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Our History

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Fr Emile Burt, rector of Herons Ghyll 1909-1922.

1911 - 1922

In 1904 an un-named lady visitor donated £20 towards the establishment of a Roman Catholic Church or Chapel of ease in Crowborough. This was to become the church of a new and independent parish. It was mainly the work of Fr Emile Burt, rector of Herons Ghyll 1909-1922. Whit Sunday 15th May 1910 saw the first Mass in Crowborough at the Oddfellows' Hall, which continued to serve as a chapel until the present one was built. (The Oddfellows' Hall was subsequently demolished and the Regent Cinema built. More recently this has become Lloyds Bank premises.) It was in September 1911 that a small plot of land was staked out on the south side of Crowborough Green for the new Catholic Chapel in Crowborough. It was to be a fairly modest building with a seating capacity for about 100 people. The cost was estimated at £350 and the builders would be a local firm, Messrs Connor Brothers of Crowborough Hill. The building was finished on schedule and the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day 1911 by the Reverend Emile Burt from Heron's Ghyll. The Holy Water stoops in the church were dedicated in the names of Sir Harry and Lady Brand. (Their grandson, Fr Jim Brand, provided this information and more elsewhere in this history and we thank him for his help in assembling another part of our history. He is a priest at the Engish College in Rome and found this site on the web!) Crowborough ceased to be a chapel of ease to Heron's Ghyll on 10th December 1922, and became a church in its own right. At that time the Catholic Community of Crowborough depended for their pastoral care on the Rector of the Mother Church of Heron's Ghyll, some four miles south of the town. The scene on that memorable Christmas Day of 1911 is vividly brought to life by a quotation from the diary of the then Sacristan: - "The place looked quite beautiful, everyone went to Communion. Mr. Corfe played the organ for us, and Donovan and young Connolly served." The first Baptism in the new Church is recorded as taking place on 21st July 1912, with the first convert to the Catholic faith being received into the Church the next day and the first group of Confirmations on 28th July. Ten years later, on 21st February 1922, Father Burt was moved to Mortlake (South-West London) and at the same time plans were set afoot for the separation of Crowborough from Heron's Ghyll. Gradually, over those early decades the Church was architecturally and liturgically improved to provide a more inspiring setting for divine worship. In April 1912 the Tabernacle, Sanctuary Lamp and Ciborium were bought from Hayes & Finch. The first set of Stations of the Cross was presented by a Lady Matthews in 1913. The present set dates from 1925.

Dear (Parishioners), Visitors and Friends,

I hope that you enjoy reading our (history) this booklet which charts the growth of our Parish community from the early days in 1910, when Mass was said in the Oddfellows Hall, through the building of the chapel, to becoming a parish Church (...)

I  hope and pray, that as we enter our second century of the Catholic worship here in Crowborough that we will continue to grow as a community, welcome friends and strangers alike, and be seen as worthy successors of those pioneering Catholics.

Quote taken from the booklet "St Mary's, Mother of Christ, Crowborough" publication.

Word (Parishioners) added by the web publisher.

