The arrival of the Sisters of the Visitation

The origins of Sacred Heart parish can be traced back through a community of French nuns. The Visitation Order was founded at Annecy in Savoy in 1610 by St Francis de Sales and St Jane Francis de Chantal. It is enclosed and contemplative. The Order was introduced to England in 1804 by Mrs Tunstall, widow of Cuthbert Tunstall of Wycliff Hall, Yorkshire, who obtained for the English foundation three sisters expelled from their monastery at Rouen during the French Revolution.

They were hospitably received by the Augustinian nuns at Spetisbury (later Newton Abbot) and they also stayed for a short while at Wardour Castle, home of Lord and Lady Arundell, the latter being a relation of Mrs Tunstall’s. Finally they came to Acton near London in 1804 and began to receive English postulants, among whom was Mary Weld of Lulworth Castle and sister of Cardinal Weld. She became the first English superior.

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St Ursula's and the Sisters of Mercy

In 1810 they moved to Shepton Mallet and then in 1831 purchased the mansion of Westmead in Westbury-on-Trym from Mr Irving, a Methodist minister. The community decided to build a convent on the site with accommodation for local Catholics to attend Mass. The choir, chapel and cloisters were completed first and the main buildings commenced in 1859 and were finished by 1862. In 1868 the sisters opened a school in a converted stable and coach house, the teachers being provided by the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. In 1896, when the Visitation nuns moved to Harrow-on-the-Hill, London, at the invitation of Cardinal Vaughan, the Sisters of Mercy took over the convent and the school which became St Ursula’s. The boarding school was closed in 1924 and the number of day girls increased. These school buildings were largely destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1948.

By the 1930s a new church was needed to relieve the overcrowding of the convent chapel, so the Reverend Mother at the time gave the diocese a plot of land for a church and presbytery. The building was completed in 1939 and blessed by Bishop Lee on 13 September. The first parish priest, Fr (later Mgr) Cyril Hookway, introduced several fund-raising schemes to clear the debt of £7,000.

The Holy Year of 1950 saw the consecration of the church on 20 June with three bishops and over fifty clergy attending.  The ceremony had been preceded by a series of sermons given by eminent speakers including Mgr Ronald Knox, the Abbot of Downside and Fr Edwin Essex OP who had given the first mission in 1944.

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Mgr Joseph Buckley and the Newman Hall

In 1956 Mgr Joseph Buckley was appointed as the new Parish Priest. He wanted to build a new parish hall that would also accommodate the needs of the Bristol Catholic Players. By 1962 parish finances enabled the construction of a new hall with a magnificent stage. The architect was a parishioner, Gerard O’Brien of Ivor Day and O’Brien. The builders were Stansell and Co Ltd of Taunton who had also built the church. The Newman Hall as it was named, cost £28,000 and included a large mural of characters from Gilbert and Sullivan operas painted by a famous local artist, Frank Shipsides. The mural was unveiled by Donald Adams of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. The hall later became the home of the Bristol Catholic Players, who continue their annual productions of Gilbert and Sullivan here. Dr (later Mgr Canon) Joseph Buckley, their founder, had become parish priest in 1957.    

After the Second Vatican Council the parish under Mgr Buckley was a centre for many new ideas including being the first in the country to have an elected parish council complete with constitution. It was also the site for two South West Ecumenical Congresses with both National and International clerical leaders present. Two priests were ordained in the church: Fr Michael Healy in 1971 and Fr Richard Northey in 1974. Also associated with the parish were Fr John Reville in 1965, Fr Peter Craddy OSCO in 1973 & Fr Cavan McElligott in 1999.

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Fr Vincent Ryan and the Golden Jubilee

In 1978  Fr Vincent Ryan took over as Mgr Buckely retired. Then in 1985 Fr Ryan was responsible for the considerable re-ordering and redecoration which took place and new lighting and sound systems were also installed. The golden jubilee celebrations included a parish pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Paray-le-Monial, the original home of the Visitation nuns, which gave rise to the dedication of the church.

