About the Parish
Overview of history
The parish of St. Francis de Sales & St. Mary Magdalene has its origins in the Catholic Church’s two-fold response to the Act of Catholic Emancipation and the Industrial Revolution - which enabled the Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy (1850) and which gave us the thriving Railway town of Wolverton by 1860. The parish boundaries extended to Aylesbury to the South, Buckingham to the West, Olney to the East and Pottersbury to the North (Official Parish Boundaries of 1883). It was the heart of a mission to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel and to minister to Catholics living in this wide field.
With the arrival of the Third Millennium, Wolverton stands to the North of the new town of Milton Keynes and because of the above mission, the other parishes of Milton Keynes came into existence so that the Parish of St. Francis de Sales is rightly called the mother church of the Catholic churches in Milton Keynes.
The 19th Century gave us the First Vatican Council (1870), whilst the 20th Century gave us the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) and both these councils have formed the character of St. Francis de Sales. At the latter end of the 20th Century we have been witnessing a transition from a Mass Catholicism to something new.
If Mass Catholicism was rooted in a social response to the Industrial Revolution with its Mass Production, Mass Housing and Mass Education, the new era can only be called an Evangelizing Catholicism which seeks to respond to the social impact of a Technological Revolution that has been characterized by many as the culture of Post-Modernity.
Mass Catholicism was characterized by Institutions responding to the needs of a culture of Mass Production, Mass Housing, Mass Hospitalization and Mass Education; but Evangelizing Catholicism seeks to respond to the social and cultural effects of the Technological revolution which Alvin Toffler (author of Future Shock & The Third Wave) describes as the Third Wave.
As old institutions of Mass Catholicism have begun to be affected by the social impact of this Technological Revolution, Catholicism has found itself in a period of transition. It is a transition in Catholicism that betrays indicators of both the decline and the resurgence of old and new forms of Catholic Life. These indicators reveal how Modernity and now Post-Modernity have had a long and increasing impact on both diocesan and parish life, and on both the priesthood and the role of the laity.
An impact of this technological and consumer revolution where everything is on line has produced today a Supermarket Catholicism that is both life-style centred and life-style driven whereby people prefer to shop around and not commit to any communal life as God and Church are but the last of a shopping list of priorities. So people not only pick and choose when to go to church, what they church they will go to but also what they will believe and what they will morally follow. Supermarket Catholicism belongs to an individualistic life style that is basically a pick and mix form of life which lacks any personal commitment to objective truth or absolute moral values; it is decidedly individualistic, subjectivist and relativist.
Milton Keynes is precisely such a town built for the upwardly mobile, socially indifferent, morally relativist and verily subjectivist individual who has a car, a house and aspirations to get on. Consequently, both the town and parishes suffer from this lack of commitment in their communal forms of life.
Indeed, we can say that in the light of Post-Modern reactions to Modernity and the rise of the Clash of civilisations revealed in the horror of September 11th [but first articulated in 1993 by Samuel P. Huntington, the issue of culture and its nature and role] this means a parish needs to be and is the place where a culture of life and a civilisation of love becomes visible.
Furthermore, with the increase use of the World Wide Web and the rise of Facebook, Beebo, Blogs and virtual communities in cyber space we see the rise of a new generation replacing the old Media Generation, namely, the Cyber generation. In other words, the parish is a place which is counter-cultural to the times we live because the parish offers real space and real time for real relationships with real people and in a real world of God’s making rather than the cyber and virtual universe of an individual’s own making.
As early as 1836 Wolverton had been selected as mid-point between the London-Birmingham railway line. Wolverton was just a little village, but by 1860 it had become an important railway town and according to Local Historian Sir Frank Markham it was thriving. During its development Catholics in Wolverton were served by a Priest from Aylesbury or they had to walk to Weston Underwood for Sunday Mass (9 miles away). It is clear that as early as 1844 pastoral care was being extended by the church at Weedon to ‘Wolverton Station’.
People of Wolverton petition the Bishop of Northampton, Dr. Amherst, for a resident parish priest. Request not only granted but Wolverton was established as a parish serving practically all of North Buckinghamshire down to the north of Aylesbury and parts of Bedfordshire.
Fr. Francis Cambours arrives in 1864 and within a short time raises £1,000 towards the establishment of the ‘Mission’.
Fr. Blackman replaces Fr. Cambours and builds presbytery and church.
The Church opened on Trinity Sunday 1867; although original accounts refer to it as a school. Total cost was £855. Eventually old organ (200 years old) was acquired from Northampton Cathedral. No clear reason why St. Francis de Sales (Patron of Writers and Journalists) was chosen, but 1867 was the third Centenary of the saint’s birth; but he was noted for his Preaching and missionary work.
Presbytery was built in 1871. Large amount of the cost, between £200-300, was donated by Sarah Dunn, the house-keeper to the priests between 1865-1884. Priests were expected to be fit and energetic as they rode on horses to cover Aylesbury, Buckingham, Hockcliffe and Leighton Buzzard.
A Society of Vincent de Paul group (SVP) was set up in Wolverton in 1884; a mere 50 years after the original Paris group was formed by Frederick Ozanam (died 1853). The essence of the Society is to see Christ in those in need.
Fr. Garnett installs new altar and antique oak reredos or screen. In the reredos are statues of St. Gregory the Great, St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Thomas Becket. The lower statues depict St. Francis de Sales and St. Edmund the Martyr (Fr. Garnett’s Patron saint). Fr. Garnett begins the diaries that now have become a tradition for Parish priests to continue and make up the archives of the Parish.
Clear indications of good relations with other Christians in the parish diaries; Ecumenism starts early in the Parish.
Entries in the parish diaries of only Mass counts and collections; little information about how the First World War affected parishioners. But records speak of Fr. Walker tending Catholics who were among the Belgium refugees and the soldiers who attended Easter celebrations in 1915.
World War II took its toll, with Wolverton men serving in many branches of the armed forces. The local regiment, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry played decisive and heroic roles in the 1939 BEF landings and Dunkirk embarkation. (See role of honour in St. George’s Anglican Church).
New stained-glass windows installed as a memorial to parishioners killed on active service in World War II; they were made by Catholic artist Earnest R. Twining of Joseph Bell & Son.
Fr. Wilf Johnson was parish priest of Wolverton. In 1954 began the building of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Stony Stratford which was completed in 1957 and blessed on 25th September 1958. He moved to Wellingborough where stayed until his death.
Fr. Paddy Connolly became parish priest of Wolverton In 1973 he moved to Stony Stratford which was now a parish in its own right. Wolverton came under the CRIC fathers.
Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception were resident priests in Wolverton from which they began their mission to the New City of Milton Keynes that was in the process of being built. Thus the parish of Wolverton continued to serve as the Mother Church from which many of the new churches in Milton Keynes were built, supported or supplied.
Fr. John Koenig moves from Wellingborough where he was a curate to become, for the first time parish priest of St. Francis de Sales. Wolverton has been un-clustered to return to parish status.
At last the Church of St. Francis de Sales was consecrated by Bishop Charles Grant on Wednesday 23rd September 1981.
Fr. Richard Moroney moves from St. Elthebert’s in Slough where he was curate to become for the first time parish priest of Wolverton.
Fr. Bernard Barrett moves from Wellingborough where he was a curate to become, for the first time parish priest of St. Francis de Sales.
In this year we removed asbestos from the walls of the Church and commissioned an artist, Peter Yourell, to paint a mural on the Sanctuary wall. Design and theological content worked out between the Artist and Fr. Bernard P.A. Barrett. Mr. Paul Gleeson (Art Teacher at St. Paul’s School) was commissioned to paint a Jubilee painting for the porch.
New marble for re-construction of altar from the Reardos completed and installed by Milo Molloy. Mr. Paul Gleeson commissioned to paint panels for back of the altar.
Parishes of St. Francis de Sales and St. Mary Magdalene are amalgamated thereby returning to their pre-1976 status.