Saturday, 29 August 2009

Cistercian Tradition

Regular readers of this blog will recall that the Abbey of Mariawald, the only Abbey of the Order of Cistercium of the Strict Observance (OCSO), that is, the Trappists, in Germany, was granted permission, pursuant to the provisions of Summorum Pontificum to return to the Liturgy and Observances of the Order current in 1963/4 known as the Use of Monte Cistello.

Strangely, this permission is dated 21st November, 2009, on the website of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Nice to see the Holy See ahead of the game!

Two video clips of the Gregorian Rite Liturgy in Mariawald have recently been posted on The first (above) is the Preface and Sanctus. The second (below) is of the Pater Noster and Pax Domini.

There are five Trappist houses for men in Ireland and one in Scotland. None of them have sought or been given permission to revert to the Use of Monte Cistello - nor is it likely that they will. Those houses in Ireland are, in order of foundation, Mount Melleray Abbey (1832), Mount Saint Joseph (1878), New Mellifont Abbey (1938), Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey (1948), and Bolton Abbey (1965). Sancta Maria Abbey is in Scotland.

There is one Trappistine house for ladies in Ireland, St. Mary's Abbey. It is equally unlikely to seek permission for the Use of Monte Cistello.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Voice of... Blessed Pius IX (Part III)

On 17th May, 1852, Blessed Pius IX issued the second of his Encyclicals of that year on the subject of the discipline of the Clergy, entitled Probe Noscitis Venerabiles, which was addressed to the Archbishops and Bishops of Spain.

"2. Devote your constant thoughts and efforts to those who have dedicated themselves to the sacred ministry. See that they remain mindful of their vocation and direct their manner of life according to the standards of the sacred canons and ecclesiastical discipline. They should glow in the gravity of their character, the sanctity of their life, and the praise of their wholesome doctrine. They should also give an example of all the virtues to the Christian people; perform the duties of their ministry fully, skillfully, and religiously; and labor zealously for the salvation of souls. The young clergy, even from their earliest years, should be guided opportunely toward piety, virtue, and an ecclesiastical spirit. See that they are diligently taught literature, especially the sacred disciplines, untouched by the danger of any error. The faithful entrusted to you should be nourished daily with the words of faith and strengthened by the spiritual gifts of grace so that they can grow in the knowledge of God and walk in the ways of the Lord; they must never permit themselves to be deceived and led into error by the manufacturers of lies and the followers of perverse dogmas. Since, however, as each one of you well understands, nothing contributes more to the preservation of sacred and public affairs than the proper education of youth. Therefore, watch carefully that in all the public and private schools a doctrine entirely Catholic is taught and that the young people are trained scrupulously according to the precepts of our holy religion."

Probe Noscitis Venerabilis, No. 2

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Spiritual Mothers of Priests

by Fr Tim Finigan

In 2007, the Congregation for the Clergy published a document entitled Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity. It is largely a collection of reflections on the example of women who prayed particularly for priests.

Jane, who writes the blog Thoughts from an Oasis in French Catholicism, has taken up the idea of promoting Spiritual Maternity for priests with a dedicated blog Spiritual Mothers of Priests. She has been helped particularly by the advice and encouragement of Fr Mark of Vultus Christi who lives in the diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma and spends his time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, interceding for his brother priests. He has a helpful post: What can I do for the Year of the Priest?

It is a great source of joy and encouragement for priests to know that others are praying for them. It also motivates us to try to live a holy life in response to the generosity of others in their prayers and sacrifices. My warmest thanks, which I am sure will be echoed by brother priests, for all those who pray for priests.

(reproduced from The Heremeneutic of Continuity)

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Reception of the Habit

On 31st January last, Sr. Alexandra of the Holy Face received the habit of a novice in the Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus, the sister Congregation of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, based near Fesiole, just outside Florence, Italy, and now flourishing in Ireland.

A full pictorial record of the ceremonies is available here. The Most Reverend Dr. Luciano Giovannetti, Bishop of Fesiole performed the ceremony and celebrated Pontifical High Mass.

It is traditional for the future bride of Christ to come to the ceremony attired as any bride and sometimes accompanied by her father, or, in this case, her brother, to the ceremony.

The Holy Ghost is invoked by the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus.

The putitative novice must express her free desire to be received as a novice.

The ceremony of tonsure is performed as a sign of the abandonment of the world and an old life in the world.

The habit of a novice is imposed.

The Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus gather with their new sister and the Bishop of Fesiole after the ceremony. A remarkable gathering a mere five years after the first Sisters Adorers were professed.

Anyone interested in finding out more about their life and vocation can apply to:
La Ré Mère,
Adoratrices du Cœur Royal de Jésus-Christ Souverain Prêtre,
Maison du Cœur Royal,
Via di Gricigliano, 45,
50065 - SIECI (FI),

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Voice of... Blessed Pius IX (Part II)

On 25th March, 1852, Blessed Pius IX issued the first of his Encyclicals of that year on the subject of the discipline of the Clergy, entitled Nemo Certe Ignorat, which was addressed to the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland.

"6. Now, however, as you know, nothing instructs others more in piety and the service of God than the lives and example of those who have dedicated themselves to the divine ministry. Therefore labor so that all who are called to the vineyard of the Lord, mindful of their proper vocation and office, abstain entirely from things forbidden to clerics and from things that are not proper for them. Then they may be an example for the faithful in word, in their dealings with others, in love, in faith, and in chastity. They must wear a clerical habit appropriate to their order and dignity, and they must perform their ministry piously and reverently. Further they must administer to the faithful, with fitting piety and reverence, the holy sacrament of the Eucharist. With it all true justice begins; or if already begun, is increased; or if already lost, is recovered. They should be devoted to prayer and study, especially sacred studies, and under your guidance let them zealously serve the salvation of souls. Each one of you knows very well how eager the Church is, especially in these hard times, to have suitable servants, who come only from well-trained clerics. Therefore devote all your care, thoughts, and diligent study to this, that the young clergy, even from their earliest years, are trained in all piety, virtue, and ecclesiastical spirit, and that they are carefully taught literature and the more serious disciplines, especially the sacred ones, free entirely from every danger of profane innovations and error. Then resplendent with the raiment of all the virtues and armed with salutary and solid doctrine, they may in time be able to teach the Christian people by word and example and to refute those who contradict them.

Nemo Certe Ignorat, No. 6

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Traditional Vocations - Black is 'the new Black'

The New York Times reports:

"A new study of Roman Catholic nuns and priests in the United States shows that an aging, predominantly white generation is being succeeded by a smaller group of more racially and ethnically diverse recruits who are attracted to the religious orders that practice traditional prayer rituals and wear habits..."

"...They are the generation defined by the Second Vatican Council, of the 1960s, which modernized the church and many of its religious orders. Many nuns gave up their habits, moved out of convents, earned higher educational degrees and went to work in the professions and in community service. The study confirms what has long been suspected: that these more modern religious orders are attracting the fewest new members..."

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Voice of... Blessed Pius IX (Part I)

On 17th June, 1847, Blessed Pius IX issued his Encyclical Ubi Primum upon the discipline of Religious Orders.

"7. But We call you too, beloved sons, to be partners in this work, and We ask that you collaborate eagerly with Us in accomplishing Our object, so that your order may shine again with its former honor and brightness. Therefore, in accordance with your position and your office, leave nothing unattempted, so that the religious men under your authority meditate earnestly upon the vocation to which they have been called, walk worthily in it, and endeavor religiously to fulfill their vows. Guard their holy discipline and oppose the attractions, sports, and business if the world which they have renounced; instead let them press on with unceasing prayer and the recollection, teaching and reading of heavenly things. Let them labor for the salvation of souls presenting themselves as modest, humble, sober, kindly, patient, and just men, irreproachable in integrity and chastity, burning with charity, and reputed for wisdom. Let them not offend anyone, but offer to all an example of good works so that the Adversary must fear when he cannot speak any evil of them."

