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Parish Profile

Westminster Record December 2010/January 2011

Watford, Holy Rood: “The people of the parish are wonderful, generous in all kinds of ways” By Fiona Paley It has been an exciting year for this busy parish. It has celebrated its 120th anniversary and the parish priest, Canon Paul McAleenan has celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest as well as being installed as a Canon of the Cathedral. The parish also celebrated the ordination of Fr Stuart Smeaton in July. Canon Paul McAleenan has a lot to tell me about when I go to visit.

The parish The parish is certainly busy. The last Mass count was an average of 1280 and the parish is also geographically large. It’s good that Canon Paul is now assisted in the parish by Fr John McKenna and Permanent Deacon Neville Dyckoff and this year they also have a student from the seminary Brian O’ Mahony. Holy Rood parish has two primary schools, Holy Rood and St Anthony’s. However, says Canon Paul, “The disadvantage from the priests point of view is that they are not next door where you can jump over the fence and play football for five minutes and come back again! You have to go for a purpose. “

Supported by laity

Canon Paul McAleenan

A changing parish “It’s astonishing how it is changed in the nine years I have been here.” says Canon Paul. “Traditionally there has been a large Italian presence in Watford. There are still a lot of Italians here but the younger generation is a lot more integrated. The weekly Italian Mass on a Sunday is now a Polish Mass, and that started about two years ago. There is also a Melalae mass for the people from Kerela, once a month on a Saturday afternoon. That is very well attended and the singing is beautiful.” “As people prosper, they move. Because of the local hospital there is a large Filipino population who were recruited some years ago, and there are also people from Kerala, South India. Once again, they are all nearly working for the health service, in the hospital or in care and nursing homes.” The changes to local healthcare services have had a great impact on the parish. “They have closed St Alban’s and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals and everything has been transferred to Watford General,” Canon Paul tells me. “About a year ago they opened a very big A&E Unit with 120 beds, and the idea is that people are brought in, assessed and moved on, but of course that generates a lot of work. Work for the staff of the hospital but also for the priest because whenever you get a call out there it is usually because of a serious condition. The hospital does keep the priest busy, although there is a lay chaplain who is excellent and keeps us informed of anyone who needs attention.” Page 8

I ask whether with such a big congregation can it ever get too much? “The parish is very well supported by the laity, and there are so many programmes which you could almost say the priest just has to oversee them and he doesn’t have to be at the coalface of everything. People are amazingly generous with their time, and very capable. They are very well educated in catechesis, the catechists run so many programmes.” “We usually have an average of 70 candidates for Holy Communion and 40 candidates for Conformation each year,” says Canon Paul. “We are finding that as people are more and more busy, that what really helps catechesis is if you condense the programme. When the programmes stretched from September to June more and more people were unable to manage it. So we have condensed it to January June, and people are able to keep going for a shorter stretch. I suppose you could say that we are responding to people’s needs. We do have to accommodate and take into account how people are living today.” “What we try to do is to not get stuck; that is the main job of the parish priest. This parish which was known as a progressive parish, remains progressive and doesn’t employ things which were done 20 years ago. We do not say ‘we’ve always done it like this.’ This is important, because you can get stuck in the 60s, but you can get stuck in the 80s just as much.”

Year of celebrations “This is the social centre of the diocese, in our opinion,” says Canon Paul with a smile. “ It has been a terrific year for celebrations. Including my silver jubilee and the 120th anniversary of the parish. We invited the Archbishop and he came and cut the cake for us. Fr John Eillott has left and we had a party for him and now we have Fr John McKennna as assistant priest.”

Interior of Holy Rood Church

Christmas in Watford It is the last week before Advent when I visit Canon Paul and he tells me that the parish as well as the town are getting ready for Christmas. “One of the very good things about Watford is that there is a very strong ecumenical dimension. ‘Christians across Watford’ and WTCC (Watford Town Centre Chaplaincy) of which we are involved and I’m a trustee, was established 6 years ago and ministers to the four areas of the town: retail, civic centre, the commercial and also entertainment.” I mention that the shops already seem to be focusing on the commercial rather than the religious side of Christmas, and ask whether this impacts how Christmas is viewed in the area?

about 84 people sit down to eat it. The men of the parish serve the drinks and the young people of the parish serve the meal. It is one of the great things that we started. The people of the parish are wonderful, generous in all kinds of ways, financially, but also in other ways too such as invitations to visit, helping in the church and celebrating festivals.” Canon Paul also tells me how he is planning a carol concert this year, encouraging all the different nationalities to become involved and to sing a carol in their own language.

And indeed the Church is a beautiful one. It is clear why it is called Holy Rood as the beautiful rood dominates the Church. Canon Paul says that it has taken a while for the building to grow on him, but he is constantly surprised by the details that he keeps noticing. “You see something new every time you look he says.”

Canon Paul says “There was a battle a few years ago when they took away the crib (in the shopping centre), and it was restored because of the pressure that was put on them. That was about nine years ago, but it is very much a Christmas, Christian season rather than a holiday season.” And how does Christmas affect the parish? “Like all Churches, Holy Rood attracts greater number of people at this time of year, whether it be because something of the season has touched them, or they are coming home from university, others have come to join families. This is an area where many people have left home and come back at the holiday time” says Canon Paul. “We have a seniors’ Christmas dinner in the parish which is a highlight of the year. We rebuilt the parish centre about three years ago. We have a first class parish centre with a kitchen. So the people of the parish cook the meal,

Mr Stephen Taprell Holland, who built the Church in thankskgiving for his coversion to Catholicism and gave it to the Diocese of Westminster. Mr Taprell Holland, a wealthy building merchant, converted to Catholicism after seeing the devotion of one of his workers.

Detail of St Edward the Confessor from panels above the altar

A beautiful church The church was designed by John Francis Bentley, architect of Westminster Cathedral, and is Grade I listed internally and, externally. Because of this, says Canon Paul, “There is an expectation for us to keep it up to standard. We did the church up a couple of years ago, that is we had the floor sanded and restored the baptismal railings to their original colour and look.”

Holy Rood Holy Rood House, Exchange Road, Watford, Herts WD18 0PJ Tel: 01923 224 085 Email: Web: Sunday Mass: (Sat 7pm), 8am, 9:30am (Sung), 11am (Folk), 2:15pm (Polish), 6:30pm. Christmas Mass times may vary, please contact the parish for further information

Parish Profile - Watford