Fr. Kevin Griffin 

Fr Herbert Robins

1922 - 1944

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 Father MacDonald

1945 - 1966

Fr Aidan White-Spunner

1966 - 1985

Canon Peter Humfrey

1985 - 1995

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Fr Kevin Griffin

1995 - 2020

Fr Dominic O'Hara

2020 -2022

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Fr Ireneusz Stadler
2022 -

1922 - 1960

The first Parish Priest of the new St Mary's Parish was Fr Herbert F Robins who had personally financed the building of the Presbytery in the of 1922. He took up residence on 6th December of the same year and on December 10th the new parish was formally inaugurated. The Sacred Heart and Lady Statues were installed in 1924, the presents et of Stations of the Cross in 1925 and the organ in 1927. Shortly afterwards the choir gallery was erected and a new Sanctuary, Sacristy and Side Chapel were constructed. Between 1927 and 1930 the porch and choir gallery were enlarged and the Bell Tower in memory of Thomas Numford was put up. A new wing was built in 1935 increasing the seating capacity by another 80 places and finally in 1959 the Lady Chapel was added. Father Robins The High Street, Crowborough 1927 One former parishioner - now a priest himself - can recall as a five-year old in 1941 standing on the main road by the Golf Club watching the dark clouds of German bombers coming over Beachy Head and up across the downs (there were, he tells us, no trees and bushes then to obscure the view) and watching the Spifires go up to meet them, before seeing them dropping one of their bombs near the Blue Anchor pub. One German who had been shot down landed safely by parachute at Springfield Farm in Harlequin Lane and may have been among a group of German PoWs that came to Midnight Mass in the same year where one of them sang Silent Night for the congregation. The Parish catechist at this time was a Miss Briggs who lived with her elderly mother in the large white house to the left of the church as you face it. (it's still the same colour today!) She was responsible - amongst other things - for teaching the young altar servers their responses for Mass - all in Latin in those days of course! In 1957 we suffered a vandal attack on the church in which considerable damage was done. Some of the fire extinguishers were discharged and other damage done. Some pews had to be replaced and the ceiling in one point still bears the scars of this attack.

1960 - 1965

As late as 1964 St Mary’s was still a small Parish administered by Father MacDonald, affectionately called Father Mac. He was by then an elderly gentleman who, despite having a car, regularly toured his parish on his black bicycle and wearing a beret. The car was only brought out if the journey involved more than five miles one way! (He is perhaps be a lesson to us today!) Visits to parishioners were often made unannounced and he cheerfully went on his way if told it was inconvenient! When he retired he went to live on the South Coast of Ireland. St Mary's school still consisted of just two classrooms and was located at Heron's Ghyll with a Miss Monahan as the headmistress. She remained in control until after the school moved to its present location behind the church here in Crowborough. There were 52 children in the school when Miss Monahan was succeeded by Mrs Balmer as headmistress. The new head established the first PTA and Ray Hennessey (still in the parish today) became its first chairman. In order to raise funds for building the school hall the PTA organized the first Christmas Bazaar which managed to raise £300.

1965 - 1970

By this time Father White-Spunner had become Parish Priest and in the following year insisted that the Bazaar was to be held to raise Parish Funds and the first of the now annual events was held in the School. When the Hall was built there were still only three classrooms in the school. The original school bell was mounted outside the school door and each child was allowed to ring it on his/her birthday chiming the birthday number. In November 1966 central heating was installed in the Church and records that exist in the parish today show that a sum of £650 was spent on this project. Frank Sellens, the local newspaper reporter was an excellent organist. Fr White-Spunner often sought his services for weddings and funerals, although Frank was not Catholic. In those days the organ was in the loft above the porch. On one occasion he was asked to officiate at a wedding but the problem was the happy couple could not make up their minds as to which of two hymns were to be sung. Just before the service began, Frank was very worried as there was still no decision. He got hold of the best man and told him to speak with Fr White-Spunner to make sure he announced the name of the one to be sung. The appointed moment came, and Fr White-Spunner turned to the congregation and proclaimed, "We will now sing the next hymn"! Frank looked in his mirror and muttered, "Thank you, Father!" This was still the time when the Mass was said in Latin, but little did the parishioners realise that the parish, along with the rest of the Catholic Church worldwide was heading for massive change. The Second Vatican Council resulted in many changes including the altar being turned to face the people and the introduction of the Mass in the native language of the country. Even after turning the altar round, the altar railings still separated the Sanctuary from the rest of the Church.

