Next month the oldest church in Ipswich, and one of the oldest in East Anglia, the Church of St. Mary, celebrates the centenary of its opening by Dr.
Walsh, Bishop of the Midland district, on October to, 1838.
A Catholic Directory map rev eats in the land of East Anglia, once a great stronghold of the faith, a great dearth of Mass centres. Recently items of news have app eared in these pages marking the progress of Catholicism in a distri ct once considered barren soil.
From a Special Correspondent Monsieur l'Abbe Simon, who may be considered as the founder of the Ipswich Mission, was one of the many zealous priests attached to 'the Bourbon dynasty, who were compelled to fly from their native land to avoid the cruelties shown by the revolutionists to the clergy.
Fr: Simon arrived in England in the year 1793, and came to Ipswich with the intention of getting a livelihood by teaching languages. Ipswich, at that date, had been without a Catholic priest since the time of the so-called Reformation, and it was not generally supposed that any of its inhabitants continued to adhere to the ancient faith.
Fr. Simon, however, after many enquiries, discovered two elderly maiden ladies—the Misses Betsy and Margaret Wood— residing in Silent Street (then called New Market Street), who were Catholics, and who were more or less acquainted with the few Catholics then scattered over the district,
The Misses Wood, it may readily be imagined, gave the good priest a hearty welcome and furnished him with all the information he required to enable him to find and introduce himself to their fellow Catholics—but they did more—they placed a room at his service in which he could gather his little congregation and say Mass, and generously offered him a home in their house, The Zealous Teacher of Languages
It was in this house of the Misses Betsy and Margaret Wood in Silent Street, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered up in Ipswich for the first time since the subversion of the Catholic Faith in this country.
The Misses Wood afterwards removed to a house (still standing) in St. Helen's Street, opposite the " Dove Inn," and, subsequently, to another house in Pottery Street. Fr. Simon continued to reside with them, saying Mass with his little flock in each of these houses, and following his adopted profession of a teacher of languages.
In the early part of the last century, Fr. Simon purchased about three acres of land on Albion Hill, nearly on the site of the monastery of the Black Friars, ransacked in the reign of Edward VI. Upon this land he proceeded to build a house with a small chapel. Owing to his having accepted a chaplaincy to a Catholic nobleman, it was not until the year 1827 that the chapel was completed.
Mass was, in the meantime, occasionally said in the Sacristy, which had been furnished for that purpose. This chapel stood east and west, and was about 60 feet long by 20 feet wide, and was seated for some 150 persons. It was opened in August, 1827, by the late Rt. Rev. D. Walsh, Bishop of Cambysopolis, and Vicar Apostolic of the central district. An account of the opening appears in the local (Protestant) paper of that date, from which the following is taken : " This small, neat erection at the extremity of the town, on the Woodbridge road, adapted to the accommodation of nearly 200 people, was opened for public worship on Tuesday last, by Dr. Walsh and his assistants."
The Ipswich congregation increasing, Fr. Simon soon found the little chapel too small for his flock, and in 1839 completed the present church, adding to the old chapel which now forms a transept—the whole building being cruciform.
The nave is 76 feet long and 24 feet wide, and the church was described at the time as being " a line model of Gothic architecture capable of containing 500 or 600 persons, and having a very handsome altar and altar piece, the ceiling being elliptic and groined with fine effect. In the west side of the transept is a gallery with an organ to which has been added a small but increasing and improving choir." So
says the correspondent of the Orthodox Journal, of March 2, 1839, in which is given a quaint but tolerably correct little illustration of the present edifice.
Orthodox Journal's Account
The same periodical informs us that, " On October 10 (then) last the church was consecrated (?) by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Walsh, and seventeen persons received the Sacrament of Confirmation, five of whom were converts."
Fr. Simon was naturalised as a British subject by letters patent of June 7, William IV. He was then described as formerly of Normandy in the Kingdom of France, but then of Ipswich, Suffolk, teacher.
The venerable Abbe Simon continued to officiate in his church until his death which took place on September 8, 1839, at the age of 71 years.
The mission, after the death of Fr. Simon, was placed in charge of the Rev. Ignatius Collingridge, Afterwards, it was served successively by the Revv. Jas. O'Neill, Matthias Lane, Thrower and Marshall. Eventually, for some time, there ceased to be a resident priest, and the mission was served from Stoke by Nayland by the Revv. M. Lane and J. C. Kemp alternately. In 1854, this arrangement not proving satisfactory, the Rev. J. C. Kemp (a Suffolk man and a convert) was removed to Ipswich and became sole priest of the mission.
Under this zealous pastor, the congregation of St. Mary's rapidly increased. There was but one drawback to the complete success of the mission, and this was the position of the church. Not only was it on the outskirts of the town, but owing to the approach being up two steep hills, the locality was not one generally visited by the inhabitants of the town.
The mission was mainly supported by Miss Mary Wood, who occupied the house adjoining, and which communicated with the church. On September 13, 1859, Miss Mary Wood died, at the age of 60 years. By her will she directed the investment of £1,000 in the funds, the dividends to be paid to the priest for the time being of St. Mary's.
Becomes Property of Diocese She also left the house and grounds next to the church, with the adjoining cottages, to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Wareing, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Northampton, and Fr. Kemp absolutely as joint tenants, subject to certain annuities to her attendants, and she also bequeathed to them the great bulk of the money which she had derived from Fr. Simon.
The house adjoining the church was, upon the death of Miss Mary Wood, occupied by the Rev. F. Kemp, and became the presbytery of the mission. Shortly afterwards (1860) Fr. Kemp, who now possessed the means required for building a church in a central position in the town, purchased a house with a spacious garden in Orwell Place.
Upon this garden the present church of St. Pancras was erected, and Fr. Kemp took up his residence at the house now called St. Pancras House.
After the erection of St. Pancras, the house adjoining St. Mary's was occupied by a community of nuns of the Order of Jesus and Mary, and the St. Mary's Mission was served regularly from St. Pancras by Fr. Kemp and the Rev. P. Rogers, the then assistant priest, and afterwards, by the Rev. A. J. Wallace, who also acted for some time as assistant priest at St. Pancras.
The mission continued to be served from St. Pancras until the year 1872 when St. Pancras was created a missionary rectory served by the Fathers of the Pious Society of Missions (more generally known as the Italian Fathers), and the Rev. A. J. Wallace, the then priest of St. Pancras was transferred to St. Mary's as priest in sole charge.