A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 13: Alterations are made and a hall is built

Father McGrath was succeeded by Father Veal. Father Veal had come to a church which was still quite new and was happily without debt. The design of the church had conformed to the new vision emanating from the Second Vatican Council. Nowhere was any person far away from the Altar and the absence of altar rails emphasised the closeness of the congregation to the Sacred Action taking place within the Sanctuary.

Changes in the liturgy and in the way in which the sacraments were administered were to develop slowly and these changes were continuing to appear long after St. Michael's church had been completed. One development was the advocation that the Sacrament of Baptism should be administered during a Mass -usually the principal Sunday Mass for infant baptisms. When St. Michael's was built the central part of the entrance vestibule was taken up by the Baptistry which opened onto the back of the church. Symbolically reception of the Sacrament was followed by entry into the church. With the new trend for Baptism during Mass the position of the font was given new thought.

Under the leadership of Father Veal a committee was convened to consider certain alterations in the layout of the church. It was proposed that the Baptistry be dismantled and the font moved to its present position in the Sanctuary. This would also, it was suggested, enable people to meet after Mass perhaps partaking in a cup of tea or coffee. In this way they would get to know each other better and the parish would grow as a community.

Removal of the Baptistry would not only provide a larger porch but would also provide access to a central entrance into the church. However the arrangement of the benches was in three blocks with a large central block and two side blocks. These were each separated from the central block by a wide aisle. The suggestion was put forward that the central block be divided into two blocks and a central aisle leading from the central entrance be created. It was argued that a central aisle would be much better for weddings and for funerals. It was also said that the very long middle benches often made it difficult for people to move easily into the side aisles at the time for the Reception of Holy Communion.

These proposals for change were not without opposition. The church was barely ten years old and the benches had been tailored to fit the octagonal interior and made so that they could be firmly bolted into prepared recesses in the floor. Eventually these different points of view were brought to the notice of the Bishop (now Cormac Murphy O’Connor as Bishop Bowen had been appointed Archbishop of Southwark) and no alterations took place during Father Veal's ministry. However, if he did not achieve the internal reforms in the layout of the church, Father Veal did see the building and opening of the church hall.

While the changes in the interior layout of the church were being discussed the linked questions of the disposal of the unused Rushmere land and the possibility of building a church hall had again arisen. The anticipated need for a parish school had not materialised and it was no longer expected that such a need would arise. This fact and the threat of a Land Development Tax encouraged the parish priest and the parish Council to consider again the possibility of selling this land. In the light of advice, given in Father McGrath's time by a parishioner experienced in these matters, the land was put up for auction and sold to a firm of property developers. They agreed to use the land to build private sheltered housing and also promised that Catholics would be given priority when the properties initially came onto the market. In 1982 the remaining Rushmere land, minus enough for a new church car park, was bought and the Broadmead estate was built.

While there seems to have been agreement about the wisdom of selling the land there were marked differences of opinion about the validity of spending some of the resulting money on building a church hall. The matter was finally referred to the Bishop. He agreed that a hall should be built but he put a ceiling on the amount of money that should be spent on it. He also strongly encouraged the parish to look at all our other local needs, particularly the sick and the housebound, and to make certain that nobody was neglected.

The Bishop' blessing having been obtained work commenced on designing and building the church hall. It was designed to complement the church in shape and was built on the site of the original car park, the present car park being laid out on that retained part of the Rushmere site. On September 28th 1983 Bishop Cormac, having celebrated Mass in the church opened and blessed the new hall. This formal opening was followed by the first of many parish parties to be held in the hall.

To ensure the efficient running of the hall a caretaker was employed and a Hall Committee was formed. This committee deals with the administration, leasing and care of the hall. Since its opening it has been used for all the major parish functions. It is also used by different groups and is regularly hired by families or by individuals for a variety of functions and celebrations. Such frequent use necessarily results in a good deal of 'wear and tear'. There have been several refurbishments and facilities have been upgraded.

In 1984 Father Veal announced to the parish that he was moving to Littlehampton. He explained that one reason for his move was that his problems with hearing were becoming much more severe. Although not all the changes he had wished for had taken place he had encouraged parish activity in other ways. He was anxious that the parish should bond further as a community and he organised a parish party each year in January. This was held at St. Peter's School before the church hall was built. He also encouraged the formation of an Altar Boys' Football Team. This was very popular and matches were played against other parish teams, with St. Michael's achieving well. Later his work with the Parish Pastoral Council will be mentioned.

In 1984 Father John Healy was installed as parish priest. Soon after he came the new layout, as proposed during Father Veal's time, was carried out. The central block of benches was divided into two so that there was now a central aisle as well as two side aisles. The Baptistry was demolished and the font moved onto the altar and the side porch, which had never really been used, was modified to form a Reconciliation Room. For a time the original Confessional was kept and used on occasions but it was later used to house the sound system and has now been converted into a store for Traidcraft goods. Later a pulpit, also made of Welsh slate and designed to match the baptismal font was erected on the opposite side of the altar. It was donated by a parishioner in memory of his wife.

Father Healy had however inherited one problem which went back to an initial design fault in the building of the church. The glazed screens separating the porch or vestibule from ouside had always allowed some ingress of water whenever it rained. The glazing beads had been renewed on more than one occasion but had done little to eradicate the fault. By Father Healy's time it had got to the stage when the timbers were beginning to rot. On advice it was decided that these outside screens should be replaced. Mr. Frank Stephens (husband of Mrs Patricia Stephens, a parishioner), who was a qualified architect was appointed by Father Healy to design new screens. Mr. Stephens also arranged for the manufacture and erection of these screens and since then there has been no further trouble with water entering the porch.

For traditionalists there had been some sadness in the lack of stained glass in the church. During Father Healy's time this was rectified. Mr amd Mrs Stephens were asked to produce a modern design for the small windows above the centre of the Sanctuary. They chose colours which matched the colours in the crucifix hanging over the High Altar and the new coloured windows, replacing the original plain glass were installed in the early part of 1988.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial