Society of Jesus arrives at sad and historic moment as it hands over church keys to bishop, reports Freddy Gray
THE SOCIETY of Jesus has withdrawn from a Lancashire church on the 150th anniversary of its involvement there, because of dwindling vocations.
Fr David Smolira, the British Jesuit Provincial, handed over the keys to the Sacred Heart, Blackpool, to Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster and in so doing he returned the parish to the diocesan bishop.
The ceremony cleared the way for Fr Ned Carey, a secular priest, to take over as parish priest. The four Jesuit priests and one Jesuit brother who formed the Sacred Heart community will be redistributed among other Jesuit communities in Stamford Hill, North London, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Two will live in retirement in Preston, Lancashire, while Fr Denis Blackledge, the outgoing parish priest and superior of the Blackpool community, as well as the press secretary to Bishop O’Donoghue, will move to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, after taking a holiday.
In a letter to parishioners, Fr Smolira explained that the Jesuits would be withdrawing from the parish so that the priests could be used in areas where they are needed most.
He said: “We must do so while taking full account of the significant reduction of our numbers in the last 30 to 40 years. The Society of Jesus is essentially a missionary order, going where the needs are greatest and where the work is not being done by others.
“When we had a larger number of priests and brothers in the Province we were able to put down roots and have a certain amount of stability. “Now that our numbers are less and the needs are, if anything, more, we must examine our commitments and reorganise our work so that we can best deploy our resources in the services of the Gospel.” Ged Clapson, spokesman for the Jesuits, added: “Obviously, as with most orders, there is a need for more vocations.” There are now about 200 Jesuits in Britain, and another 30 British Jesuits working in Guyana, South America, and South Africa. But within 10 years there could be just 70 of working age.
Bishop O’Donghue has thanked the Jesuits for their involvement in the diocese calling their mission “a huge success”. He said: “Their influence felt throughout the whole of the North-West.” The Jesuits left two parishes in Wiltshire last year.