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HISTORY OF THE RC PARISH of PENZANCE.

CANON THOMAS COURTENAY

1889 to 1894

Thomas Courtenay was born in Plymouth in 1856, educated in the Plymouth mission school and Dr. Clarke's Collegiate School (that was a sort of Junior Seminary for the Plymouth Diocese). From there he went straight to the English College in Lisbon, but later was transferred to the English College in Rome where he was ordained on 11th June 1881. His first years of priesthood were spent teaching Philosophy in his old college at Lisbon. But in 1888 he returned to England to assist Provost Brindle at Barnstaple.

It was from there that Father Courtenay was appointed to succeed Canon Shortland, and arrived in Penzance on 2nd October 1889. He quickly settled into the mission and "interested in the Church, in the Choir sin gin g1 in forming young men's society, and in his schools". In the church he set up a pulpit and under the church opened up a meeting room.

It will be for the schools that Father Courtenay will be most remembered in Penzance. Mr James Runnalls lived at Leskinnick House, next to the Presbytery. He gave part of his garden to the church for the building of a school. And a generous parishioner offered 700 for schools. So Bishop Graham was asked to come down to lay the foundation stone on 19th June 1892.

Father Courtenay was keen to have religious sisters to take over the teaching in his new school. So he invited a group of an order called the Filles de Notre Dame from Bordeaux to open a convent. They arrived in 1892 and Mr. Runnalls leased Leskinnick House to them for their convent.

The school was completed in January 1893. Again Bishop Graham came to officially open it (he was the co-adjutor Bishop to Bishop Vaughan, then an old man unable to travel far). It was a busy visitation; Bishop Graham: presided over the election of the Superior of the Convent; he blessed the statue of Our Lady that is still over the church porch (the work of Mr. James Scott, who later was tragically killed in the church when he fell off a ladder whilst erecting the Mission Cross); he confirmed 8 people; and he opened the new school with great ceremony before a large crowd of townspeople and priests from the diocese. A Solemn Pontifical Mass in the church was followed by a concert in the school, and a dinner at the Western Hotel. A heavy day's work, even for a bishop!

The mission was in good hands. But Father Courtenay was not to remain long in Penzance. In June 1894 he was made a Canon of the Chapter. And in September of the same year he was called to the Cathedral where he was named Vicar General of the Diocese. After many years in high office, he retired in 1911 to St. Scholastica's Abbey in Teignmouth where he died in 1920.

created 29th October 2004 - last  revised 13th March, 2011 v1.02 -