Church History

The early history of our Church was moulded in the big but gentle hands of a “giant of a man,” Father Paddy Spain. Fr Spain arrived at St Lawrence’s in September 1957 with the commission of establishing the parish of Mother of God in Northwood. To be be nearer his people, our founder made his temporary home in a council house:  4 Retford Road, by Quarry Green. The first mass in Northwood was celebrated by Fr Spain, not under his own church-roof, but in the hall of Quarry Green Council School. Of course, it was Christmas midnight mass.

After this, events were made to hurry by our first parish priest, in his efforts to provide for  his people. In April 1958 Sacred Heart School was opened, and was completed by September (it was known as “St Mary’s at first).  The infants were in the care of head Sister Ita and the Juniors in that of Mr Jack Mullens; while Infants and then Juniors’ halls were used as mass-centre. In May, the Parish Club opened its doors under its first president, Mr Charlie Neill. The foundation stone of the Church itself was laid at a ceremony presided over by Archbishop Heenan. Fr Pat O’Sullivan arrived as curate in October, and was generously asked by Fr Spain to say the first mass in the new Church of Mother of God, at 8.oo am on Sunday 18th of January 1959.

It was only around this time that the presbytery was ready for occupation; and now Fr Fredrick Rose was able to begin work as curate in August that year.  Before that, in May 1959, St Marie’s School (St Mark’s originally) began teaching more parish children: with Sister Theophane as head of the Infants and Mr Frank Moran in the Juniors. But,with Kirkby’s population consisting greatly of young families hoping for better a life in this building-site of a new town, even these schools were not enough. Fr Spain,then, saw to the building of St Anthony’s Primary School, commencing education under Mr Jim Gaffney in 1964. Fr Spain, also, played a leading in the construction of St Kevin’s and St Gregory’s in these pioneer years.The debts owed by the parish were huge. and the strains on the priests were not merely financial. yet, Fr Spain was able to celebrate his Silver  Jubilee in 1963, happily with his curates and the people of the parish, by now deep in the warmth of their affection.

Some of the burden was eased by the coming of Fr Murphy in 1962 with purpose of setting up of Sacred Heart parish. This was well under way in 1964. typical of the busy Catholic life in Kirkby during these early days were the whit walks. Ten thousand was not unusual figure from all the parishes of Kirkby to march in witness. The mother of God contingent might set out down Bigdale Drive, Minstead and Westhead Avenue, County Road, join with the other groups to converge, one year, on Sacred Heart School, where Archbishop Heenan led the service, with the then Father (now Bishop) Hitchen directed operation from the school roof. Perhaps its was this sort of devotion that helped inspire two young women of the parish to enter the religious life in 1963. Maureen Finnegan,of Carfax Road,was president of the junior Praesidium of the Legion of Mary of Mother of God, which was active at the time. This twenty-one year old girl, who worked for kirkby council and was a keen dancer ,joined the enclosed community of Carmelites in West Derby Sister Mary Bernadette went to Chingwell in Essex to begin her vocation with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. This seventeen year old was Kathleen Mary Davis of Kenmay Walk.

Fr Screene, posted to St kevin’s and living at St Mary’s despite his spectacles and gentle ways, had been encouraged and introduced by the now Dean Spain (since 1967) as a new player into St Patrick’s a local Gaelic Athletic Association hurling team. Fr Spain himself had been captain of the Lancashire side. which defeated London in the 1940 final and remained president or vice-president of St Patrick’s since 1938. It fell to young Fr Screene to discover the collapsed  body of his parish priest. At fifty five. Fr Spain had seemed as full of life and energy as ever. It was Friday 19th of July 1968. Fr Screene had time to administer the last Sacraments

Our Church was overflowing during the lying-in, the following Monday evening at the Requiem Mass on Tuesday 23rd, the crowds were even greater, lining the streets nearby, Many openly wept. members of the Liverpool Irish community were there. Prime Minister Harold Wilson , our local M.P then ,sent M.P Simon Mahon to represent him. The Chairman of Kirkby Council attended, along with the vicar general of the diocese and literally, hundreds of priest from all over the Country.  The coffin, taken to Speke Airport, was flown to Dublin, accompanied by forty family members, priest and friends.  In Ireland, hundreds more followed Fr Spain’s body to its final rest in his home village of Kilruane, near Nenagh, County  Tipperary.

Among the many tributes, Mr T Walsh, who was manager of the Irish Centre, stressed Fr Spain’s invaluable work for the Irish community in Liverpool, particularly in securing the foundation of the Irish Centre itself: and there was also his heroism at St Anthony’s, Scotland Road during the blitz, when Fr William Kavanagh was killed in the bombing, Fr Jimmy Collin’s summed the best:

“Never too busy to take on something else…..All that energy and zeal were poured out on the families moving into the mud and desert of Northwood …. A laughing giant of a man unafraid, tender, with the thought of Jesus and Mary always near the surface, but veiled by laughter and wit.”

That year, 1968 saw the return of Fr Gerard Snape after a short residence here, to the mission-field of Nigeria. Fr Screene was to take up new duties. the hard working and well loved fathers O’Sullivan and Rose ,also departed for new parishes. They, too, were badly missed; but, for them, as for all, Mother of God parish would never be the same. it was about this time that the church came officially  to be known as “St Mary’s”. an era had certainly ended.

Although Fr Spain and his curates had laid the foundations for a very successful parish, after his death the pastoral work of the parish was continued by Fr James Cummins  (now the Cannon Cummins of Wigan), He, in turn,was assited by Fathers Michael O’Callaghan, Charles Canning, Henry Powell and Stephen Wilson. Fr Michael Reilly succeeded Father Cummins as parish Priest in 1978. With his curates FR Paul Glover and Fr Hugh Malchy ,he cared for St Mary’s until 1980 when the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were invited by the diocese to assume responsibility for the parish.   (Another Chapter)


Short Biographical of Fr Spain

Father Spain was born in Kilruane, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, on October 7th, 1913 and is one of tweleve children.

He received his early education in Kilruane National School and St.Flannan’s College, Ennis, and came to Upholland College in 1932. He wa ordained in St. Alexander’s, Bootle, on July 24th, 1938.

His first appointment was to St. Michael’s, Ditton,where he remained for six months before going to St. Patrick’s, Widnes .

After spending some two years in Widnes he went to St. Bridget’s and St. anthony’s for short periods and then to St. Michael’s West Derby, Road, where he served for sixteen years with the Very Reverand Dean Norris,P,P.

In 1957 he left St. Michael’s to take over and build the Parish of Mother of God in  Northwood, Kirkby. R.I.P .



 Short Biographical of Fr O’Sullivan

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Short Biographical of Fr Rose

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Short Biographical of Fr Murphy

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Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Northwood 1980 to present Day (2017)

If anyone as any more information about the History of our parish, please write it down and leave at the Church office and any comments good or bad are welcome. Also anyone with any information about Sacred Heart Church, and would like to write the history of the Church or help to compile please get in touch.

thank you Des.