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HISTORY OF THE RC PARISH of PENZANCE.

CANON JOHN RUTHERFORD SHORTLAND

1858 to 1889

John Rutherford Shortland was born on 24th March 1814 in Devonshire, at Princetown where his father was in charge of prisoners of war. His education led him to ordination in the Church of England and he served, among other places, as a curate at St. Mary's in Penzance. Soon after his conversion at the Oratory in Birmingham by John Henry Newman in 1851, he went on to become a Catholic priest, ordained by Bishop Ullathorne in 1855. He was appointed first to the Cathedral in Plymouth, from where he helped in a number of the small missions of the early days of the Plymouth Diocese. The Cathedral Chapter had just been established when Father Shortland was made a Canon in 1856. As the mission at Penzance began to recover, he was entrusted in 1858 by Bishop Vaughan with guiding it back to health.

Canon Shortland was a man of some means, which was just as well for the mission at that time could never have been self-sufficient. The Oblates had sold most of the furnishings of the church to settle their debts. So the Canon, gradually during his 30 years in the mission and helped by some very generous people, steadily replaced them and greatly improve the church and mission. Such was his progress that, during the Second Diocesan Synod at Ugbrooke, Penzance was one of only four missions in the diocese given the title of Missionary Rectory, and the Canon its Missionary Rector.

Sir Paul Molesworth was a convert Rector of Tetcott, who lived at Kenegie in Gulval. In 1868 he presented the High Altar, designed by the architect Joseph Hansom in beautiful polished granite and serpentine. The Canon built the Presbytery at the end of the church garden from his own funds.

In 1869, the sanctuary was enlarged by removing small sacristies on either side of the altar. A gift of 250 from Mr. John McAlistair, made it possible to build a side aisle as a Lady Chapel onto the south side of the church; underneath a large and lofty room was formed for the school, to replace the dark and gloomy vault beneath the nave of the church.

In 1884, an organ with swell, great and pedal was built by George Tucker of Plymouth at the cost of 350; John McAlistair contributed 100 towards this.

The Canon was most proud of the three young Penzance men he had inspired to become priests:

Gilbert Higgins joined the Canons Regular of the Lateran.

Joseph Randle Hurley joined the diocese; after holding many important posts in the diocese, Canon Hurley died in 1941 and is buried in the Penzance cemetery.

Warren Middleton was a convert of Canon Shortland. As a priest of the diocese he served in a number of places including Par, but is best known for founding the Bideford mission. Surprisingly, he is also a saint! He had been connected with the building of the houses in what was known as "the Battlefield" below the church - the streets were named after the saint's names of the builders, and one of them is called St. Warren Street.

The young Father Hurley came to assist his mentor in his old age; but not for long, as the old Canon was found dead in bed on 19th July 1889. His funeral was a memorable occasion in the town, attended by numerous priests of the diocese and leaders of the town churches; crowds of townsfolk lined the streets on the way to the cemetery. Over his grave a large crucifix, still to be seen, was erected as his memorial.

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