A PARISH HISTORY
1958 – 2015
In 1946, on leaving her house “Woodeaves”, Mrs Waugh donated, in memory of her deceased eldest daughter, five acres of land, on which an adjacent “Manor House” stood derelict, for the building of a church. Canon Donnelly, parish priest of St Vincent’s, Altrincham arranged the purchase of “Woodeaves” and its remaining extensive grounds, to realise his longstanding dream of a school for Catholic boys in this rapidly growing area.
The Irish Christian Brothers were invited to establish the school, and from 1946 to 1963 St Ambrose College was located in “Woodeaves”, and a Chapel of Ease was formed there for the local Catholic community, Mass being offered by a visiting priest from St Vincent’s. In September 1958, Fr Gerald McDonald, curate at St Edward’s, Runcorn, was appointed by Bishop John Murphy as parish priest, residing initially with the Christian Brothers, but with a brief to build a church dedicated to the Holy Angels. The church was designed by Arthur Farebrother, a young Catholic architect living in Hale Barns, who had been influenced by
Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, when visiting as a chorister to hear Gregorian chant. In consequence, the church incorporates a number of architectural features found at Quarr. Designed as a Choir Church, the building had to be narrower than intended, as special piling was needed with the discovery of a prehistoric glacial lake under the site. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Grasar on 15 September 1962, in mud and pouring rain. The church cost some £80,000 and was built by T Brown and Sons of Wilmslow. The completed church was dedicated on 12 March 1964.
In 1975, two hundred priests and religious of the Diocese concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Bruno Heim, Apostolic Delegate, during his Holy Year visit. In 1969, Granada TV televised a sung Mass concelebrated with Bishop Grasar, and the BBC recorded “Sunday Half Hour” in the church in January 1997.
Music has featured prominently in the parish, from the robed choir in the choir stalls around the altar, to the “Little Angels” children’s choir; and with professional recordings produced in the church, one of which was, “Hymns for the Angels” – a Benediction Service organised by the Blessed Sacrament Guild with traditional Catholic hymns sung by the congregation. The church is used periodically for rehearsal and for concerts by Altrincham Choral Society and by the Romulus Singers, and is in frequent use by St Ambrose College. A number of former choir members now sing professionally, while one former parishioner and organist, Martin Baker, is currently Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, and another former parishioner and organist, now Monsignor Philip Whitmore, is Rector of Rome’s Venerable English College. The pipe organ on which they played, originating from Ringway Chapel, was later replaced by an electronic instrument, the pipe organ being donated to a parish in Romania.
The parish debt was cleared in 1980, owing to the efforts of an enterprising Parish Committee, while to this day the Ladies Blessed Sacrament Guild, formed in the early days, continues to meet the cost of altar requirements – altar cloths, hosts, wine, candles, etc – and in 1974, provided a beautiful stained glass rose window in the Lady Chapel.
Following Vatican II, the original marble altar rails were removed in 1989, some being re-used in the ambo, and the baptismal font was moved from the traditional adjoining baptistery to the front of the church, the baptistery becoming initially a parish library, and later, with the books moved to be displayed in the ambulatory behind the Sanctuary, a small meeting room. In the Lady Chapel, Our Lady’s statue was moved from above her dedicated altar to a side wall and replaced by embroidered panels created by the parish embroidery group. The high altar remains unchanged.
Various groups provide a strong social cohesion, while others, including SVP, Pro-Life, Third World, and various prayer groups, engage in charitable and devotional activities within the parish and beyond, extending to involvement in Churches Together in Hale and the Altrincham Interfaith Group.
After almost 30 years as parish priest, Fr McDonald retired in 1987, being succeeded by Fr Roger Clarke until his replacement in 1991 by Canon Christopher Dwyer. On Canon Dwyer’s retirement in 2002, Father (now Canon) David Roberts became parish priest, to be succeeded in 2012 by Father Jonathan Brandon.
Holy Angels is one of four churches forming the new Altrincham Pastoral Area. With the closure of St John the Baptist Church and the combining of that parish with St Hugh of Lincoln, Pastoral Area No15 now includes the three parishes of St Vincent de Paul, St Hugh and St John, and Holy Angels.
The Golden Jubilee of the parish of Holy Angels in 2008, and the Golden Jubilee of the dedication of the church in 2014, has been celebrated over the period by many and various events. An article in the Shrewsbury Diocesan Yearbook, as well as features on the parish website, celebrated the founding of the parish, but the main celebration commenced in November 2010 with a Parish Day, providing the many parish organisations with an opportunity to display examples of their impressively varied work and activities.
In July 2011 an International Mass was followed by a parish luncheon, celebrated with members of the many nationalities that are part of the parish community, with all those attending dressed in a huge variety of national costume. The church was adorned with flags and colourful decorations to match that variety.
September 2012 saw the erection and blessing of a large hand-hewn wooden carving of angels positioned at the entrance to the church grounds, with the blessing followed by a Ministry Fair with refreshments in St Ambrose Preparatory School hall.
The highlight of 2013, on 13 October to coincide with the dedication by Pope Francis of the world to Our Lady, was the blessing by Fr Jonathan of the new landscaped shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and the dedication of the parish of Holy Angels to Our Lady, using the same text used by the pope. It has since become the custom that, after receiving their First Holy Communion, children process together to the shrine, each carrying a rose, to make their thanksgiving, and to have a group photograph taken with Fr Jonathan. The beautiful shrine has been provided by Holy Angels Blessed Sacrament Guild.
Approaching the parish feast of The Holy Angels on 29 September 2014, a series of events commenced, with a Parish Jubilee Pilgrimage on 24 September to the shrine of Our Lady at Ladyewell near Preston. On Friday 26 September, a major Jubilee Celebration of Spirituality and Reflection took place in the church, attended by the Mayor of Trafford, with clergy and representatives of other faith groups throughout the area, and featuring singers, readers, musicians and dancers, with refreshments afterwards in the Preparatory School Hall. The following morning there was a Jubilee Parish Walk and Pub Lunch, and on the Sunday a Jubilee Barbecue and Bake-Off.
A series of spiritual events led into 2015, featuring retreat evenings during Advent, and culminating in a Jubilee Retreat in Daily Life in January. A Jubilee Tea for parishioners and others was organised in May, while the youngsters of the parish entered a decorated Jubilee float in the Altrincham Festival on 4 July, and were awarded the trophy for Best Voluntary Entry.