1970 - 1986

Born at Ashtead in Surrey in 1943. Educated at St Peter’s Primary School and St Andrew's Convent, Leatherhead, and the John Fisher School, Purley. Went to Trinity College, Dublin and obtained an M.A. in Classics. Gained a PGCE at Oxford University and taught in Birmingham and Epsom.Studied for the Priesthood at the Venerable English College, Rome and obtained a Ph.B. and an S.T.L at the Gregorian University, Rome. Ordained priest for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton at Palazzola, the English College summer residence near Rome, by Bishop Cyril Restieaux on July 15th 1973. Served as curate at Epsom 1975-1980. Religious Education Adviser for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton 1980–1985. Taught at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh 1985–1986. Parish Priest at St Mary’s, Crowborough 1985–1995. Chair of Diocesan Liturgy Commission 1988 – 1995. Appointed Episcopal Vicar for Education in 1993 (and served until 1999) and Chapter Canon of the Diocese. Appointed Moderator of the parish of St Joseph, Guildford in July 1995 and served until July 1999. Then appointed as Parish Priest to St Bernards Catholic Community at Lingfield where he served to 2004. Father Peter passed away on Sunday 26th February 2012, following a long illness. His passing was very peaceful and extraordinarily spiritual.

1986 - 2000

February 1987 saw the addition of the Lady Chapel and in June of the same year we had a new Sacristy, Parish Room and central Altar. Four years later - July 1991 - we were able to add a new organ and the ceiling of the church was replaced along with another rewiring. This construction work was carried out by a parishioner - the late Doug Mepham. In September 1992 the present Altar was installed and two months later we vacated the church for a few weeks, holding all our services in the adjoining St. Mary's School Hall, while two pillars - one either side of the main aisle - were removed and the relevant structural and refurbishment work was undertaken. This resulted in a much more open feel to the church interior and considerably improved the visibility for those that sit in the side aisles, helping them to feel more a part of the overall congregation.

2000 ONWARDS

In the autumn of 1999 representatives of Crowborough Churches Together met to discuss the possibility of creating a commemorative display of our local Christian heritage that would last beyond the Millennium celebrations. After much debate it was agreed that each local Christian community would create and individual banner of six sixteen inch embroidered squares, each showing the spiritual life of Crowborough from within each church. These would all be mounted on the same cream background and arranged around a gold cross. One square on each banner was to show the relevant church building of those that produced it. A small group of volunteers from St. Mary's met to discuss the making of our contribution to this effort. Our six squares eventually depicted a collage of the parish, all done in tweeds, the Catholic World Jubilee motif with the blue circle representing the universe, the cross supporting humanity in the continents represented by five doves - the light in the centre is Christ yesterday, today and forever. There is a pattern of interlocking doves to show the solidarity which the great Jubilee Year 2000 promoted. A Nativity scene was chosen as a symbol of the start of the Millennium, whilst the symbols of the seven blessed sacraments within our church are also depicted. The panel also contains an appliqué and embroidered square (made by a parent of a pupil in the school) showing the school uniform and badge, whilst the Millennium project we undertook to provide water storage facilities in Petit Martinique in the Caribbean is also shown. Once all the squares were completed, volunteers from all the churches met to produce the final banner - an excellent example of Christians of local denominations working together in the community. The final result was displayed for the first time at an ecumenical service at midnight on January 1st 2000 and was subsequently on display in the Town Hall for some weeks and also in the local library for the whole community to see. A desk calendar was produced using at least two panels from each church and this was sold in local shops and churches. The Catholic Jubilee motif was selected for the cover. Autumn of 2000 saw us having to rewire the church yet again to comply with current Health and Safety Legislation. This was successfully completed within one week, thereby minimising disruption to services, apart from weekday Masses. So the Church moves into the 21st century, very much part of the local community. Having stood for over 90 years, serving the Catholic Community as their centre of worship to this present day, we are starting to look forward to our centenary year which will come all too soon! On January 11th 2004, Bishop Kieran visited us and presented a Bene Merente Medal to a parishioner. Click here for more details and pictures. February 8th 2004 saw the formal induction of Elizabeth Lewis into her role as the new Headteacher of St Mary's School.

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