ON Wednesday May 6 the Broughton Catholic Charitable Society will be 200 years old. To mark the occasion, Bishop Brewer of Lancaster will preside at concelebrated Mass in the Preston Guild Hall in the presence of the Apostolic ProNuncio, Archbishop Barbarito, who will be ending a 3-day visit to the diocese. Five other bishops and many priests from the dioceses of Lancaster, Salford and Liverpool will take part, and a congregation of 2,000 is expected.
The society was founded at Broughton, a village 4 miles north of Preston, after a smallpox epidemic in the late 18th century had carried off many small farmers in the area. (Women did the milking and gained immunity, as Jenner discovered, by contracting mild doses of cow-pox).
The rest of the community combined to help the distressed families and to have Masses offered for the dead. Aid was gradually extended to others in need, and on May 6 1787 a regular society was formed with the objects of relieving the poor and having Masses said for all living and deceased members; Membership was open to all priests and laity who were Lancashire-born or resident in Lancashire. By 1850 the Society had spread to most parts of the county.
Ever since its foundation, priests and laymen from every walk of life have gathered in the district on Whit Tuesday, when subscriptions are due, to "keep their Broughton" by dining together.
No fewer than seven of the Lancashire Martyrs were born within a 6-mile radius of the village, one of them Blessed Richard Herst in Broughton itself.
The Society still helps needy persons, families and other charitable organisations, but in recent years most of its funds have gone to aid Third World countries.