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Parish Profile

Westminster Record August 2011

St Thomas More, Knebworth

We have a good community here. I am very proud of them

By Rachel Obordo Approaching St Thomas More ChurchinKnebworth,Iammetwith abuildingthatlooks,atfirstsight, like a modern version of the pyramidsofEgypt,withitspointed roofandbrickworkresemblingthe monumentstothepharaohs. However, although it may not stretch back 3,000 years,  as the first church in the UK to be dedicatedtothesaintoftheEnglish Reformation, the Catholic church in Knebworth is already in the historybooks. Knebworth is a small village in Hertfordshire, just south of Stevenage. Canon Danny Cronin has been parish priest at Knebworth for four years. He was previously Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral and Chancellor of the Diocese of Westminster. Aside from his priestly duties, he has written a number of anthologies associated with his column in The Universe newspaper, such as ‘Through the Year with Words of Wisdom’. Sitting in a light-filled conservatory, Canon Cronin tells me about the parish: “It is very lively. There are lots of young families and young children. In a place like this, you really see the Church as a microcosm. You see the whole community, the vitality, the youthfulness, and the normality. It’s a very typical, good parish.” As a former national chaplain for the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP),

Canon Danny Cronin with a statue of St Thomas More

Canon Cronin is particularly proud of the work the society does within his parish. “I have great regard for the SVP” he tells me. “ It is one of, if not the, greatest organisation of the Church. The Society is very strong in the parish and has recently recruited six new members. There is a fantastic spirit about them, and it is a group that does a tremendous amount of good.”

Celebrating 75 years Canon Cronin provides me with an insight into the origins of the parish and tells me that a temporary church, standing on the site of the current parish hall, was built in January 1935. That church was the first in the country to be dedicated to St Thomas More on the day of his canonisation on the 16 May 1935. At the end of June 2011, Archbishop Vincent Nichols came to the church to celebrate the 75th anniversary Mass of its dedication. “The Archbishop preached beautifully and made a big impression on everyone”. says Canon Cronin. “When the choir sang a special blessing for him composed by John Rutter he said: ‘It is something I will never forget.’ He was friendly, kind and good at ‘pressing the flesh’, to use that phrase. His visit will be something everyone will remember for a long time.” The parish boasts a wonderful choir (which a visitor to the parish said was “worthy of a cathedral”). Acting on this suggestion, as part of the events to mark the parish’s anniversary, Canon Cronin arranged for the parish choir to perform at Westminster Cathedral. “The choir did incredibly well and they certainly surpassed themselves. Taking half of the congregation to the Cathedral was a tremendous occasion for everyone involved.” Another highlight of the celebrations was the screening of the film ‘A Man for all Seasons’. The 1966 film features Paul Scofield as St Thomas More and depicts the life of the saint and his refusal to acknowledge King Henry VIII’s position as the head of the Church of England. This screening gave the parish the opportunity to learn more about their church’s saint. Telling me about its effect on the community, Canon Cronin said: “The events gave the parish a wonderful lift and a great time was had by all. ”

Something to marvel at The foundation stone of the present church building was laid in 1962. I

find the interior simple and unassuming, with the tabernacle housed to the side of the altar. On one side of the sanctuary there is a small chapel dedicated to St Thomas More, and on the other a chapel dedicated to Our Lady that is also used as a prayer room. The linear motif of the exterior continues inside with a striking metal ‘baldacchino’. For a church dedicated to one of the Catholic martyrs of England and Wales, it reminds me of the “Tyburn Tree”, the gallows used in the 16th century for the execution of many English martyrs. The font in particular is something to marvel at. Of course it is primarily there for baptism, but it also doubles as a water feature. The sound of continually flowing water helps add to a sacred space that is tranquil and prayerful. In continuing to embellish the interior of the church, the parish has made use of a wide range of home grown creative talent. These include a statue of St Thomas More and stainedglass windows in the Lady chapel made by a parishioner

St Thomas More Church interior (above) and the front of the building (inset)

A Fantastic team Canon Cronin is keen to sing the praises of his parishioners. At Knebworth, he tells me, there is a “lively atmosphere, with a very can do attitude. There are a lot of people here who can really help with everything”. These include local teachers who help with the sacramental preparation throughout the year. “We have a fantastic team of catechists who maintain a high standard and love their work,” he tells me. Most secondary age school children from the parish attend the John Henry Newman School in Stevenage. Canon Cronin says: “It is an absolutely outstanding school in every way. The headteacher, Michael Kelly, is just first class. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better head. All the pupils are happy, even at that difficult age, to engage with you.” Canon Cronin’s predecessor, Fr Philip Law, was at the parish for 15 years and is chaplain to the school. He know lives in sheltered accommodation in the parish. Canon Cronin tells me: “Fr Philip is a kind and gentle man and is really our ‘praying presence’.” This was my first visit to Knebworth parish and it is evident that it is blessed with a caring and passionate priest. Leaving Canon Cronin I feel confident that the Catholic faith will continue to flourish and grow in this parish.

Lady Chapel and Prayer room

For more information For more information on St Thomas More Church, visit www.stthomasmorercchurch. or call 01438813303 or email or

SundayMass (Sat 6pm), 8, 10 (sung) HolyDayMass (Evening 7.30pm), 9.30 WeekdayMass 9.30 (except Mon) Mon 7.15pm Confession Sat 5-5.45pm Exposition Friday after Mass till noon Page 9

Parish Profile - Knebworth  
Parish Profile - Knebworth