Ubi Primum, No. 7

Monday, 10 August 2009

Clergy Retreat for the Year for Priests

by Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP

Clergy pilgrimage to Ars and Lyons, 8-12 February 2010, led by Fr de Malleray FSSP - for the Year for Priests

On August 8th, 2009, Feast (EF calendar) of St John Marie Vianney, Patron of Priests:

Reverend and dear Fathers,

On this feast of our common Patron, please accept my heartfelt wishes of peace and joy in your priestly life.

To meet among priests and ask for the intercession of the holy Curé, I have the pleasure of inviting you to a pilgrimage to Ars next year (in exactly six months) from February 8 to 12, 2010 (i.e. the week before Ash Wednesday – 17 February 2010).

(image: the shrine of the Curé of Ars)

  • Depart Monday morning 8 February 2010 from the UK, arriving in the afternoon in Lyon and reach Francheville (FSSP house on the outskirt of Lyons).
  • Return Friday morning 12 February 2010 from Lyons.
  • Our pilgrimage will be under the special protection of Our Blessed Lady, the Mother of God and the Mother of priests as the anniversary of Her Apparitions in Lourdes will occur while we are still in Lyons. (Feb. 11th).

We will be based in the beautiful St Padre Pio House run by the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in Francheville (Lyons), less than an hour drive from Ars. Single room accommodation. Garden.

  • A full day in Ars, the climax of our stay. Possibility of offering Holy Mass in Ars. Visit of the Curé’s presbytery. Veneration of his relics.
  • One day in Lyons, original Episcopal See of St Iraeneus: visit of the Basilica of Fourvières; prayer at the place of death of St Francis de Sales; visit of the Roman amphitheatre where the protomartyrs of Gaul SS. Polycarp, Blandina, Pothinus and others suffered in 117 a.D. On a lighter note, meal in a ‘bouchon’ (traditional Lyonnais restaurant; see here).
  • We will also have conferences on priestly spirituality, including the theology of the Mass, the EF Roman liturgy and prayer life.
Price (estimate):
  • About £150 for return train ticket London St Pancras-Lyons-London St Pancras (reduction possible if we travel as a group).
  • Alternatively: Easyjet direct return flight Stansted-Lyons-Gatwick: minimum price £51 (for group ticket of 15 passengers).
  • Accommodation will be very affordable in the FSSP house - rough estimate: £30/day with breakfast + 1 main meal at least, i.e. £120 for 4 full days (4 nights).
  • To be added: transport in Lyons and to Ars. Meals outside of the house (at least twice).

Possibility of offering private Mass daily in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite (please bring only your alb, biretta, cingulum and linens). Compline (or one other Hour per day) in the EF of the Roman rite (please bring EF Breviary if you possess one).


please send a £120 cheque made payable to ‘FSSP ENGLAND’, posted to : Fr de Malleray, FSSP, 179 Elgar Rd, RG2 0DH, Reading, Berkshire, UK. Please include your complete contact details in the booking.

Number of places available as of today: 13.

I am looking forward to meeting you again soon and I wish you a blessed Year for Priests. With my prayer,

Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP

(image below: Priests in the Padre Pio House Chapel)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Curé d’Ars, the Model for the Work for the Sanctification of Souls in the Confessional and at the Altar

Along with the praise and glory which he renders towards God, the primary work of the priest, and that towards which all of his duties impel him, is his duty toward the sanctification of souls, referred to in theological terms as the munus sanctificandi.

The priest, as another Christ, is fundamentally obliged to work towards the sanctification of the souls which have been confided to him.

It is the same profound desire and duty for the salvation of souls which particularly attracted St. John-Mary Vianney towards the priesthood: "When I was young, I thought, 'If I were a priest, I would win many souls for the Lord.'" And when he was in the midst of a moment of discouragement and had decided to abandon his studies for the priesthood, it was enough for his ‘tutor and protector,' Fr. Balley simply to remind him, "Very well, goodbye to your dreams, John-Mary! Goodbye to the priesthood, goodbye to souls," for him to put the temptation to quit his studies behind him.
How, concretely, does the priest fulfill his duty towards the sanctification of souls? Clearly he principally does so through the administration of the Sacraments, because this is the means by which he will impart and augment divine grace in souls; it is also through the administration of these sacraments that he will strive to work out his own sanctification with the most dignity, the most holiness, and the most faith possible.

The Holy Curé of Ars, whom Benedict XVI invites each priest to take on as a model in his pastoral duty, exhorted his faithful above all else towards the frequent reception of the Sacraments. "All those, he would say, who approach the Sacraments are not saints, but the saints are always among those who receive them often."

And among these Sacraments of course Confession and the Holy Eucharist hold a particular place. He would say: "The more we use the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, the more the yoke of the Lord is sweet and light. Purified by these Sacraments like a salutary bath, our soul lifts itself towards God."

The Sacrament of Confession

All who are a even bit familiar with the life of Saint John-Mary Vianney know what an important place his apostolate in the confessional had in his life. In his letter introducing the Priestly Year, Benedict XVI wrote: "From St. John-Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the Sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the center of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the 'dialogue of salvation' which it entails."
The holy Curé would hear confessions for up to 18 hours a day and would enter the confessional at one in the morning except when, due to the number of pilgrims, he would be obliged to begin before midnight. After having heard so very many confessions during his life, he said one day: "If I had not been a priest, I would have never known what sin truly is."

It is because he knew the ugliness of sin, because he knew what an offense it is to God and how much damage it does to souls that he said that he was always free to offer the mercy of God to the souls who came to see him, no matter how many that might be. "Why are we insensible to the benefits of Confession? It is because we fail to look at all for the benefits of the mercy of the good Lord, who has placed no limits in this sacrament." The love St. John-Mary Vianney had for the confessional came from, as we have said, his thirst for the conversion of sinners. Mademoiselle des Garets tells us that each evening during his prayers he was so moved to tears that he could hardly recite the phrase "O Lord, who wills that no sinner might be lost..." Fr. Toccanier testified at his beatification that the Curé d'Ars told him, "I am the happiest when I am praying for sinners."
This is why priests in their ministry should work to acquire a keen sense of sin and its consequences. The Saint would say, "If we had faith and could see a soul in a state of mortal sin we would die of fear. The soul in a state of grace is like a white dove. In a state of mortal sin it is no more than a rotting cadaver, carrion."

Along with St. John Vianney's physical penance of remaining for such long hours in the confessional – he passed out a number of times, he suffered from the cold in winter and from the heat in the summer – it was even more so a moral penance for his soul: "No, there is nothing sadder in this world than the life of the priest! How does he carry out his days? By seeing the good Lord offended. The priest sees nothing but this. He is constantly like St. Peter in the praetorium. He always has before his eyes Our Lord being insulted, despised, covered in opprobrium. . . Oh, if I had known this was the life of a priest, instead of going to the seminary, I would have hurried to enter a Trappist monastery."

But, nevertheless, the confessional was the place where throughout the life of the Holy Curé thousands of souls were reconciled to God. Many left the confessional with tears in their eyes and their souls completely transformed. "Oh my friend," the Curé d'Ars would say, "It is only at the last judgment that we will know how many souls found their salvation here."
By his long hours in the confessional St. John Mary Vianney has given a lesson to all priests throughout the world. It was in this hidden place that he passed the greater part of his days. Pope Benedict XVI on June 21 of this year stated, "Priests should never find it acceptable that their confessionals are empty, nor should they think it enough to simply apprehend that the faithful no longer have a taste for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace." Here once again the Curé d'Ars is an example for each priest: when there were fewer faithful coming to Ars, he would even pray novenas for the crowds of penitents to return. This ought to show us as priests how much we need to pray that souls will approach the confessional where the pardon of God awaits them.

"I know," he would say, "that we are weak, and we can fall into sin. Nevertheless, it is our fault because God does not refuse us His grace. But to remain in sin after having committed it, while one has all of the means to escape from it, to remain in enmity with God, this is something I could never understand."

As the Holy Father reminds us in his letter for the opening of the Priestly Year, St. John-Mary Vianney adapted himself to each soul which presented itself to him. He never took long with a penitent, but for each soul he showed a great compassion. Once a sinner who was kneeling before him asked the Saint why he was crying and he responded, "Well my friend, I am crying because you are not crying enough." One priest who was a witness at his beatification stated that a number of those converted had told him later that "seeing that man cry over their sins was what had made the greatest impression upon them."

To all souls, finally, the Curé d'Ars preached without ceasing about the mercy of God. "The sacrament of Confession, where God seems to forget His justice in order to manifest His mercy," is how he would explain it. "His greatest pleasure is to pardon us. . . Let us therefore give this joy to this good Father; let us return to Him and we will be happy."

He often stressed the consoling and encouraging fact that once a sin is confessed it will never reappear again: "You saw my candle; this night, this morning it burned out. Where is it? It longer exists; it has gone of out of existence. The same is true of our sins which have been absolved; they no longer exist, they have been annihilated."

Finally, in order to inspire confidence in the sinner and to encourage him to confess freely, the Saint, along with the tears that he often wept, would not hesitate to say to him, "I am much more culpable than you, do not hesitate to accuse yourself."

In fact he loved to say the following phrase which should be a rule for each priest: "One must have compassion for the sinner, not contempt."

Holy Mass

In his duty towards the sanctification of souls the priest of course finds the celebration of Holy Mass at the center. This celebration Benedict XVI invites all priests to carry out each day. Here once again St. John Marie Vianney is a priestly example. After his sickness in 1843, he could hardly stand up and he had to be carried rather than walk to the church. Due to his weakness he could not go until the morning without eating. In order to keep the fast he would offer the Holy Sacrifice at three in the morning. "When I ask during the Mass to know the will of God, I see a light which seems to indicate it to me."

The Saint would say, "I don't want to be the pastor of a parish, but I am glad to be a priest so that I can celebrate Mass."

Even if the hours passed in the confessional could serve as an excellent preparation for the celebration of Holy Mass as his confessor had assured him, St. John-Mary Vianney would always remain kneeling on the steps of the sanctuary for 20 to 30 minutes before each Mass. His hands would be joined in prayer and his eyes cast upon the tabernacle. He would say, when speaking simply about attending Mass, "One ought always to devote at least a quarter of an hour to prepare oneself to attend Mass well."

His long preparation, his thanksgiving which he would carry out in just as edifying a manner, and his manner of celebrating the Mass would profoundly touch souls as they saw in it a profound faith in the Mysteries of the altar. "We will not understand the greatness of being able to offer the Mass until we are in heaven."

During his thanksgiving, if one of his parishioners needed to speak to him after Mass, the Curé would go out with him and after having briefly answered the needs of the soul before him, he would excuse himself from the conversation in saying, "My friend please excuse me, I must return to the church, there is someone who is waiting for me."

It also occurred that many priests would ask the Curé d'Ars to help them better understand and better live out the mystery of the Mass. He would tell them that "the foremost cause of laxity in priests is a lack of attention during the Mass! Alas, my God! How culpable is a priest when he treats it as something ordinary."

His profound faith before such a great mystery helps us understand why he always looked for what was the most beautiful and precious to be used for the celebration of Mass. This is likewise an excellent lesson for our own times. He was fond of saying that nothing was too beautiful for the Lord. His biographers tell us that for the Holy Curé the vestments for Mass could never be too magnificent. He wanted a chalice that was of solid gold, because the most beautiful one he had did not seem to be sufficiently worthy to him to hold the Precious Blood of Our Lord.

"All good works united do not equal the Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men, and the Holy Mass is the work of God. The martyr is nothing in comparison; it is the sacrifice that man makes of his life to God; the Mass is the sacrifice which God makes for men of His body and His blood."

In celebrating Mass he was not known to be too slow. Nevertheless, exceptionally, he would slow down at the elevation where he could pass up to five minutes, his eyes fixed upon the Host, as if in ecstasy. It was as if St. John-Mary Vianney saw Our Lord at the altar; that he saw Him with his own eyes; that he recognized Him in at Holy Communion coming to those who had the good fortune to assist at the Mass.

He was known to follow rigorously the rubrics of the missal and Mgr. Convert tells us that when flies would bother him at the altar he would not even move his hand to chase them away.

"This idea of the Holy Sacrifice which he had was also the cause for the respect which he professed for the holy liturgy; he would observe the smallest detail of it with perfect exactitude." The same author states what is also an important point of meditation for our times: "He would never give Holy Communion without using the paten, which he carried with the ciborium, that he might catch a Host which might accidentally fall, and in order to collect any particles which might detach from the Host. One day he cried tears while speaking of the particles which fell to the ground, saying, "We march over the good Lord! Oh, how sad it is! It is painful even to think about it."

His manner of celebrating, his piety at the altar was in itself a means of preaching. Fr. Monnin exclaimed that, "The mere sight of the Curé d'Ars celebrating Mass converted more than one sinner."

In the encyclical which Bl. John XXIII wrote for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of St. John-Mary Vianney we find these words which can serve as an excellent conclusion: "Speaking as a Father, We urge Our beloved priests to set aside a time to examine themselves on how they celebrate the divine mysteries, what their dispositions of soul and external attitude are as they ascend the altar and what fruit they are trying to gain from it. They should be spurred to do this by the centenary celebrations that are being held in honor of this outstanding and wonderful priest, who drew such great strength and such great desire to dedicate himself 'from the consolation and happiness of offering the divine victim.' May his prayers, which We feel sure they will have, bring a fullness of light and strength down upon Our beloved priests."

(source: Priestly Fraternity of St Peter)

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Voice of... Pope Gregory XVI

On 17th May, 1835, Pope Gregory XVI issued his Encyclical Commissum Divinitus upon the proper governance of the Church.

"5. This power of teaching and governing in matters of religion, given by Christ to His Spouse, belongs to the priests and bishops. Christ established this system not only so that the Church would in no way belong to the civil government of the state, but also so that it could be totally free and not subject in the least to any earthly domination. Jesus Christ did not commit the sacred trust of the revealed doctrine to the worldly leaders, but to the apostles and their successors. He said to them only: "Whoever hears you, hears Me; whoever rejects you, rejects Me." These same apostles preached the Gospel, spread the Church, and established its discipline not in accordance with the pleasure of lay authority, but even in spite of it. Moreover, when the leaders of the synagogue dared command them to silence, Peter and John, who had used the evangelical freedom, responded: "You be the judge of whether it is right in the eyes of God to listen to you rather than to God." Thus, if any secular power dominates the Church, controls its doctrine, or interferes so that it cannot promulgate laws concerning the holy ministry, divine worship, and the spiritual welfare of the faithful, it does so to the injury of the faith and the overturning of the divine ordinance of the Church and the nature of government. "

Commissum Divinitus, No. 5

Franciscans of the Immaculate settle in Stoke on Trent

by Oliver Hayes

Great news has come in from Fr. Tim that the Franciscans of the Immaculate have just been given the church of St. Joseph in Burslem, a real architectural gem in the Potteries. They are coming to my diocese of Birmingham from Southwark. Having seen for myself the success they have had in reviving the historic convent at Lanherne, we can hope for much from them.

Let us hope that the initiative will be a success unlike the failed attempt to set up a traditionalist parish in St. Vincent de Paul, Liverpool. Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire have been a bastion of Catholic traditionalism since the council, and let us hope the presence of the friars will bolster it. Make a special intention for the novena leading up to the Assumption!

The story of this church itself is well worth telling, as the following article from The Sentinel of Stoke on Trent demonstrates. There is also an audio file about its restoration here.

Fred Hughes reveals the intriguing story behind an artistic gem preserved in Burslem.

It's nearly 80 years since two artistic giants dazzled the fertile canvas of Stoke-on-Trent. Alas their names and reputation have faded over time. But their work and legacy are preserved in an extraordinary mural of Christ in Glory on the sanctuary ceiling of St Joseph's RC Church in Burslem.

