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Parish Profile 100,000 Candles for Westminster’s Olympic Parish

Westminster Record June 2012

By Lucy Jenkinson

Fr Michael, Karen and James

Bow’s parish church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena, was built by Cardinal Manning in 1866 and consecrated just two years later, to address the need for a Catholic church in the East End of London. A few years prior to this Cardinal Manning had invited the Sisters of the Dominican Order of St Catherine of Siena from Stone in Staffordshire to come and run an orphanage in Walthamstow Manor. The sisters had obliged but once in London they were keen to work with the poor and so Cardinal Manning allowed them to move to Bow where they built a convent and ran both a free school and a fee paying one. The state school, St Agnes, remains today. ‘Beautiful, unspoilt architecture’ For nearly 150 years the beautiful church, designed by Gilbert Blount, has stood firm as a beacon of hope in times of despair and as a place where the local Catholic community can come together in times of celebration. Apart from having the roof replaced after it was hit by a bomb in WW2, and the recent installation of new pews, the church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena remains, in the words of Fr Michael, “An example of beautiful, unspoilt, gothic Victorian architecture.” Something else that has not changed a great deal since the churches construction is the fact that Tower Hamlets, the borough in which Bow is situated, is the poorest borough in the whole of England. The challenges facing the parishioners of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena are therefore simply about making ends meet, there is little fundraising that can be done, and the shift patterns most work make organising community events very difficult – or so one would think.

What I find when I sit down to talk with Fr Michael Dunne though is a no-nonsense approach to these problems. He answers my questions about social cohesion in the area honestly and doesn’t flinch when I bring up the subject of gang related violence, telling me he buried a young man who belonged to the parish within his first three weeks in Bow Having moved gradually eastwards during his time as a priest starting in Chiswick before passing through Brook Green and Westminster Cathedral – the kind of everyday issues encountered by Fr Michael have changed somewhat, his energy for resolving them though has not. Catering for the Olympics The influx of migrants over the past half century have done little to affect the make up of the Catholic parish of Bow – which still serves the indigenous population of London’s East End. Whilst parishioners are certainly conscious of their heritage, all talk now is of looking to the future. This is why Bow is planning to capitalise on its very strategic position as it sits on the road between Bow Road underground station and the Olympic park. The organising committee of the Games have estimated that nearly half a million people will be passing through the Olympic Park each day, 100,000 of those will be arriving and leaving via Bow Road and 20,000 of those are likely to be Catholic. Bow is gearing up to serve the spiritual needs and interests of passers-by during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in a whole host of ways. First and foremost they will be holding Adoration from 6pm – 12 midnight every day, as part of three local churches

The church is situated on the busy Bow Road

carrying out 24 hour Adoration for the entirety of the Games this summer. Fr Dunne has also ordered 100,000 candles in anticipation of all the visitors. Worshipers and visitors alike will be welcomed to come in and light a candle, in prayer or memory, perhaps a hope for the future. An exhibition of church history will accompany the spiritual activities in the church, along with the opportunity for 2012 people to pledge an annual donation of £20 to Bow parish. Aside from the spiritual refreshment, tea, coffee and sandwiches will be served by Karen Rodgers, a dedicated parishioner, and a small army of local young people who will receive a reference and work experience for their CV by helping out. This will happen in the newly refurbished parish hall which sits snugly behind the church building and neighbouring convent building. With the busy Bow Road roaring away in front of the church, the beautiful garden at the back of the

buildings is a very pleasant surprise. With hand crafted stations of the cross surrounding around 50 types of roses, the garden makes for a peaceful and reflective space, with a lush lawn and walls offering privacy and a sense of sanctuary from the organised chaos that is more than likely to be occurring at the other end of the car park as spectators come and go down Bow Road. Multilingual Masses will be said on a regular basis too, with help from Francisan brothers based in Stratford, as Fr Michael endeavours to adhere to the normal time table of parish life – and I have every faith he will manage it. Encountering Christ every day James Barber, a student in his final year at Heythrop College, is helping to train 36 altar servers as present. James has been accepted to begin training for the priesthood in the English College in Rome after the summer, which may even seem like a rest after everything he

will be doing in Bow come July. Karen, James and Fr Michael all agree that the best thing about Bow parish is encountering Christ in the people they meet every day. Although amongst one of the smaller congregations in the diocese, there is real work to be done in Bow and the Church provides a crucial sense of stability and spiritual sustenance that many would be lost without. As part of his monumental efforts this summer, Fr Michael has arranged for a flagpole to be erected in front of the church, from which will fly the Union Jack alongside the yellow and white Papal flag we all became so familiar with during the Holy Father’s visit in 2010. This will mean that Catholic visitors will have an instantly recognisable sign of their faith and welcome everyone who sees it to the London Olympics before they even reach the park. Parish life in Bow continues in spite of the many challenges it faces. Fr Michael is determined to give people a parish they can be proud of.

Beautiful gothic style altar

Sunday Mass (Sat 6pm), 9.30 (Sung), 11.30 (Family) Holy Day Mass 10, 6pm Weekday Mass Mon, Tues, Wed 10am, Fri 12 noon Tel:0208 980 3961 www.rcdow.org.uk/bow

5 x 2 Jesuits

The garden, church hall and old convent building Page 9


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