chosen to live. This will be my resting place forever”. Smith was left to draw up the plans for an impressive sandstone church complete with lofty spire, along with an adjacent monastery / retreat upon 12 acres of land. As well as these places of worship, there would be a garden, a pasture for cows to provide a supply of milk and a space for private monastic walks.

Bishop George Brown (1784–1856) was the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool and he’d played a part in connecting John Smith with Dominic Barberi. So it was appropriate that on July 26th 1849, Brown should lay the foundation stone of the new church. This was the feast day of St. Anne, who was to be the patroness of the new parish. Father Barberi had agreed to lay the monastery’s foundation stone on August 30th but died three days earlier. The Italian priest endured a heart attack on a train and died at the Railway Hotel in Reading. The ceremony in Sutton went ahead as scheduled but conducted instead by Fr. Gaudentius Rossi.

Left: Peckers Hill convent (1855-58); Right: Drawing of Holy Cross Convent in Fenneys Lane (1858 - 1901)

Peckers Hill convent and drawing of Holy Cross Convent in Fenneys Lane

Peckers Hill convent (1855-58) and Fenneys Lane convent (1858 - 1901)

Dominic Barberi original tomb in Sutton, St.Helens
Original tomb of Dominic Barberi at St. Anne's
The church and monastery were built by John Middlehurst and completed in 1851, with Father Ignatius Spencer overseeing much of the building work. Father Honorius Mazzini, who had been born in Rome, became the first Rector (appointed August 27th 1851) and the first altar boys were Thomas and James Fisher, who were nephews of John Smith. The consecration of St. Anne’s was by Bishop Rev. Dr. Alexander Goss and took place on October 26th 1853, with Fr. Spencer holding the first mass in the newly-consecrated church on the following day.

In November 1855 the body of Fr. Barberi was reinterred in Sutton. A few days later on November 16th a convent was opened in a cottage at Peckers Hill. Holy Cross Convent was inhabited by a community of Passionist Sisters, whose order had been created by Elizabeth Prout four years earlier (along with Fr. Rossi). The Sisters of the Cross and Passion taught at St. Anne's girls' school and at Parr Hall and in 1857 they were given responsibility for the new school at St. Joseph's Church in Peasley Cross. Holy Cross Convent was actually two cottages converted into one, which was situated next to the lodge house of Mount Pleasant, John Smith's house in Paradise Row (later Convent Row then Fenny's Lane). By 1861 the Passionists' benefactor had built a new home for himself, known as St Anne's Villa, situated behind St Anne's School. As the Sisters' convent cottage was proving inadequate, they were delighted to be offered Smith's old house. Mount Pleasant was much more spacious, with extensive grounds and gardens, and was rented to the order for just a shilling a year.
“The

The original St. Anne's church in Sutton, St. Helens with spire and tower which existed between 1851 and 1934

“The

The original St. Anne's with spire which existed between 1851 and 1934

“The

The original St. Anne's church

As described in the education page, the clergy at St. Anne's saw the educating of local children as a priority and from 1853 had begun teaching in a large schoolroom attached to the monastery. With a Roman Catholic church and school now in Sutton and with expanding employment opportunities, devotees were increasingly drawn to the district. By 1855 the numbers of parishioners were estimated at 1,350 and by 1861 the congregation had exceeded 2,000. The church's catchment area was quite wide and included Parr, Burtonwood and Peasley Cross. Initially the challenge was in building the places of worship and education. However, it would soon become one of meeting the spiritual and educative needs of an expanding community within Sutton, while at the same time fighting a war against subsidence.

Father Bernardine Carosi as Rector of St. Annes met the challenge head on. He was appointed in October 1852, succeeding Father Honorius Mazzini. Fr. Carosi served as Rector for a total of 13 years and held two terms of office. In fact he was longest-standing holder of the post. Although he retired in 1863, his successor Fr. Ignatius Spencer died suddenly during the following year and so Fr. Carosi was reappointed. During his tenures as Rector, a new school had been opened in Peasley Cross (1858), a new wing was added to the monastery to accommodate students (1860) and a new church known as St. Joseph's Lecture Hall had been opened (1861).
“St.Annes

An undated photograph inside the original St. Anne's Roman Catholic church in Sutton, St.Helens

“St.Annes

Inside the original St. Anne's Roman Catholic church in Sutton

“St.Annes

Inside the original St. Anne's church

The St.Helens Weekly News of May 25th 1861 reported on a 'tea party and soiree held in the St. Anne's schoolroom. Two hundred clergy and parishioners heard a stirring tribute from Rev. Albin, who declared that 'the parish is now in a great measure free from sickness, but there are many of us who remember when the case was otherwise'. Father Bernadine was praised for his time spent at the bedside of poorly parishioners in Sutton. Or as Rev. Albin put it, at 'the sick bed of suffering humanity'. A year later it was reported that the community at the retreat consisted of ‘some half dozen priests, several laybrothers and about twelve students’. These numbers would soon grow.