"It is most certainly a stunning work," says freelance writer Carmel Dennison. "Obviously it has tremendous merit in its spiritual location, but as a stand-alone work of art it commands an important place in the social heritage of the Potteries."

Carmel's research into the background of this Christian representation has resulted in a booklet entitled The Forsyths At St Joseph's Church, Burslem. It tells the incredible story of father and daughter artists joining forces with a priest and the local Member of Parliament to produce one of the city's little-known treasures.

"The church itself was commissioned by the parish priest Reverend William Browne and designed by the distinguished 20th century architect JS Brocklesby," Carmel tells me. "The style is Italian and the colours of the bricks, which were locally made at Fenton, were chosen to reflect a herringbone pattern.

"The astonishing thing about it is that it was paid for by subscription and congregation collection, and it was constructed by the hands of the unemployed men of Burslem, brought together during a time of distress and mass unemployment in the 1920s.

"Father Browne recruited these men from around the town and paid them with a daily bowl of soup and a chunk of bread. It is a credit to Burslem's community that the church was built in such a short period of time."

St Joseph's rose from the ruins of an old pottery factory. Father Browne even got the men to demolish the potbank first as they daily got stuck-in with pick and shovel. And as the church building grew, the newly appointed Burslem School of Art principal, Gordon Forsyth (1879-1952), watched with interest, as did the newly-elected Burslem MP Andrew MacLaren.

"It was MacLaren who later suggested to Father Browne that because the church had been built by Burslem's unemployed men, they should be the ones to decorate it," Carmel continues. "He said they should be enrolled in the School of Art so they could be taught the skills to make the stained-glass windows. Naturally there was no money to fund this notion so MacLaren took his plan to Forsyth. Soon a free Saturday morning class at the Wedgwood Institute was up and running for 50 St Joseph's parishioners."

At the time the church was being built, Forsyth's daughter Moira (1905-1991) was a young art graduate. Her archived correspondence, at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, reveals how the windows were made as her father taught unemployed potters and miners in a year how to cut and set the specially-selected coloured glass to correspond with the windows at Chartres Cathedral in France.

"It was an amazing feat," says Carmel. "Imagine nowadays the unemployed returning to school to learn an artistic trade from one of the finest watercolour artists of the day. And nobody got paid for their services!"

And so a bond was forged between the community, a politician, a priest and two artists. In 1945, Scotsman MacLaren lost his seat and left Burslem. He died in 1975 at the age of 82.

Gordon Forsyth, himself a radically-driven socialist, designed the windows and altar panels for St Joseph's. He retired at the end of the war and died in 1952, aged 73. His public work can be seen in the hospital buildings at Hartshill and Haywood.

But it is Moira Forsyth who ultimately completed the work at St Joseph's. Taught pottery design by her father, Moira exhibited her ceramic figures at the White City Fair to worldwide acclaim in 1925. After graduating at the Royal College of Art, she moved from ceramics to glass. Her stained-glass work can be seen in Guildford Cathedral, Norwich Cathedral and Eton College Chapel.

"Moira was totally immersed in St Joseph's Church," declares Carmel. "By the early 1930s, the priest and the art teacher's daughter began planning the huge mural for the sanctuary ceiling. Once the idea was spun, Moira, although creatively prominent by this time, refused from the outset to accept a commission fee, settling for five guineas a week incidental expenses.

"Most of the preparation was done at the artist's studio in London and was completed in 1937. Father Browne was delighted with the result. In a letter to Moira he writes, 'The ceiling has surpassed all my expectations. I congratulate you with all my heart. It is a lasting memorial to your genius and places you side-by-side with the great masters of the past'.

"And this is not just the view of a parish priest. Bernard Rackham, former keeper of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, valued Moira's work among the best he'd seen. She later received the Queen's Award for lifelong services to the arts. But among her finest work surely is the mural at St Joseph's in Burslem."

(reproduced, with permission from The Expectation of Our Lady;
also see St Mary Magdalen)