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HISTORY OF THE RC PARISH of PENZANCE.

RE-ESTABLISHING THE MISSION

MISFORTUNES OF PENZANCE.

Appeal to Catholic Charity.

About twelve years ago the Rev. W. Young, moved by the destitute position of the Catholics in the populous districts of the West or Cornwall, collected the means necessary for purchasing land and erecting a Church at Penzance, distant between thirty and forty miles from the nearest Missions.

This Church, the, best in the Diocese of Plymouth, was completed and maintained, at first, principally by the aid of donations made by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to the Religious Community of Oblates, to whom the new Mission was confided by the Vicar Apostolic. and the title deeds made over by the Rev. W. Young.

The Congregation was steadily increasing in strength and numbers, under the care of the zealous Fathers, and appeared likely to be able, before long, to maintain the Mission without the aid of external charity.

An imprudent mortgage made by the bolder of the deeds, without due reference to his Superiors in the Order, had, in the mean time, made the Church of Penzance liable for the purchase money due for a property acquired in Derbyshire. That money was from unfortunate circumstances never raised, the property was sold far under the price for which it had been bought, and the creditor had recourse to the mortgage. The Oblates not having means to redeem the mortgage, it was last year foreclosed; they retired from the Mission ; and the Church was advertised for sale.

The Congregation, unable as yet without assistance to maintain the Mission, could neither find the sum required for the re-purchase, nor bear the debt, if a loan had been raised. The other Missions of the three Counties could afford but little aid, for they are composed of very small congregations, for the most part unable to maintain their own Missions, and not mustering altogether numbers equal to those of many single Missions in the more Catholic parts of England. The Diocese itself, new, and unprovided with funds, having to depend upon the annual collections (amounting to about 160), and a few individual donations, for the support of poor Missions and general purposes, could not hope to do much towards supplying the deficiency.

Under these circumstances, it was confidently supposed, that could the Catholics of this country have been canvassed, they would have told us not to let the Church pass to other purposes, nor leave that large tract or improving country again unprovided, but trust to the public charity for assistance in this extreme case of destitution ; and the chance of being able to raise 1,000, one third of the original cost, was risked in the re-purchase.

In the firm reliance that this confidence has been well placed, we make this appeal to Catholic charity. We hope that those who have had to bless Providence for its wonderful dealings in their own neighbourhoods of late years, will rejoice to be the instruments of the same Providence in favour of their poor brethren. We feel that those who have known what it was to struggle against almost impossibilities, but are now triumphing over them, will lend a sympathising hand to help their companions who are now struggling, and who must struggle in vain if left to themselves, and again lose the Church and Mission they are endeavouring to save. We trust that those who have been witnesses to the uncalculated and inexhaustible resources of Heaven, will not fear that their own progress will be retarded, by their communicating some small share of the blessing of Providence to others placed at present in less favourable circumstances, and dependent on external charity for the very existence within reach, of the means of practising their religion while living, or enjoying its consolations when dying.

GEORGE, BISHOP OF PLYMOUTH.

September 5th, l853.

"On the day of the sale there was a generous forbearance on the part of the public, and the work of faith, commenced by Father Young was not lost to Catholics. Bishop Errington, who on 25 July previous had been consecrated first Bishop of Plymouth in the English Hierarchy just established by Pius IX, bought back the Church, fixtures and original land connected with it for the sum of 905." Thus Bishop Graham reports what must have been a nightmare for the new bishop at the sale on 27th September 1852.

The new bishop had few funds to cover this sort of cost; the annual development fund raised a mere 150 throughout the diocese. Some of this he used to pay off the Penzance debt: 25 in 1852, 35 in 1853, 12 in 1854. So on 5th September 1853 he addressed a public appeal to the Catholics of England.

His successor, Bishop Vaughan, was to continue this uphill struggle. Presumably, the appeal eventually succeeded, as he was able to pay off the complete debt on 2nd September 1863.

But, what about the mission. In the first months after the Oblates left in October 1852, there were no priests available from the diocese. So, Father Richard Mansfield supplied Mass from Camborne. But on 29th January 1853, Father Edward Kenny was sent to re-start the mission. He was replaced by Father William Laffan, who for 3 years "struggled bravely to carry on singly all the work begun by the Fathers." He started the school again with Miss Brady as teacher, visited Helston and gradually restored confidence to the Catholics of Penzance.

In 1857 Father Laffan took over the mission at Falmouth, and Penzance once again reverted to the care of Father James Carey from Camborne until he took up residence in Penzance in April 1858. Father Arthur McEvoy replaced him in June. And then, finally, Canon John Rutherford Shortland was appointed as the permanent missioner.

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