1989 was a truly memorable year. The Berlin Wall fell and with it the end of the Iron Curtain, which lifted communist rule across a swathe of Europe. Here in Westbury we were celebrating the Sacred Heart Parish Golden Jubilee. Committee meetings had been going on since the previous year, discussing how to mark this momentous event in the life of the parish. The year started prayerfully with a Lenten Mission delivered by two Redemptorist Fathers. The end of May saw the Parish Pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, origin of the worship of the Sacred Heart, and the visions of  Sr. Marguerite-Marie Alacoque. It was a truly wonderful experience for the pilgrims, their ages ranging from 8 to 80! Visits were also made to Nevers, Lisieux and Bayeux. A highly successful Flower Festival and Choral Evening were also held during the year. The year climaxed with the Jubilee Mass on 13 September followed on 15th by a Parish Dinner at which the speaker was Andrew Crocker from Radio Bristol. Replica T shirts and glass vases were sold out by the final meeting of the planning committee, where thanks were extended to all who had contributed to the celebrations. The minutes recorded that 'a small celebration in the bar, by courtesy of the chairman' took place 'Quod erat faciendum'.

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St Ursula's closes

Also in 1989 the Order of Mercy took the decision to withdraw from teaching to concentrate on social work. A trust was formed and bought the school to run it as an independent Catholic school from January 1991, when the remaining sisters moved to a smaller house in the parish to continue their pastoral work. The school finally closed as a Catholic school in 2010. After the momentous events of the Jubilee Year the parish settled down to normal life. In the minutes of the Parish Council of 1990 we read that the Parish Project at that time was supporting Fr Michael Cullen, a Holy Ghost Father in the Philippines. We regularly received letters from him and on a visit to the parish he spoke movingly of the poverty and great need in his parish in Negros.

Discussions were held about the uses to which a large legacy the parish had been left might be put - Fr Ryan had entered into negotiations with the architects for an extension to the church porch which never came to fruition. Prayers were offered at this time for Fr Burns, a former curate at the Sacred Heart, who had died. In February 1991 significantly for the future, Fr Ryan warned of the acute shortage of priests in the diocese and a working party was set up to discuss possible cuts in the number of Masses. 

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Fr Pat de Wolf becomes Parish Priest

In 1992 Fr Ryan, after a long illness, retired and we welcomed Fr Pat de Wolf as our new parish priest - no stranger to us, as he had been a former curate here in 1975 - 1977. A cheque was given to Fr Ryan in recognition of his services to the parish and flowers were also presented to Renee, his faithful housekeeper over many years. The guest speaker at the parish dinner was Sally Thompson, wife of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The state of the national economy around this time was reflected in growing concern about parish finances. The parish covenant secretary reported that several parishioners were reviewing their covenants in the light of unemployment and financial hardship.

In July 1993 Monsignor Joseph Buckley, a former parish priest of the Sacred Heart, received a distinguished Papal Award in recognition of his many years of dedicated work for the diocese. In his 'Installation' Mass he emerged from the sacristy wearing a mitre! With a twinkle in his eye he hoped that members of the Catholic Players would not bust out singing 'Where did you get that hat?'

The parish council debated community building and much attention was drawn to topics such as participation at the 12am Mass, the youth of the parish and the creation of a 'Welcoming Ministry'. Things soon began to happen and by the end of the year new special ministers were being trained, a Parish Youth Club had been formed, a Folk Group was in operation, volunteers had offered their services as welcomers at Mass and a Newcomers Evening was being planned. The next year, 1994, saw these new changes become firmly established. The Youth Group now had a representative on the Parish Council and attendances of over 40 young people were reported. The Folk Group operated every 2 weeks at the 12am mass and was popular with many young parishioners. In 1995 Fr deWolf reported on completion of extensive repair work in the church to cure a damp problem in the roof area. The Flower Sacristy was now operational and considerable improvements had been made in the hall including a new cooker, water heater and new tables. In March 1995 a new CAFOD group was formed in the parish with 12 members. Also in that year a new wooden lectern appeared in the church dedicated to Dr Trist.

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Fr Cullen and the Philippines

A familiar figure in the parish was Sister Rita, the parish sister who threw herself into her work with energy and enthusiasm, visiting every home in the parish in the year. In November a moving letter was received from Fr Cullen saying that at the age of 70, at the request of the Bishop, he was once again returning to the Philippines to a new parish of poor sugar-cane workers where there is no water, no electricity and no postal service. In addition he said that the Church is in constant threat from communists who are suspicious of 'foreign interference'. It was agreed to continue our support for Fr Cullen’s parish for the foreseeable future.

In 1996 it was noted that the Youth Club was running well and during Holy Week members had participated whole heartedly in a CAFOD weekend, during which members held a 24 hour fast from 12 noon Saturday until noon Sunday.

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Fr Danny O'Sullivan and Peru

A notable event during 1997 was a joint CAFOD/Christian Aid sponsored walk around the 9 churches of the Westbury Council. It was a great success and visitors to the Sacred Heart particularly complimented the lovely floral display of Easter flowers. In February 1997 Fr Cullen announced his retirement and it was decided to change the Parish Project to support Fr Danny O’Sullivan, a diocesan priest working in Peru. A report in that year mentioned the St Wulstan’s Luncheon Club, which had been running for 14 years. In June the long tradition of the Parish dinner which was proving a huge task for those responsible for the catering was changed to a less onerous Parish lunch. Protracted negotiations continued over the allocation of car parking spaces for St Ursula’s school staff in the Neman Hall car park. Covenants provided a regular report at Council meetings and after an appeal by the Diocesan Covenant organizer at Masses, the number of covenants signed up by parishioners took a sharp increase. Plans were already taking place for the forthcoming celebration of the Millenium with pageants, fairs and musical events being planned. Planning was also under way for another  parish pilgrimage - this time to the Holy Land, to take place at the end of 1999.

In November 1998 Westbury Council of Churches changed its name to The Churches Together in Westbury - remembered every Sunday in our bidding prayers. Concern was still expressed at the small numbers attending united services.

In 1999 the Youth Club received a bitter blow when it was announced that Youth worker salaries would no longer have Council funding. The parish agreed to protect them for the remainder of that year. In October the parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land took place, led by Fr DeWolf and Bishop Mervyn. It was a great occasion and a fitting event to herald the forthcoming Millenium.

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Millenium celebrations

A regular Sacred Heart tradition, the Christmas bazaar came under scrutiny at this time, as the current organizer was unwell. Various alternative ideas were put forward including a Grand Draw. The eventual conclusion was a similar event to the Bazaar but organized by local charities, who were invited to hire table top stalls and include a tombola and bottle stall run by the parish. In September 1999 newly ordained Fr Cavan McElligot celebrated his first Mass in the church. He had been an Altar Server many years previously.

2001 saw another great parish event to celebrate Fr DeWolf’s 40th anniversary as a priest. Many parishioners attended a buffet lunch in the hall.

In the same year it was reported that the Youth Club was no longer functioning. The current leader was unable to continue and a suitable replacement had not been found. Thanks were recorded to all leaders and helpers.

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Sr Angela retires and Mgr Buckley dies

In 2002 Sister Angela, the parish sister retired to join Sr Rita in the convent at Fishguard. It was typical of Sister Angela that she wanted no fuss made about her leaving the parish but it was felt strongly that all her hard work deserved some permanent record and this was organised. In October Mgr Buckley died and his funeral Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral, attended by a large congregation and one of his surviving sisters. A Parish trip to Rome took place in that year with 40 parishioners attending.

New heaters were installed in the hall and in a change- over of hall managers it was noted that £35,000 had been spent in the last 3 years on repairs and maintenance.

In 2003 new windows were installed in the church and the house exterior, porches and meeting room were all redecorated. The St Wulstans Lunch Club continued its great work with on average 20-30 people attending every week. It was also noted that funds raised at the club were being directed to a Kenya project and a children’s hospital.

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Fr Kevin Mortimer and the first Parish Council   

In September 2004 on the retirement of Fr Pat DeWolf the parish welcomed Fr Kevin Mortimer as the new Parish Priest. One of his first actions was to reconstitute the Parish Council.

2006 opened with a visit from Fr Ted Wildsmith. In March the regular Lenten groups were being formed in preparation for house groups within the Westbury churches. We were also given news that later that year two new stained glass windows would be installed, one featuring St Wulstan, dedicated to the deceased of the parish and the other St Cecilia, in memory of our former parish priest Mgr Buckley, both kindly funded by donations from the Catholic Players.  In February another Parish Pilgrimage took place, this time to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.

The CAFOD Lent Fast day collection was, in that year, in aid of partners in Peru and realised over £1300. From July to September the church was undergoing a complete redecoration, all the windows replaced and repairs made to the flat roof of the Newman Hall. The stained glass windows were later to be installed by Christmas. For 9 weeks Masses were held in the Newman Hall or in St Ursula’s Chapel. In the Parish Newsletter Fr Kevin apologised, 'I hope the work will not cause you too much inconvenience. There will be sheds and building materials on the car park so please be careful when you come to Mass' - nothing new then!

At the end of August a letter was received from Fr Danny, the diocesan priest working in Peru and our new Parish Project.

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Diocesan consultation 'Seeking the face of Christ'

On 17 February 2007 Mass was celebrated for the dedication of the new stained glass windows, which was attended by Geoffrey Robinson the designer and maker, and a new wooden statue of the Sacred Heart. The benches in the church had been rearranged to give the choir a better position, provide a gap for wheelchairs and baby buggies and allow access to the Lady Altar. A 4 week Lent course was held using the 'Listening to God' video of Mgr Mark Coleridge. This was to become a regular feature over the coming years.

The year also saw the beginnings of the diocesan consultation of the views of parishes about the future of the diocese - 'Seeking the Face of Christ'. Meetings were held to discuss this document. Training days were held for Ministers of the Holy Eucharist. Efforts were made to make the children’s liturgy more inclusive. On 2 July the parish celebrated the 40th anniversary of Fr Kevin’s Ordination as a priest - he received many cards and good wishes. On 20 July Bishop Declan visited the parish and a group of 6 young people from our parish received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Recorded in the newsletter were these words, 'We are a group of teenagers aged 13 to 16 years old. Since the beginning of March we have had meetings to discuss our faith and beliefs. Together we have grown in understanding God and we have considered our commitment to others. We would appreciate your prayers and continuing support and we ask you to come to our Confirmation Mass'.

In the Autumn the parish mourned the death of the father of Fr Kevin, and several parishioners attended his funeral in Bradford-on-Avon. In November instead of the traditional Christmas Bazaar a charities table top sale was held in the hall and this was later followed up with a sale of fairly traded goods. Later that month the 25th Anniversary of the St Wulstan’s Lunch Club was celebrated.     

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Pilgrimage to Poland

2008 began with the 100th Anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and an ecumenical service. The Lent course being followed that year was based on Bishop Tom Wright’s powerful book 'Simply Christian'. The year saw the publication of a Parish Information Pack which was to prove highly useful for newcomers to the parish. CAFOD Fast Day realized nearly £1900. In February the Little Hearts Toddler Group for pre-school children recommenced in the hall. The long awaited Parish Pilgrimage to Poland took place from 9-16 June and the parish was asked for prayers for its success. During Fr Kevin’s absence Masses were celebrated by Fr McElligot and Fr Ryan. 

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'Called to be a People of Hope'

Father Mortimer became chairman of the Bristol Catholic Players. The Parish Summer Fair took place in early June and at the end of the month 10 young parishioners made their First Holy Communion. Training sessions were held at this time for Ministers of the Word. A letter from Fr Danny in Peru gave us news about the laying of the foundation stone for his new church. In October Fr Kevin asked in a letter to the parish to consider the faith development of our young people post Communion and a meeting for parents was held. Later the Parish Council set up a number of working groups to examine more closely aspects of parish life, one of which concerned the faith development of young people. A questionnaire was distributed to young people in the parish to find out their views on parish life and their part in it. 11 forms were returned which gave valuable information about things they liked about the parish and things they would like to be changed. The strong impression was that young people want to be made welcome and get involved in parish life. The Parish Council was taking steps to act upon suggestions received. In October we received a visit from Martin Shaw to talk about the canonization of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a pioneer in the 50s and 60s of the use of the mass media to communicate gospel values. Work continued on the implementation of the Diocesan document 'Called to be a People of Hope'. In November 2008 the new Sacred Heart Parish Pastoral Council met for the first time. In implementing the parish vision, the Pastoral Council, in conjunction with the parish as a whole, agreed three objectives each year. The year ended with the news of Fr Kevin’s appointment as an Honorary Canon.

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70th anniversary of the Sacred Heart

2009 saw a successful series of 6 talks and discussions commencing in March entitled 'Believe - Reflections on the Creed'. They were well attended throughout and particularly noted was the welcome all participants received on arrival. One of the outcomes of the young peoples’ questionnaire the previous year included the formation of a Music Group which sang and played regularly at the 9.30am Mass.

A new Confirmation preparation group began meeting after Easter. Surprisingly it comprised 18 young ladies and no boys! 20 years of CAFOD in Clifton Diocese was celebrated in May with a large meeting held in the Newman Hall addressed by prominent CAFOD representatives and followed by Mass. A catechists’ certificate course also started that year attended by 4 of our parishioners. Later in September the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Sacred Heart Church was celebrated with a buffet lunch in the Hall after the 11am Mass.

The results of a survey to ascertain parishioners’ views on the future of the parish and diocese were published. When asked which parish people had links with or would most like to share with, St Bonaventures’ and the Cathedral came top.

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Relics of St Theresa

In September there was great excitement that the relics of St Teresa were being brought to Bristol. Great crowds turned up at St Teresa’s Church in Filton.

Towards the end of the year we welcomed the news that, as the swine 'flu epidemic no longer posed a threat, we could return to the practice of communion in both kinds and shaking hands as a sign of peace.

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Haitian earthquake and school opened in Nepal

Preparations were underway early in the New Year of 2010 for the Westbury Churches Lenten course, which was based on Dave Bookless’s stimulating book 'Planetwise'. The CAFOD appeal for the terrible earthquake in Haiti was closely followed by Lent Fast Day and the 'Give it Up' campaign. Altogether this raised £2736, which was well over the original target. A popular event during the campaign was having pancakes in the presbytery after the evening Shrove Tuesday Mass.

Two young parishioners did a sponsored cycle ride from Bristol to Morocco to raise funds for building a new school in Nepal.

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Pope Benedict visits Britain    

In June we were once again asked to express our views in a questionnaire about future Mass times in the anticipation that we may in the future have to share one priest with St Anthony’s, Henbury.

The Westbury Connect 2010 Arts Festival with a theme of the Environment took place in the Summer and the Sacred Heart contribution was a Toy Swap in the hall. The big event of the year was of course the visit of Pope Benedict to Britain in September. We joined with St Anthony’s in running a coach to Birmingham for the Beatification Mass of Cardinal Newman held in Crofton Park. It was a truly memorable event for all who attended.

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Canon Bernard Massey becomes parish priest

In September the 'Knowing God Better' talks began in the presbytery which were well attended. In the same month Fr (now Canon) Kevin retired and was succeeded by Canon Bernard Massey. A buffet lunch was held in the hall on 26 September and Fr Kevin, in thanking all for their gifts and good wishes, reminded the parish he would be living only a `stone’s throw’ away in Redland.

The induction Mass for Canon Bernard took place on 22 October. Many changes were soon underway including newly refurbished kitchen and meeting rooms on the ground floor of the presbytery, which was to facilitate more room for parish meetings. 'I’m living in the middle of a building site' said Canon Bernard in the newsletter, 'but sometimes it is necessary to clear away everything to see what needs to be done' - a timely reminder that penitential services were about to begin.     

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New translation of the liturgy

A truly joyful occasion was held on 25th February 2011 with a Thanksgiving Mass for the Golden Jubilee of Fr Pat DeWolf’s ordination. As well as a large attendance from parishioners, many from other parishes Fr Pat had worked in were present. A six session Catholic Faith Evangelisation (CaFE) course entitled 'Knowing God Better' was run in the Autumn. A working party of 12 parishioners prepared practically and spiritually for a number of months, with each event attracting up to 30 parishioners, building a relationship with St Antony’s, Henbury. St Antony’s was identified by the Diocesan 'Parishes In Communion For Mission' document as one that the Sacred Heart was likely to share a priest with in years to come. As a result the two PPCs began to meet together to talk about what form this relationship could take. 2011 Faith Development for the post First Holy Communion children, a third Children’s Liturgy Of The Word (CLOW) group was set up at the 9.30am Mass to meet the needs of post-Communion young people. This, like the other CLOW groups, is proving very popular Spiritual Development of the Parish.

Three further courses were run during the year. I Believe reflections on the Creed, a six week CaFE course was used during Lent. New translation of the Liturgy, a series of four talks run in conjunction with St Antony’s. The Diary of God, an eight week Diocesan course run by John Huntriss, ran through Winter 2011. 'Help for the Wider Community', a series of talks on a range of social justice issues were arranged in conjunction with St Antony’s. These included talks on CAFOD, LIFE, the Joe Homan Charity and Christians in the Holy Land.

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St Ursula girls from the 1920'sSisters of Mercy and priest by the convent entrance

picture details, left to right, top to bottom: St Ursula girls from the 1920's Sisters of Mercy and priest by the convent entrance