A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 15: Renew and Afterwards

It soon became clear to people, after Father Healy's arrival, that he was very enthusiastic about Adult Formation and he began early in his ministry to encourage the Catholics of Ashtead to study and deepen their knowledge of their Faith. In 1987 the Diocese was introduced to the idea of a parochially based programme called RENEW. Father Healy, together with two parishioners, Joan Bond and Paul Gruzalski, attended an initial overnight training session at Maryvale Pastoral Centre and Father Healy reported on this to the meeting of the PPC on January 14th 1988.

The Parish was introduced to the idea of Renew over the weekend of February 6th/7th. They were invited to be involved in four main ways. These were:-

  1. Through the Sunday Liturgy when everyone present would have contact with the Renewal Theme.
  2. Through 'Take Home' materials which would offer an at home experience of the same theme.
  3. By becoming involved in large group activities which would involve the parish in different ways.
  4. By joining small 'Faith sharing' groups which could be the deepest experience of the Renew process.

A meeting of the whole parish was organised for May 31st

By the beginning of July all the team leaders had been appointed and a meeting of these was held on July 31st. The majority of parishioners welcomed and supported the idea though a few were hesitant and voiced their disapproval, being apprehensive that it was just a 'gimmick'. In the September the Diocese launched Renew with a rally at the Brighton football stadium and on October Ist Renew began in the parishes. That week eleven small groups, around St. Michael's parish, met to study and discuss the Renew material. The Renew programme lasted for two and a half years. While the enthusiasm of a few waned that of the greater number increased. Besides the small discussion groups there were prayer groups, manyof which have continued to the present day. The large group activities and the Home visiting increased the understanding by parishioners of the needs of others and parish traditions such as the "Wednesday Teas" developed from these.

Among the large group activities suggested was a Parish Retreat. With Father Healy's enthusiastic support a group of people met to discuss and plan a weekend at Maryvale to take place in 1991. That September the Bishop asked Father Healy to mov"e to the parish of Merrow and Burpham and so he did not remain at St. Michael's for the end of Renew or for the event of our weekend Retreat.

Father Healy was succeeded by Father Robert Davies who, with equal enthusiasm supported the idea of a Retreat. Paul Gruzalski headed the planning team and the Retreat, planned and run by the members of the parish, took place at the end of June 1991. It was such a success that a Day of Recollection was organised for the following year and a large number of parishioners attended this at St. John's Seminary, Wonersh, on the 28th of March 1992.

A second parish retreat had been envisaged for 1992 but had not materialised. This was because in 1992 St. Michael's celebrated the 25th anniversary of the building and opening of the present church. Everyone became involved in plans and preparations to celebrate this Silver Jubilee. An ad hoc Jubilee Committee was formed and every group in the parish was invited to partake in this special event.

The Jubilee celebrations began on July 4th as this was the Saturday nearest to the anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone. On the Saturday evening there was a solemn High Mass with Bishop Cormac as the principal celebrant. Present with him on the altar were Father McGrath and Father Healy together with Father Robert Davies. Representatives of the Anglican and Free Church parishes of Ashtead were also present in the church. The Flower arranging group had decorated the church, the Hall and a special marquee outside. The choir led the congregational singing and the church was filled to capacity.

After the Mass there was a special celebratory buffet supper in a marquee, which covered the small carpark outside the church. Meanwhile the Hall contained an exhibition which, besides a display of photographs and documents recounting the history of the church, also had stands displaying the work of the many and varied parish groups. These included CAFOD, work for Mother Teresa, the 'Get Together' set and the wide involvements of the Care Committee. Parishioners who were not able to attend the evening Mass and celebration were encouraged to come along to the Hall,on Sunday, after Mass for coffee and to view the exhibition.

The second part of the Jubilee Celebrations took place over the weekend of October 25th. On the Saturday evening there was a parish Barn Dance and the 10.30 Sunday Mass was our parish Mass of Thanksgiving. At 4 p.m. we gathered in the Hall for a parish tea party and special Jubilee cake. Then everyone moved to the church and the young people and children of the parish performed a Pageant. This told the story in mime, drama and song of the various events from the time the Faith came to Ashtead until the Consecration of our present church.

When Renew finished many of the small groups felt that they would like to continue to meet and deepen their Faith. This was something that was felt throughout the diocese and so Faith sharing programmes for Advent and Lent have since then been produced and most of the small groups are meeting regularly as also are the prayer groups.

Listening to readings from the scriptures convinced many people of their lack of knowledge and understanding of the words of scripture, especially of the Old Testament. In 1994 the parish enrolled in a programme of scripture study for small groups, which had been produced by the Catholic Bible Society. Small study groups were formed arid embarked on programmes of study of the Old Testament. Later these groups moved on to study the New Testament. Many are meeting still and scripture study has now become an ongoing activity in the parish. Thus we have entered the Decade of Evangelisation and are looking ahead to the year 2000.

Towards the latter end of 1995 Father Robert, as he was called by the majority of parishioners, became unwell and eventually the Bishop arranged for him to have some time away from pastoral duties. For a while Father Luis Scerri, a Maltese Jesuit attached to Epsom parish, came and ministered to the needs of the parish. Then in the early part of 1996 he was replaced by Father Tom Mulvey. Father Mulvey remained in Ashtead until the summer, when he went as newly appointed parish priest in Newhaven.

Father Michael Walsh has now come to Ashtead as parish priest. He has come to a parish which is active and apostolic. We have an Altar Servers Guild which, with over ,thirty servers, is one of the largest in the Diocese. Large numbers of parishioners are involved in many different groups. It is a parish which has become fully involved in ecumenical activities. We join in the annual Harvest Supper, playa full part in the Good Friday Service of Witness at the Pond and in the Women's World Day of Prayer. In the early 1990s, together with members of the Anglican and Free Church, we were involved in House to House visiting throughout the village. Weekly teas are organised for old or lonely people and we share in a monthly Soup Lunch in aid of third world projects. We help with Christian Aid and in the Christian tent on Ashtead Village Day. In 1996 a number of parishioners joined ecumenical Lent groups.

Hopefully under Father Mike's guidance we shall continue to develop and be ever more active in furthering the Kingdom of God as we enter the next millenium.


I should like to thank all those long standing (and long suffering) parishioners who patiently read the original draft of this history. I thank them for the many extra details they were able to give to me and for the tactful ways in which they showed me where I was in error. I wish to give a very special thanks to my husband, Eddie, for reading and checking so carefully the final typescript.

I am particularly grateful to Denis Harrington for a great deal of detail connected with the actual building of the church and its initial structural problems.

I am grateful also to Alan Waters for details about the Hall, to Tony Hanks for details about parish life during Father Veal's time, to Tony O'Brian for information about the Altar Servers and to Tony Sreeves for information concerning the Parish Pastoral Council.

Thank you to all these parishioners and to the many others who supplied me with additional information.

My main sources of information were the documents contained in the parish archives but other sources are listed below.

  1. Details of early Christian Faith from a 'History of Leatherhead' by Edwina Vardey and from 'Ashtead -a Village Transformed'
  2. Information about the Earl of Arundel from an anonymous article in The Trumpet I
  3. Information about early post-Reformation Catholicism from an article in 'The Trumpet' by Kevin McCarthy.
  4. Details of life in the 'Hut Chapel' from an article in 'The Trumpet' by Theresa Connor
  5. Details of the growth of the parish and parish life from minutes of meetings and from information in 'The Trumpet'.
  6. Information gleaned from interviews with and talking to long-standing parishioners.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial