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Parish Profile

Westminster Record May 2011

Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael, Uxbridge “One needs to be aware of what has gone before” By Eddie Tulasiewicz Uxbridge parish is on the far western edge of Westminster diocese. Five minutes walk from the parish church of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael brings you to Northampton diocese and the leafy Buckinghamshire countryside. I suggest to Fr Nicholas Schofield, who has been the parish priest for 18 months, that the name Uxbridge must refer to a bridge once used by Ox cattle. Having studied history at Oxford, and as the diocesan archivist, Fr Nicholas is well qualified to correct me, which he does gracefully. “Uxbridge comes from Wixen, who were a Saxon tribe, so Uxbridge means the bridge of the Wixen. Uxbridge, although it’s been swallowed up by greater London still has the air of a little market town in west Middlesex and has been an important commercial centre for 800 years.” It turns out that as well as having a Saxon past, Uxbridge also has a rich Catholic past. St Edmund Campion came here for 3 weeks in October 1580 for a meeting of key Jesuits then working in England to determine future strategy. In memory of this meeting, Fr Nicholas has inaugurated occasional visits from guest speakers

called 'Uxbridge Conferences'. The local area also had various safe houses for priests and the ‘secret’ Catholic composer William Byrd lived not far away in Harlington. The compact brick church, designed by THB Scott and partly paid for by the Gilbey gin distilling family, was completed in 1931. Together with an Edwardian presbytery, and a more recent parish hall, the church sits on an island of land sandwiched between a shopping centre and a busy dual carriageway. The church is in the style of a Roman basilica. Once inside this architectural style makes it possible for the imagination to transform the asphalt highway outside into Rome’s river Tiber and the church into one of the churches on its banks. There certainly is the same sense of eternity. The parish, founded in 1892, celebrates two anniversaries in 2011. An 80th anniversary marks the opening of the present church, carried out by Cardinal Bourne in 1931. As the building debt was paid off quickly, the church was consecrated just five years later on 14 May 1936. It is this latter 75th anniversary that will be marked by a special visit and celebration of Mass on Sunday 15 May by Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

The altar (and inset the exterior) of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael

That will be a busy weekend, as in addition to the consecration anniversary, also taking place will be First Holy Communion celebrations. There is also the small matter of the FA Cup Final. One of over 30 Oxford University students who have become Catholic priests in recent years, Fr Nicholas was ordained in 2003. After Willesden and Dalston Kingsland, Uxbridge is his third parish, but his first as parish priest. It must be quite a challenge to become a new parish priest, I suggest to Fr Nicholas. “I was very aware that it would take a least a year to get to know people, but the parishioners have all been very welcoming and kind which has been a great help,“ he said. “I realised I could not do everything at once, so the first year has been concentrated on the spiritual life. I introduced a Holy Hour during the 2010 Year for Priests, but that has continued with Holy Hour and Benediction now held every Friday. Last year saw a week long Parish Mission and we had a day pilgrimage to Walsingham; 40 people came and really enjoyed it. There was also a week long pilgrimage to Rome.” As well as getting to know his parishioners on pilgrimages, Fr Nicholas has been making as many home visits as time will allow. “This year I’m trying to visit all the first Holy Communion families. It’s worth the effort as it is so important for your relationship with people as their pastor to have been through their front door and to have had a cup of tea.”

Fr Nicholas Schofield, Parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael

As recent migrants move out from inner London the parish is growing,

says Fr Nicholas: “10 years ago, there were around 370 attending Mass now its around 600, so that’s quite a population explosion, lots of Poles, Eastern Europeans, Filipinos and Africans. It is not a numbers game, but if you get new people coming to Mass and going to Confession that is all a sign of health. This year we have three adult baptism and 10 adult confirmations.” The presbytery, which also has as a very important inhabitant Sabina the cat, a British blue, has shelves groaning under the weight of books, religious artifacts and CDs. His passion for history makes Fr Nicholas aware of what he has inherited from Uxbridge’s previous parish priests, four of whom are still alive and have been invited to the consecration anniversary celebrations. “It makes me appreciate that I am a link in a chain. It’s not my parish, I have it on trust. We owe so much to my predecessors, the pioneer priests, who formed the parish. One needs to be aware of what has gone before you.”

Sabina the parish cat

Fr Nicholas is also looking to the future and a germ of an idea is to install a church bell. “We’ve got a bell tower, but perhaps due to the war they never installed any bells. I think we could have either a real bell or perhaps an electronic one. As we are not in a residential area, I don’t think we will bother anyone. “ Since 1892, the church of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael has been quietly proclaiming the faith to the people of Uxbridge. If his plan comes to fruition, perhaps the future will see that proclamation literally ringing out so that more can hear the call of Christ. Page 9

Parish profile uxbridge