On January 11th 1864, Elizabeth Prout, now Superior General at Sutton's Holy Cross Convent, died from a long illness. She will always be remembered for her work in supporting poverty-stricken Manchester mill girls. When Elizabeth (or Mother Mary Joseph Prout) died she had 21 Sisters in her order, including two Americans. Her successor as Superior General was Mother Winefride Lynch and she was succeeded by Mother Mary Margaret Chambers. On October 1st 1864 the Rector of St. Annes, Fr. Ignatius Spencer, died of a severe heart attack in the village of Carstairs, near Lanark. Born George Spencer in 1799, he turned his back on a privileged upbringing and practised as an Anglican minister for eight years before converting to Catholicism in 1830. During that same year he met Fr. Dominic in Italy for the first time, was ordained a priest in 1832 and joined the Passionists in 1847.

About 1868 the Sisters of the Cross and Passion started a private day / boarding school within their convent. This lasted for many years and a night school was added in 1897, the first in Sutton. Dr. Goss, the Bishop of Liverpool, who had consecrated St. Anne’s in 1853, visited the church every three years and so was able to see for himself how its congregation was expanding. During his visit in August 1871, the bishop administered confirmation to almost 200 persons. The community at the retreat was also growing and by 1879 consisted of nine priests, eight lay brothers and four clerical brothers. Six years later a newspaper article stated that there were 26 religious clerics and 14 students resident at the Sutton Monastery.
“Priests

Passionist priests (including some from St.Anne’s) at St. Mungo's Retreat in Glasgow in 1892 - Contributed by John Barton

“Priests

Passionists (including from St.Anne’s) at St. Mungo's Retreat, Glasgow in 1892

“Priests

Passionists (inc. from St.Anne’s) at St. Mungo's Retreat in Glasgow

Towards the end of the 19th century, the churches in Sutton began promoting many societies and clubs as healthy outlets for parishioners. St. Anne’s played its part and in January 1880 Father Athanasius Rogers inaugurated the Sutton Catholic Young Men's Club in what had been the original boys’ school. It was a place for discussions about faith but it also had its social side, with a bar and games room. That same year a married women’s league, known as the Confraternity of Mount Carmel, was begun. In later years branches of other societies - including the Children of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, Legion of Mary and YCW (Young Christian Workers) - were started at St. Anne's.

Also during 1880 the monastery lost a strip of its land to the London & NW Railway Company. The danger of close proximity to the railways was underlined on November 16th 1881 when Father Sebastian Enrico was killed whilst crossing the line at St. Helens Junction. A year earlier he'd been expelled from France because of his religion and had been resident at Sutton Monastery for three months. According to newspaper accounts he was 'cut into pieces' by the Manchester express.

In 1886 the Passionists began a new Mission in Burtonwood dedicated to St. Paul of the Cross, with the building serving as both church and school. Three years later it was enlarged by the addition of new schoolrooms and a sanctuary.
“The

This photograph of the interior of St. Anne's Roman Catholic church in Sutton was made into a picture postcard

“The

The interior of St. Anne's Roman Catholic church in Sutton

“The

The interior of St. Anne's RC church

During 1889 extensive alterations were made to St. Anne’s, which led to a period of closure. The church was completely re-painted and decorated from designs by Brother Mark, with the work carried out by Ambrose Fisher at a cost of £775. After a visit to St. Anne’s a journalist wrote in the St.Helens Reporter of November 9th 1889 that ‘one is struck with the glitter of the decoration’. A new pitch pine entrance porch with glass panels was erected and the statues of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin at the sides of the sanctuary were both gilded, as were the new gas lamp standards. The sanctuary itself was described by the Reporter as ‘a glorious sight’ and when lit up was ‘magnificent in the extreme’. The side chapel was decorated in a 14th century Gothic style and pitch pine seating was to be installed throughout the church. John Fisher Jnr. was commissioned to undertake the latter work.

A Church Decoration Fund was established to pay for the work and a number of fundraising events were held. These included performances at St. Anne’s School of the melodrama The Colleen Bawn by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault. The church was solemnly reopened in a special service, which was held on November 2nd 1889 by
Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Reilly, the Bishop of Liverpool. In 1890 Father Basil Moubert, the adopted son of benefactor John Smith who had died in 1863, became the 16th Rector of St. Anne’s having been Parish Priest for several years. One of his first tasks was to order a renovation of the monastery, which was cleaned from top to bottom and re-painted. On October 16th 1892, the solemn opening of the 'peal of ten bells' took place at St. Anne's. This was to celebrate the installation of new church bells made by Harrington and Co. of Coventry at a cost of £300.

On September 3rd 1893 the blessing of a new Stations of the Cross – a 14-step devotion that commemorates Christ's last day as a man – took place in front of a large congregation. This had been presented by locomotive manufacturer
William Borrows of Providence Foundry, whose family were keen benefactors to St. Anne’s. William's father Edward had previously presented the church with altar rails that he had made himself. On August 19th 1894 a new altar in the church's Lady Chapel – which had been donated by Richard Grimshaw and made from Italian alabaster – was blessed. Grimshaw also donated a new side chapel, which was beautifully decorated by Brother Mark Kangley in 1895 and was said to have no equal in Lancashire. On September 8th of that year Bishop Thomas Whiteside of Liverpool conducted the first ordinations at St. Anne’s, when he raised seven Passionists to the priesthood.

In May 1899 a new side chapel in honour of St. Paul of the Cross received rave reviews in the newspapers. Its altar was situated above the remains of Fr. Dominic Barberi and Fr. Ignatius Spencer and the chapel was reported as having been superbly decorated with some remarkable artwork.
“Convent

The Sutton Convent of St. Paul of the Cross at Waterdale, previously owned by William Blinkhorn and Arthur Sinclair

“Convent

Sutton Convent at Waterdale, previously owned by Arthur Sinclair

“Convent

The Sutton Convent at Waterdale

On November 29th 1901 the Passionist Sisters relocated to a new convent at Waterdale House in Gerards Lane / Waterdale Crescent, the former home of William Blinkhorn and Arthur Sinclair. It had been the Sisters' wish for some years to have a convent closer to St. Anne's monastery, church and schools and the large house had extensive grounds. Fr. Mark Gavin, Rector of St. Anne's, blessed their new chapel and celebrated the first Mass in their new home on December 7th 1901. The first Superior in their new abode was Mother Evangelist and the Sisters rented out their old home in Fenny's Lane to a succession of tenants before it was demolished in 1954. Mention should also be made in this section of Sister Mary Catherine Joseph who died at Sutton Convent in February 1919 at the ripe old age of 96. She was described in the Lancashire Evening Post as a 'nonagenarian nun'.
“Sutton

Left: Monastery grounds entrance by front of church; Right: Main monastery door - contributed by Ian Campbell

“Sutton

Monastery grounds entrance by front of church and monastery door

“Sutton

Monastery grounds entrance and door

In 1901 the Passionists’ church in Burtonwood, which was dedicated to St. Paul of the Cross, was re-built. Around this time 300 of St. Anne's parishioners left to found the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul at Derbyshire Hill. More parishioners left from 1916 as St.Theresa's mission was created in Gartons Lane, Sutton Manor.

In 1902 Church Road in Sutton - where the church and retreat were located - was renamed Monastery Road and three years later the church organ, which was showing signs of wear, was completely renovated. Each year a Catholic Demonstration was held involving the Passionist communities of Sutton and Burtonwood. The term demonstration simply refers to a procession that was a demonstration of faith by the participants and had no political undertone. On June 1st 1903 St. Anne’s joined the Catholics of St. Helens for the first united demonstration and two years later were given the honour of leading the procession. A committee met weekly for six months in order to make preparations, which included ordering a silk banner of St. Paul of the Cross from a Belgian firm at a cost of £40.
“St.

Left: St. Anne’s Whit Monday procession in 1905; Right: Interior of the church photographed c.1920

“St.

Whit Monday procession in 1905 and church interior c.1920

“St.

Whit Monday procession 1905 and interior of the church c.1920

The growing community at St. Anne's Retreat led to a shortage of accommodation. The solution was to knock down part of the old building and build a much-extended monastery. The work was undertaken in 1910 by C. J. Middlehurst, grandson of John Middlehurst who had built the original church and monastery six decades earlier. Red brick was used for the extension, which contrasted with the stone used in the older parts of the Retreat. The St.Helens Newspaper of January 3rd 1911 announced that the 'magnificent monastery of St. Anne Sutton' would be formally reopened and blessed by Bishop Whiteside of Liverpool on January 15th. 'The ceremony will be a solemn and impressive one', commented the paper. It was also made into an open day for visitors and hundreds of Suttoners took advantage of a rare opportunity to inspect this normally closed community.
“St.Anne's

A picture postcard of the extended monastery in Sutton, St.Helens taken around 1915

“St.Anne's

A picture postcard of the extended monastery taken around 1915

“St.Anne's

The extended St. Anne’s monastery

Sir Joseph Beecham
Joseph Beecham
The monastery re-build and extension cost over £8000 and on May 10th 1911 to help pay off the debt, a 4-day Diamond Jubilee Bazaar was opened at St. Helens Town Hall by the Mayor Sir Joseph Beecham. These bazaars were essentially sales of work and were a popular means by which religious orders could raise funds and pay off building debts. Bazaars also raised their profile and often led to subscriptions being made by companies and individuals. For example, brewers Greenall Whitley made a £50 donation to the Sutton Monastery bazaar, which raised in total the remarkable sum of £2,040. The year of 1911 was also when Fr. Dominic Barberi was declared Venerable.

During the war a number of priests from St. Anne’s served as army chaplains, including Father Felix Hawarden. The St Helens Reporter said that ‘many a poor devil, caked with mud and on the verge of death, had reason to thank God when he met a man like Father Felix’. During the war he was wounded and gassed and while travelling to Egypt on a hospital ship, Fr. Felix was torpedoed and had to cling to a plank in the water for four hours before being rescued. Father Hugh Keegan was another brave soul from St. Anne’s who spent four years in the trenches and was awarded the Military Cross.

On November 5th 1916 a Belgian Passionist, who had fled his country upon the German invasion, celebrated a Solemn Requiem Mass for all who had lost their lives in the war. In 1923 pilgrimages to Dominic Barberi’s remains at St. Anne’s commenced and during the following year the Knights of St. Columba made the journey to Sutton. On August 23rd 1925 'Dominic's Sunday' or 'Pilgrimage Sunday' was established as a regular event in the church's calendar. On that day 580 people were expected at St. Anne’s but 2,500 people turned up.

The
Rev. Father Cyril Barker was largely responsible for this huge interest in Dominic. Although the Italian priest had been interred in Sutton since 1855, awareness of him had been slight, even after being declared Venerable. However Fr. Cyril was determined to change this and he devoted extensive time to his correspondence and in searching diocesan archives. Documents were found which referred to examinations of witnesses who'd known Dominic and to the official examination of his body in 1886. In 1933 eight thousand people processed to the priest's tomb and in some years, papal telegrams were received at Monastery Lane in support of the pilgrims. In February 1936 the cause for the beatification of Dominic Barberi - which had been sent to Rome in June 1911 - was advanced a stage further, when the Congregation of Rites at the Vatican considered his 'heroic virtues'. These included admitting Cardinal Newman into the Roman Catholic Church on October 9th 1845.
“Monastery

The Monastery gardens at St. Anne's in Sutton, St. Helens - Undated but probably around 1910 - 15

“Monastery

The Monastery gardens at St. Anne's - probably taken around 1910 - 15

“Monastery

The Monastery gardens at St. Anne's

In mid-January 1929 the church closed for almost a fortnight for renovations. It was reopened on the 27th January by Archbishop Richard Downey of Liverpool to a packed congregation. On June 2nd a new chapel of the Sacred Heart and Christ the King was solemnly opened. In July and September statues of St. Philomena and St. Joseph, respectively, were unveiled. During the following year two angel candelabra, a statue of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and a solid oak war memorial were added to the church.

The Gothic-style church had been built in sandstone with a tower and steeple and John Smith had predicted that it would last forever. However, the beautiful building became damaged by mining subsidence, which has plagued Sutton over the years. On May 4th 1934, the St. Helens Newspaper reported how the spire of St. Anne's Church was going to be demolished:
 During the last few years, fractures in the wall have become so extensive, due to mining subsidence, that the arches inside the church have had to be supported by props as a safety measure. Already preparations for the demolition of the spire and tower have been made. The tower is more than one hundred feet high, and is a landmark for miles around. The church will be extended for a distance of twelve feet at the west end. The history of the church has been a story of warfare against the effects of mining subsidence. A fault, running diagonally across the west end, has caused the back of the church to be broken. Almost a year ago, the Rev. Fr. Leo, rector of the Monastery, and the Sutton Heath and Lea Green Colliery Company, decided upon the advice of the architect, Mr. W. Ellis, to reconstruct the west end of the church. No ugly patches of new masonry will disfigure the general beauty of the walls of the church, for the stone obtained from the tower and spire will be used in the extension of the church. It is hoped that the work will be completed by October. The church entrance will, on completion, be an attractive addition to the church. Through the oak doors, the worshipper will walk along to the interior of the church by a passage divided from the side chapels by handsome oak screens. The extension will contain a baptistry at the side of the entrance. Overhead a gallery will be constructed with three divisions, the centre being provided for members of the choir. One of the remaining two divisions will serve as a music conservatory, and the organ will occupy the other division…It is calculated that this extension, together with the new part of the church now occupied by the spire, will provide accommodation for 120 people. 
“The

Left: Spire at St. Anne's during demolition in 1934; Right: How the church's Lady Chapel was affected by subsidence

“The

St. Anne's spire during demolition and subsidence affecting the Lady Chapel

“The

St. Anne's spire during demolition and subsidence affecting the Lady Chapel

The spire was 128 feet high and weighed 100 tons and its painstaking demolition commenced on May 22nd 1934. While it was undertaken Sunday services took place within a screened-off area of the church unaffected by the alterations. Some masses were also said in the girls' school. Some of the larger stone obtained from the tower and spire was used in the construction of windows, pillars and courses for the new front of the church. From the remaining stones Father Fidelis Healy began constructing a Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes between the church and the clubroom. He was assisted by two miners called Joseph Webster and a Mr. Holland and it took them twelve months to bring the stones into shape.
“Sutton

The altar in the grounds of Sutton Monastery which was photographed by Frank Sheen in 1963

“Sutton

The altar in the grounds of Sutton Monastery pictured in 1963

“Sutton

The Sutton Monastery altar in 1963

Later in 1934 a permanent altar was created in the monastery grounds for use on Pilgrimage Sundays, which was now attracting as many as 8,000 pilgrims. This altar bore the Passionist Sign that had formerly been sited on the front of the Tower and its iron cross was preserved elsewhere in the grounds. The reconstructed church was finished by Christmas 1934 and Midnight Mass was the first service to be held in it. The official reopening took place on March 3rd 1935 when it was blessed by the Most Rev. Richard Downey, Archbishop of Liverpool. Three months later Critchleys of Church Street in St.Helens completed a contract to line the walls of the crypt with vitrolite glass. The Venerable Dominic’s tomb was also enhanced using vitrolite. The Lourdes Grotto was opened on August 18th 1935, with the ceremony a colourful spectacle involving a large number of schoolchildren wearing red sashes. Many schoolchildren would in future have their class photographs taken against the backdrop of the Grotto. Seven decades later (between 2001-2) Jack Arkwright and Alf Briscoe would create a new Grotto at the rear of the new church, using stone from the original one.
“The

The refectory used by the Passionist community inside St. Anne's Monastery in Sutton, St. Helens

“The

The refectory used by the Passionists inside St. Anne's Monastery

“The

The refectory inside the monastery

In June 1936 plasterers continued the task of repairing the damage that mining subsidence was causing to the monastery while painters repainted the church, including the roof and side chapels. In November the remains of Venerable Dominic Barberi were exhumed and officially examined before being transferred to a new coffin and then relaid to rest in his tomb. The publicity that this event generated probably helped to boost the numbers of pilgrims who attended the next Dominic’s Sunday. On September 3rd 1937 as many as 10,000 people made the journey to St. Anne’s.

Every year the Sutton Monastery Whit Monday field day and sports were held, which attracted thousands of spectators. In some years top athletes competed from northern athletic circles and entertainment was also provided, which in 1939 came from the New Beltone Concert Party. The stalls on the sports field during that year included those described in the St.Helens Reporter as roulette, hoopla and darts, roll-a-penny, crazy-house, rollo-wheel, hitting-the-ham, housey-housey, King’s Cup air race and a coconut ‘shie’.

Men’s retreats were regular events at the church. For example on June 25th 1939, eighty male parishioners spent the day at St.Anne’s attending lectures, receiving Holy Communion, singing and at times walking silently around the monastery gardens. Also in 1939 a new social centre was created from the small Primitive Methodist meeting house in Robins Lane that had been known as the '
Tin Chapel'. Volunteers from the parish carried out repairs and repainted the exterior. Inside the hall a dance floor was installed, which was considered the finest in the district. Previously functions had had to be held in the schools, so this was a big improvement.
“Dominic

Dominic Sunday at St. Anne’s attracted thousands of pilgrims and is pictured in 1939 (left) and in 1945

“Dominic

Dominic Sunday at St. Anne’s pictured in 1939 (left) and in 1945

“Dominic

Dominic Sunday in 1939 (left) and 1945

Dominic Sunday on August 27th 1939 took on a greater significance with the prospect of war seemingly inevitable. The St.Helens Reporter wrote that:
 Seven thousand pilgrims knelt on the rain-soaked turf as the Sacred Host was borne in procession…. (The pilgrims) filed past the tomb in an apparently unending stream and laid their petitions on the sepulchre. Many of the petitions were that the peace of the world in these critical days should be preserved. The special intention of the Novena held this year at St. Anne’s was for peace.
During October of 1939 an air raid shelter was created within the basement of Sutton Monastery that was eventually capable of accommodating 400 people. Members of the Passionist community, schoolchildren and local people used the shelter when air raid sirens sounded and children from St. Anne’s schools underwent regular practice in getting quickly undercover.

On November 9th 1941 the centenary of the arrival of the Passionist Congregation in England was celebrated at St. Anne’s, with a Pontifical Benediction preached by Archbishop Downey. In 1942 a new choir was established by
Fr. Sebastian called 'The Schola Cantorum'. With many men engaged in the armed forces or in war work, the choir comprised students from the monastery, as well as boys from the school. They sang a range of music including Plainsong - the church’s own music - as well as traditional unaccompanied Polyphonic music from the 16th and 17th centuries, plus more modern music.
“St.Anne's

The 'second' St.Anne's church which was demolished through subsidence about 1971 - contributed by Ian Campbell

“St.Anne's

The 'second' St.Anne's church which was demolished about 1971

“St.Anne's

The 2nd church was demolished c.1971

Dominic Sunday on August 26th 1945 was the first for six years. Seven weeks later on October 14th the church celebrated the centenary of Cardinal Newman being admitted into the Roman Catholic Church. The commemorations included Archbishop Downey of Liverpool preaching in Sutton. At the end of the war, the men from the parish took their place in the church choir and it twice featured in radio broadcasts. The first time was on Sunday February 15th 1948, when a service at St. Anne's was broadcast by the BBC for overseas listeners. Then on November 21st of that year, the choir featured in a series of religious broadcasts on the Home Service called 'The Creed of a Christian'. Both services were conducted by Fr. Philip and featured organist Fr. Damian. The choir at the first broadcast was conducted by Fr. Sebastian and at the second by Edward Pilkington.
“Priests

Priests at St. Anne's Church and Monastery - Left: Fr. Damien and unknown; Right: Fr. Mark - Contributed by John Barton

“Priests

Priests at St. Anne's - Left: Fr. Damien and unknown; Right: Fr. Mark

“Priests

Priests at St. Anne's monastery

Subsidence continued to cause a problem at St. Anne's and in 1948 the infants' school was closed, along with part of the church from the west door to beyond Venerable Dominic’s tomb. It was reported that its arches were severed by yawning, chasm-like cracks and the floor had sunk to a sharp angle. Fortunately the shrine was unaffected. School lessons took place in the Robins Lane parish centre until a new school was opened in 1950.
“The

The community at St. Anne's pictured in 1949 - Photograph taken by Arthur Normington of Waterdale Crescent

“The

The community at St. Anne's in 1949 - Photograph by Arthur Normington

“The

The community at St. Anne's in 1949

The dual centenaries of the foundation of St. Anne's Monastery and the death of the Ven. Barberi, were commemorated in 1949 by a week of services and celebrations. These culminated in a Solemn High Mass held in the monastery grounds on the morning of Sunday August 28th. This was sung by the Most Rev. Father Albert Deane, Superior General of the Passionists, in the presence of the Archbishop of Liverpool, Richard Downey. This was also Pilgrimage Sunday and the latter led the annual procession to the tomb of the Venerable Dominic, watched by thousands of pilgrims.
“The

In 1963 the body of Blessed Dominic was placed in a marble sarcophagus and a shrine was built around it

“The

In 1963 the body of Blessed Dominic was placed in a marble sarcophagus

“The

Blessed Dominic’s marble sarcophagus

In an article marking the centenary of Fr. Barberi's death, The Times of August 22nd referred to him as a '…remarkable figure in the nineteenth-century revival of Roman Catholicism in England'. A memorial to commemorate the twin centenaries representing 'Our Lord in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane' was also unveiled that year.
“St.Anne’s
On January 30th 1950 Joseph Barr was presented with a medal by the Rector Camillus Nolan for thirty-seven years service as organist. The choir also gave a concert in his honour. There were thousands of weddings conducted within the old church, although photographs of services are rare. However Lisa Heaney has supplied the above photograph of her grandparents’ wedding day, with John Heaney and Catherine Gilligan marrying on November 1st 1952. They are also pictured after the ceremony with the priest Father Fidelis Healy who officiated at the service and is buried at St. Anne’s. As previously mentioned, Father Fidelis was responsible for constructing the Lourdes Grotto.

“Joseph
Mayor Joseph Murphy
In 1954 the church was repainted and in March 1958 new fluorescent lighting was installed in both the church and the monastery, with the latter also being repainted. In May 1960 Joseph Murphy from Junction Lane became the first parishioner to be made Mayor of St.Helens, having been educated at St. Anne’s School along with his wife Bett. Later in the year on Dominic’s Sunday, Father Norbert Hughes revealed to the 10,000 pilgrims that Rome was considering two possible miracles as part of Father Dominic’s Cause for Sainthood. Eighteen months later there was great joy in Sutton, when it was learnt that both miracles had been accepted.

The day of October 27th 1963 was one of the most remarkable in the history of St. Anne's. That was when
Pope Paul VI beatified Fr. Dominic Barberi in Rome. Beatification is a very important stage in what is usually a lengthy process that culminates in an individual's canonisation, i.e. being declared a saint. It demonstrates a proven ability to intercede on behalf of those who pray in his or her name and the title ‘Blessed’ is given to a beatified person.
“Beatification
A week of celebrations and thanksgivings were held in Sutton and on the day itself, a solemn high mass was held in a large marquee that was capable of accommodating 5,000 worshippers. St.Helens Corporation installed floodlights that illuminated the facade of the church and a new shrine for Blessed Dominic's body - which rested in a marble sarcophagus - was blessed. The Guardian newspaper predicted that as a result of the beatification, St. Anne's would become a 'major centre of Catholic pilgrimage in England'.

A letter from
‘Reg’ Smith, the Vicar of Sutton, congratulating the Passionists on the beatification was greatly appreciated at St. Anne’s. This appears to have been the spark that led to the vicar and two curates, along with 60 members of his congregation attending Dominic’s Sunday in 1965. Christian unity was also enhanced at Christmas 1965 when the choirs of both churches participated in a joint carol concert at Sutton Parish Hall in New Street.
“St.Annes

The entrance to St. Anne's Church in Sutton, St.Helens, which was photographed by Miss C. M. Fazackerley around 1950 - 1960

“St.Annes

St. Anne's Church which was photographed by Miss C. M. Fazackerley around 1960

“St.Annes

St. Anne's Church around 1960

The Borrows family had done more for the parish than any other. What was particularly remarkable was how each successive generation from the original loco makers in the 19th century had continued the policy of benefaction towards St. Anne’s. On February 27th 1967 Gertrude Borrows and her brother Edward were presented with the Benemerenti medal. This is an honour awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for special service to the Catholic Church.

On July 30th 1973, the remains of Elizabeth (Mother Mary Joseph) Prout and Fr. Ignatius Spencer were exhumed from the crypt of the old church and then placed in a special shrine chapel that would also house the tomb of Blessed Dominic Barberi. This was at a new church - to be known as St. Anne & the Blessed Dominic - as the war against subsidence had finally been lost.
“Sutton

Left: High Altar from Monastery Choir; Middle: The 32nd Rector Camillus Nolan; Right: Upper Monastery corridor

“Sutton

Left: High Altar; Middle: Camillus Nolan; Right: Upper Monastery corridor

“Sutton

Left: High Altar from Monastery Choir; Middle: 32nd Rector Camillus Nolan; Right: Upper Monastery corridor

In an article in the Guardian published on July 27th 1973 they described the monastery of St. Anne's Retreat as a 'green oasis amid the industry that has grown around and beneath it in the past hundred years'. The article stated that the reinterment of the three prospective saints was being made under a special Home Office licence, which stipulated that their mortal remains must lie below ground. This was because their original place of burial within the old church had been below ground. The new church was formally opened and blessed by the Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Rev. George Beck, on November 25th 1973. In the Order of Service he wrote:
 We must not anticipate the judgement of the Holy See but it is not altogether fantastic to think that in the future St. Anne’s may be the shrine of three saints intimately associated with the development of Catholic life in this country during the past 150 years.
The church had cost £150,000 to build and although most of the old stained-glass windows were transferred to the new place of worship, five went to Sweden for a new Passionist church in Jönköping. The last mass in the old, historic church was celebrated on November 30th 1973 by the Rector Father Eugene Kennan, who recalled the glory of the past but also looked forward to the future. The old St. Anne’s church was finally demolished in November 1974.
“Dominic

Left: Dominic Barberi's Pilgrimage Day at St. Anne's RC Church in August 1948; Right: The Monastery library

“Dominic

Left: Dominic Barberi's 1948 Pilgrimage day; Right: The monastery library

“Dominic

Left: Dominic Barberi's 1948 Pilgrimage Day; Right: Monastery library

The re-interment of Elizabeth Prout created additional interest in her and in January 1974 Sisters from all over the country came to St. Anne’s on a pilgrimage to their foundress’s shrine. This was so successful that it became an annual event known as Mother Mary Joseph’s Day and held every May. On September 4th 1975 the first Flower Festival was held at St. Anne’s on the theme of ‘Living with Christ’. It lasted for four days, featured 2,000 blooms and attracted 7,000 visitors.

