A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 12: The Church is Consecrated

The Consecration of the church finally took place on Thursday June lOth 1976. Bishop Bowen (now Archbishop Bowen of Southwark) who had succeeded Bishop Cashman as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton had arranged to come for the ceremony. Unfortunately he was ill at the time so his place was taken by Monsignor Westlake from Epsom, who was the local Dean. The Consecration took place during Solemp High Mass which was concelebrated by five priests. These were Monsignor Westlake, Father McGrath, Monsignor Wall, who had given so much encouragement in his year in Ashtead, Father Bogan, who had acted as priest-in-charge after Father Maxwell's sudden death and Father Peter Humfrey who had come from the parish and whose mother was organist and choir mistress.

Present in the Sanctuary were diocesan clergy from the parishes of Esher, Banstead, Leatherhead, Ewell, Epsom, Fetcham and Effingham. The Master of Ceremonies was Father Richard Veal, later to succeed Father McGrath as parish priest. Father Veal was the official diocesan M.C. One lay person present in the Sanctuary was the Bishop's lay attendant, Mr. Sidney Quick K.C.S.G.

The congregation consisted of parishioners and invited guests. These included representatives from every branch of the local community as well as many former parishioners who had, no doubt, done their share in raising funds fpr the building of the church. The Rev. Richard Askew, rector of Ashtead Anglican parish and Mrs Askew were present. Councillor Layton, Chairman of Mole Valley Council, Mrs Layton and Mrs Bevington, wife of Councillor Bevington represented the Civic Authorities. Surrey Constabulary was represented by Chief Inspector and Mrs. Wickens and by Police Constable and Mrs. Begbie. Dr. and Mrs Pilkington, Dr. and Mrs. Topping and Mr. and Dr. Chilton represented local General Practitioners while the Surrey Health Authority was represented by Nursing Officer Mr. D. McNally and Mrs. McNally. Letters on file written later by many of these guests indicated that they had all appreciated being able to be present and were impressed by the beauty and symbolism of the ceremony.

The singing during the Mass was led by a small choir, conducted by the organist, Mrs. Winifred Humfrey who had composed the music for the Alleluia and the Communion verse. During the ceremony relics of saints were presented to the Dean, who blessed them and inserted them into the altar stone. The relics are those of St. Boniface and St. Pius.

St Boniface was born in Crediton, Devon in 680 AD. and in the year 785 was martyred in Germany. St. Pius was a pope and a martyr. He succeeded Pope Hyginus in the year 142 AD.

After the relics had been inserted the altar stone was sealed into the top of the altar by Mr. Denis Harrington who acted as Mason on this occasion. Mr. Harrington also designed the twelve Consecration Crosses which had been inserted into the walls around the church. These crosses had been made by the students of St. Andrew's Catholic Secondary School under the direction of Mr. Geoff Clowser, the teacher in charge of metalwork. They were donated in memory of a deceased parishioner, Mary Seymour.

After the ceremony was over the congregation and clergy walked along Woodfield Lane to the Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall, where a buffet meal had been prepared by the ladies of the parish under the direction of Mrs. Mary Stripp.

The tasks of achieving the building of the church, freeing the parish of debt and bringing about the consecration of St. Michael's had taken a toll on Father McGrath's health. He had been quite ill soon after coming to Ashtead and, like his predecessor, lived a frugal life so that his expenses would not be too great a burden on the parish. On several occasions he was very unwell and eventually after the church was consecrated the Bishop acceeded to his request for retirement.

Father McGrath retired early in 1977 and on May 27th the Peace Memorial Hall was the venue for another celebration when the parish gave a party in honour of Father McGrath and made a farewell presentation. Among the speakers at this presentation were Rev. Richard Askew from the Anglican church and Father McGrath's physician, Dr. Pilkington. Father McGrath had come to Ashtead in an emergency and he had seen a church, built, paid for and consecrated. In 1968 he had celebrated his Silver Jubilee as a priest. He was loved by many of his parish who discovered a heart of gold hidden beneath a reserved and sometimes abrupt manner.

After his retirement Father McGrath lived for a while in the Convent of the sisters of St. Andrew at the Knoll roundabout, Leatherhead. There he acted as chaplain and was cared for by the sisters. Eventually the sisters moved away from the district and Father McGrath went to live in the presbytery at Tadworth, where Monsignor Westlake was by then

the parish priest. There he was able to help with Masses and to supply for various local priests in emergencies. When the lodge in the grounds of The Grange at St. Andrew's School became vacant he moved there and so was still near to his old parish. He was frequently visited by a number of his ex-parishioners and managed to appear reasonably well so that it was a great shock to everyone when he died peacefully in his sleep just before Christmas 1992.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial