Solemn Consecration and Opening Ceremonies
The church was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of Leeds, Dr. Robert Cornthwaite, at a private ceremony commencing at 8 a.m. and lasting for four hours, on Wednesday, May 28th, 1884. A choir of twenty Benedictine Fathers from neighbouring missions assisted.
Bishop Cornthwaite, born, in Preston was a contemporary of the Ainscough brothers and as Rector of the English College he had been the Roman Agent of the English Benedictines. Bishop O’Reilly of Liverpool was recovering from a severe illness and unable to endure such a long engagement.
The solemn opening took place the following day when Bishop O’Reilly presided at the throne, Bishop Cornthwaite sang the Mass and Bishop Hedley, O.S.B., of Newport, a powerful orator, delivered a sermon that was reported at considerable length. The text was taken from the 17th chapter of St. John “The glory which Thou hast given me, I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one”. It was all about man’s relationship with God and the means of salvation, which is offered through Christ. Hence – the bishop told his hearers – it is our duty to draw all men to the Christian altar”.
Twenty local clergy, Benedictine and Secular attended and the choir of St. Anne’s Ormskirk, accompanied by an orchestra from Liverpool, performed Haydn’s Imperial (now called the Nelson) Mass.
Despite the generosity and the festivity the opening did not pass without a touch of acrimony. In the previous year, 1883, it was decreed that no new missions were to be undertaken without the permission of Rome. Parbold had applied for this but no reply had been received by the opening day. Since those exchanges of cordiality in the initial correspondence several changes had taken place within the Benedictine administration. Abbot Anselm O’Gorman had succeeded Abbot Burchall as President-General and Abbot Clifton of Workington had been succeeded as Provincial by Abbot Aidan Hickey of Ormskirk. Abbot O’Gorman was in Rome, probably in the depths of controversy over the role of the religious orders, and had nominated Abbot Hickey to be his delegate at the Parbold ceremonies. Another series of letters tells us what happened.
1. Abbot O’Gorman to Fr. Bede Prest, O.S.B. of Woolton.
May 27, 1884
I hope Fr. Provincial received my letter and postponed the opening of Parbold. Propaganda has written to Bishop O’Reilly to know if he has any objection to the opening of Parbold.
2. Abbot Hickey to Abbot O’Gorman.
May 30, 1884
Your letter came too late for me to postpone the opening of Parbold. It arrived on Sunday and the consecration was fixed for Tuesday. Mr. Ainscough had sent his invitations and about fifty had accepted. He had put up a Marquee or tent for dinner on that day. The opening had been announced in the newspapers, a grand orchestral choir had been engaged, the Bishop of Leeds and Bishop Hedley were coming and I was to dine with them. To postpone the opening would have thoroughly disgusted Mr. Ainscough, caused him a great expense and given great scandal to the Catholics of this part of Lancashire. For all these reasons I concluded to let the thing go on. Besides, on the previous Tuesday, the Bishop of Liverpool came out to consecrate the Bell at Parbold. He then told me what he had heard from Rome and that they wanted to know if he had anything to say about the matter. He had replied that I was acting on his advice in notifying the fact to Rome. I then said: “We had better put off the opening until we hear from Rome”. His answer was: “By no means. It will make no difference. If the answer does not come you can take possession provisionally “. 1 acted on this advice. The Bishop of Leeds consecrated the church and the Bishop of Liverpool opened it. I trust you will approve of my action, I really was very perplexed. All I consulted gave the same advice and I cannot conceive of any harm. All the same I shall he relieved, when I get the answer. I think the Roman authorities can’t make out why we ask their permission as to Parbold. Bishop O’Reilly required me to certify that the property was legally conveyed to us before he gave permission for Consecration.
Considering that Bishop O’Reilly had given his written permission in 1876 and that the Roman authorities disclaimed any knowledge of it in 1884 we must conclude that every age is tormented by its bureaucracy. But the President-General was unmollified and the following from Abbot Hickey appears to be a reply to a rebuke.
3. Abbot Hickey to Abbot O’Gorman.
June 12th, 1884
My memory played me false if we agreed not to open Parbold until I heard from you. On the contrary 1 was under the impression that we were to go on as we reckoned there would be no trouble. This was the Bishop ‘s advice and I may have confused yours and his. Of this you may be sure: I should never have thought of arranging the opening if I thought it was not according to your wishes. I am nothing if obedient.