Our Church 40th Anniversary - St Bernardines Catholic Church

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Our Church 40th Anniversary - St Bernardines Catholic Church
St Bernardine’s 40th Anniversary Celebration
Parishioners at St Bernardine’s Catholic Church gathered together to celebrate 40 years at
the “new” site in Chandos Road on Sunday 26th October, enjoying a glass of Prosecco and a
slice of celebration cake after 11am Mass.
I
It was 40 years ago exactly, on 26th October 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.
Bishop Charles conducting an opening mass 40 years ago
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 no 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 Buckinghamshire 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 Chandos Road Buckingham
University 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, Buckingham who also originated from Ireland,
explained: “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.”
Kay D’Ath of Chandos Road, Buckingham brought 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 Badger’s estate and regularly attends Mass along 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, Buckingham 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 fibre-glass.
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.”
Ellen concludes: “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, Buckingham 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 altogether celebrating. It is lovely to see
how our community has grown over the years. Welcome everyone today – those from 40 years
ago or more and those who are more recent. Hurrah – 40 years – it’s definitely worth
celebrating!”

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