Time to remember as St Bernadine’s celebrates 40 years

St Bernadine's original parishioners with current clergy
St Bernadine's original parishioners with current clergy

A very special Mass was followed by a glass of prosecco and a slice of celebration cake for a Catholic church congregation.

Parishioners at St Bernardine’s, in Buckingham, celebrated 40 years at the church’s ‘new’ site last month.

It was exactly 40 years ago, on October 26 1974, that St Bernardine’s celebrated its transfer from its former site on London Road, near what is now St Bernardine’s Way, with Mass and a big party.

In fact, the move was actually a return to the origins of St Bernardine’s.

Back in 1892, a Belgian Fransiscan friar arrived in Buckingham – renting a cottage in Elm Street, near the Mitre pub – wishing to set up a seminary college for young men wanting to become Franciscan monks.

By 1895 there was a chapel at 9 Chandos Road and soon after that the college was built on the London Road.

As the number of parishioners grew, the college chapel became the first St Bernardine’s Parish Church.

In 1968, the college, which had by then become a secondary-level boarding school for boys, closed and the buildings were sold to Bucks County Council, although the friars were given permission to continue to use the chapel until they could build a church of their own.

It was decided to develop the site of the original chapel in Chandos Road – hence the Church of St Bernardine’s which stands today next to the University of Buckingham’s Chandos Road Building.

At the beginning of the 2014 Anniversary Mass, people who had been in the parish for 40 years or more were invited to process into the church behind Fr Dan and Deacon John and afterwards a number of ‘older’ parishioners shared their memories of that special day in 1974.

Mary Ivens, of Maids Moreton, said: “I got married in the college chapel on the London Road in 1955, having come to the town from Ireland to work as a nurse at Buckingham Hospital.

“My three children were all christened in the old church.

“By 1974 we had moved to Towcester, but I came with our parish priest to join in all the excitement of the opening of the new St Bernardine’s Parish Church.”

Greta Gillions, of Woodlands Crescent, Buckinhgam, who also came from Ireland, said: “My son Michael was an altar boy and I have a photo of him along with a number of other altar boys who were serving at the very first Mass in 1974.

“The following year, my daughter, Catherine, was among the first group at the new church to make her First Holy Communion.”

Chandos Road resident Kay D’Ath took along some photos of St Bernardine’s Church as it was in the early days.

She said: “I don’t really remember much about the day as I was busy upstairs helping with the catering, but I do remember it was very hot for the time of year.

“Also, I recall that it wasn’t until 1982, eight years later, that the church was finally consecrated.

“We had to wait until the debt for building the church was repaid before it could be consecrated by the bishop, and that didn’t happen without a lot of help from the parishioners.”

Tony Gordon, who lives on the Badgers estate and attends Mass with his wife Gemma and 11-year-old son James, was just eight years old in 1974.

He said: “I wasn’t old enough to be an altar boy, like my older brothers, so my younger brother and I each carried a candle in the procession up to the altar.

“We were known as ‘acolytes’.

“I remember we had quite a few practice sessions beforehand until we got it right.”

His mother, Ellen of Western Avenue, remembers: “The occasion was tinged with great sadness because Father Christopher, who should have been our first parish priest, died two days before the opening.

“He had just been hearing confessions and then, out of the blue, had a heart attack.

“It had been a very busy time for him, walking backwards and forwards from London Road, overseeing the work on the new building in Chandos Road.

“A lot of us were very sad, not only at the loss of Father Christopher, but also because the old church was very beautiful and very grand and the new church was so much smaller.

“Some of the local people called it ‘the lean-to’ or even ‘the pigeon-loft’. However, in the event, the new church turned out to be lovely.

“A local lady sculptor, who was nine months pregnant at the time, designed and made the elaborate front door and the corresponding altar out of fibreglass.

“Meanwhile, a chap from Italy painted some very distinctive murals of the Stations of the Cross on the inside wall on the left-hand side of the church.

“I remember feeling quite concerned when an old 84-year-old monk arrived with a bag of old bits of coloured glass left over from Clifton Cathedral to make a stained-glass window.

“I was wondering how it would turn out, but I needn’t have worried – the end results were beautiful, and still there to admire today.

“We all enjoyed a big party after the Mass (and after my youngest son was shocked to catch the bishop smoking) to which a wide variety of local dignitaries had been invited - local government officials, doctors, clergymen from other Buckingham churches and even the Sherrif of Buckingham – the Church was packed. The ladies of the parish had spent many hours preparing a wonderful spread of food, including some scrumptious steak pies, and among the assorted puddings there were some delicious apple pies and lovely trifles.”

Martin Giblin of Gawcott Road, also remembered Father Christopher: “He was my hero – a lovely man and a real saint who walked around the town in sandals, whether

it was summer or winter.

“He watched over all the building work of the new St Bernardine’s church, but never got to enjoy the end result.

“He died watching Dick Emery, two weeks before the opening.”

Fr Dan explained: “I was a priest in Northampton 40 years ago and knew nothing at the time about what was happening in Buckingham.

“Little did I know that 20 years later I would become parish priest, or that 20 years after that we would be all together celebrating.

“It is lovely to see how our community has grown over the years.”