Maeve Donegan’s opening remarks introducing Father Kevin Robinson are reproduced below:
They say a church is built of “stones” and also “living stones”.
Fr Kevin will speak to you in a few moments about the “stones”of our church. My interest is more in the “living stones”, or rather, those that went before us.
Any discussion about our present church has to start with the catholic naval pensioners of Greenwich.
In the late 1700s their pastor was Fr John Griffiths who operated out of the London Road chapel.This had been built by catholic architect,James Taylor,of Islington.
Fr Griffiths was determined to have a place of worship for these “old worn out sons of the sea”, near the Naval Hospital. Mr Taylor who owned a house on Park Vista, next to The Plume Of Feathers, agreed to lease part of his spacious back yard to the church. Fr Griffiths attempts to raise £1200 only achieved £260, but Mr Taylor stepped in and made up the shortfall. By 1793 St Mary’s Chapel was built. Mr Taylor also housed the priest at that time, in Clark’s buildings. The congregation then was made up of “Aged and infirm pensioners and the labouring poor”, according to The Laity’s Directory To The Church Services in 1825.
In an article published in The Penny Christian Magazine of April 1833 a reporter writes a glowing account of the Royal Naval Hospital.In it he reassures the public that these old men,who have done their country such service, are being well looked after. Even their spiritual needs are being attended to,and all faiths are respected.
He says ,”By an esteemed officer in this establishment we are informed…….that about 250 profess the Roman Catholic faith and are lead out by a boatswain of their own persuasion to their Romish chapel in Greenwich”.
Fr Richard North, a young priest of 28yrs, arrives here in 1828. He describes the chapel thus in 1846, “It is a miserable building in an avenue of horrors!”
We know he started fund raising almost immediately. He got the old tars to give one or two pennies a week, from their allowance of a shilling from the Navy. And he wrote incessantly to the Catholic press of the time about his cause for “The companions of Nelson and other heros”. By 1841 he had managed to collect approx. £900, a vast amount for that time, especially considering how poor the donors were.
Unfortunately, Wrights Bank, where he had invested the money failed and he lost everything.
It must have been crushing but, he started all over again and redoubled his efforts. He says himself in one letter, to be priest in want of money for a church, “One needs the tenacity of tooth of a bulldog and the hide of a buffalo!”. The Admiralty even donated £200 to the fund in recognition of his efforts with the old sailors. Amazingly he is sending money to Ireland also, to aid the poor there at the onset of The Great Famine.
By 1846 though, enough money has been raised to buy a site, clear it and start building. By 1849 the spire is raised and by 1851 the first Mass is said. In 1852 it is finally consecrated to Our Ladye Star Of The Sea.
Our church, these “stones”, have been at the heart of our community for 166 years.
For prayer, for meeting, for solace on dark days and added joy on the bright ones. We give thanks for the determined pastors and generous sailors who made it all possible.
“Our Ladye Star of the Sea” lecture was given on Wednesday 27 September by Father Kevin Robinson.