The BBC recognised the efforts of the Sutton Catholic community and the heritage of their church and monastery by televising their 11 o'clock Mass on February 29th 1976. The Radio Times described it as 'Sunday Mass from St Anne's Retreat, Sutton, St Helen's, Lancs.' with the principal celebrants being
Fr. Andrew Lane, the Very Rev. Fr. Eugene Kennan, choirmaster James Aldred and the organist was David Saint. On May 26th 1984 the first annual Rosary Rally was held at St. Anne’s. Four years later on October 16th 1988 the Beatification of Charles Houben of Mount Argus took place. This had special interest for the Passionist community at St. Anne’s as the Dutch priest had lived in Sutton in 1856 and then again between 1867 to 1872.

There was another special day on May 18th 1994, when
Archbishop Derek Warlock opened the 'Cause' for the canonisation of Elizabeth Prout in Sutton. Those who prepared the Cause's documentation included archivist Dr. Edna Hamer (Sister Dominic Savio) and Fr. Barry McAllister, with Fr. Paul Spencer as postulator.
“Sutton

The interior of a private chapel in Sutton Monastery which was photographed by Frank Sheen in 1963

“Sutton

The interior of a private chapel in Sutton Monastery pictured in 1963

“Sutton

Private chapel in Sutton Monastery

If canonised, Elizabeth Prout will probably be known as Saint Elizabeth of Manchester, as it was in that city that her most notable work was done, supporting impoverished mill girls. She spent a number of years in Sutton, where she served as headmistress of the church school, dying at the Fenney's Lane convent in 1864. On June 29th 2008, the local phase of the Cause was completed and a dense file was passed onto the Vatican. In May 2012 theologians attached to the Holy See stated in a draft of a position paper that Elizabeth Prout had lived out the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity to a 'heroic degree'. This is an important first step in which the 'Mother Teresa of Manchester' – as some have dubbed Elizabeth – would ultimately be declared 'venerable' by the Pope. Two possible miracles concerning individuals in Chile - who have recovered from serious conditions after their families prayed to Elizabeth - have also been identified.
“Elizabeth

Elizabeth Prout, Dominic Barberi and Ignatius Spencer whose remains are in a shrine at St. Anne & Blessed Dominic

“Elizabeth

Elizabeth (Mother Mary Joseph) Prout, Dominic Barberi & Ignatius Spencer

“Elizabeth

Elizabeth Prout, Blessed Dominic Barberi and Fr. Ignatius Spencer

The convent that Elizabeth Prout had founded closed on June 13th 1979. The building became a fun pub - initially 'Cloisters', then refurbished as 'The Tropical' - before being demolished. However the Sisters of the Cross and Passion didn't leave Sutton for good, as they returned in December 1984, renting two council houses in Eugene Avenue, which later became Tilbrook Drive. These properties would have been quite a contrast from the large convent at Waterdale House, but would have been more suitable for the sisters' needs as their numbers diminished.

On March 1st 2011, an inquiry into the possible sainthood of Fr. Ignatius Spencer
(1799-1864) was presented to the Vatican's Congregation for Saints. Father Ignatius had been born George Spencer on December 21st 1799 and he was an ancestor of both Winston Spencer Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales. In fact images of Ignatius bear a striking resemblance to Britain's former wartime leader and Princes William and Harry are his great-great-great-great nephews.

It is quite conceivable that at some point in the future, Sutton could have a shrine devoted to three Saints, as
Frank Free wrote in his book 'Our Heritage in Sutton and Bold' in 1979:
 So here in a lovely shrine, especially built for the purpose, are the mortal remains of the son of an Italian farmer, the son of a noble English family and the daughter of a good Protestant family. Their lives may have ended, but their inspiration lives on in those around them and in others farther afield who make pilgrimages to this sacred shrine to gather the faith, courage and hope that sustained these faithful three who now rest with their Maker.
“Grotto

Original grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes built out of stone from the church's tower and steeple - contributed by Ian Campbell

“Grotto

Original grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes built of stone from the church tower

“Grotto

Original grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

“New

Between 2001-2 Jack Arkwright and Alf Briscoe created a new grotto using stone from the original grotto

“New

Between 2001-2 Jack Arkwright and Alf Briscoe created a new grotto

“New

Between 2001-2 Jack Arkwright and Alf Briscoe created a new grotto using stone from the original grotto

Video on the Life of Elizabeth Prout by Mary Ann Strain:
Other Relevant Pages and Articles on Sutton’s RC Churches:
Other Pages and Articles on St. Anne’s RC Churches:
Next: Part 10)  Religion in Sutton Part 3 (St.Theresa & St.Joseph)
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
This website is written and researched by Stephen R. Wainwright ©MMXVII  Contact Me
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Facebook
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Google Plus
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Facebook
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Google Plus