Our recent church is forty years old, but its roots can be traced to 1880, when Joseph Emery, a manufacturer of ceramic colours from Cobridge, bought 'Beaconsfield', one of the large houses in Second Avenue, Porthill.
By 1895, an outhouse had been cleared and furnished as a family chapel and masses were celebrated by Father Hymers, the Parish Priest from Burslem, for the handful of local Catholic families.
After Florence, one of Joseph's married daughters, moved to Marsh Villas, 16/18 Dimsdale Parade, in 1903, a new Mass centre was established there.
From 1922, Father Browne from Burslem, rented a room in Ellison Street School each Sunday, to hold the 30-40 people who attended mass. However, two rooms, with a partly opening partition between, were eventually needed in order to accommodate the growing numbers and by 1923, the Building Committee had purchased a site at the rear of Marsh Villas, for the proposed church/social centre.
By November 1924, a temporary timber and asbestos structure, with seating capacity for about one hundred and fifty people had been erected. The altar was screened by a wooden roller shutter, so that regular social/fund raising events could take place.
After Florence and her husband retired to North Wales in 1927, 18, Dimsdale Parade was acquired for use as a presbytery and Father Harold Sprague was appointed as the first Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart and Saint Wulstan. At 10.30 a.m. on September 25th 1927 Fr. Sprague celebrated the first mass of the new parish in the three year old church building.
By August 1929, the Old Marsh House, together with 5000 square yards of land, at the junction of Silverdale road and Knutton Lane, had been purchased, for a future church and school. Father Sprague was transferred to Bilston in October 1929 but fund raising events continued during the 1930's with regular whist drives, dances, garden parties, bazaars, jumble sales and Parish outings.
James Hudson took charge of the choir and continued as choir master for the next forty years, except for a period of war service when Jim Wright filled the breach. Under Mr. Hudson's guidance, plainchant and four-part harmony masses were sung every Sunday until the 1960's. Mrs Monica Fury served as organist from 1924 until 1946, playing a harmonium with two foot-pedals. When serious illness forced her retirement, Mrs Rene Hudson stepped in temporarily and continued for forty years!
The Old Marsh House was demolished and two large, second hand wooden huts were purchased, which were joined together on the site to form a large building suitable for social events. This became known as the Guildhall and despite the outbreak of war, served the parish for many years.
Father C. McCabe became Parish Priest in 1948 and the Building Fund continued to grow slowly - its aim, a permanent church and school. After a disastrous setback in 1954, when the Local Education Authority declared that the site was not suitable for building a large school and church, due to the risk of mining subsidence, the National Coal Board offered the present site, at the rear of the Marshlands Cinema (now the car park.)
The school opened on 19th February 1958, with Sister Mary Dominic as the Headmistress and the building of the church began shortly after. One of the proposed economies whilst building the new church was to purchase an inexpensive electronic organ, however, Mr Hudson and the choir valiantly undertook to raise the extra £1000 required for a pipe organ (a seemingly impossible task at that time, when a semi-detached house cost about £1800.)
On 7th October 1959 the new church, complete with organ opened. The 1960's, saw the development of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. This seemingly far off place produced profound changes in our worship and parochial life. The results of this council proved that we had built our church a few years too early! Fortunately however, the sanctuary was large enough to allow the altar to be detached from the east wall, leaving the tabernacle in place, and resite it much further forward, so that the priest could celebrate mass from behind it. This work along with the completion of various other projects, including the building of the Lady Chapel, occupied several years in the mid-sixties.
On Thursday 8th May 1969 the church was consecrated by His Lordship Bishop Cleary.
After serving the parish for 27 years, Father McCabe was suddenly moved to Eccleshall in June 1975, and succeeded by Fr. Frank Carr who built on the firm foundations already established by Fr. McCabe and his predecessors. Unfortunately during his time he became ill, developing diabetes, which he joked about saying that 'he would soon be a slimmer priest!'; In March 1984 Fr. Carr suffered a collapse as he prepared to celebrate a weekday mass and was ordered to rest. However, in view of his failing health it was inevitable that His Grace Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville should immediately withdraw him from the parish and arrange for him to rest completely.
In the coming weeks Fr. 'Sandy' Brown, then Chaplain of Keele University, helped out until the appointment of Canon Matthias Corrigan in July 1984. Canon Corrigan served the parish for 14 years paying particular attention to forging a sense of community. During 1985 the community centre was completed and the RCIA (Rites for the Catholic Initiation of Adults) course, for people interested in becoming members of the Catholic church, began.
By 1986 Canon Corrigan had become quite ill and Fr Barney Donnellan was temporarily appointed to help him with parish work, reviving the Youth Group and promoting new music at mass in preparation for the parish mission in 1987. The Catholic Women's League and a local CAFOD group were formed.
1994 The polyphonic choir was re-established with Dave West as Choir Master.
Although the Canon recovered from his first serious illness, he went on to develop cancer, but despite his obvious difficulties he still found the energy to preside at mass and initiate a range of projects to improve the church building, build the community and re-open links with other churches in the local area. He was assisted frequently by Fr. Plunkett Shannon throughout the 1980s and early 90s and for a period in by 1996 Fr. Primus Kamagushi.
Canon Corrigan realising that the Archer public house was soon to be closed by the brewery made moves to buy the property for the parish. This caused quite a stir in the local area and a good deal of press coverage. The Canon's health further deteriorated and Fr Julian Green was sent to help him.
The Canon died in January and Fr. Green became parish priest. In February on Saint Valentine's day, Anthony Davies, who had left the Anglican priesthood several years earlier was ordained giving the parish a second resident priest. The 'SPRED' group, offering church services to children with special needs, was formed. Later in the year Fr. Julian Green left the parish, returning to Valladolid to study. Fr. Martin O'Malley was appointed in his place.
Fr. O'Malley was quickly replaced by Fr. Tony Rohan, who made efforts to stabilize the parish after a very unsettled period.
Just as we were getting used to Fr. Rohan, the Archbishop (obviously realising his potential) moved him to a bigger parish in Birmingham and Fr. Anthony Dykes was sent to replace him.
Christopher Miller leaves to study for the priesthood in Rome. After a period of refurbishment following the purchase of the 'Archer' by the diocese, the pub re-opens as 'The New Smithy' and quickly becomes a great success.
The parish website is born, refreshments become available after most Sunday masses, the Organ Fund is set up, Craig Szmidt leaves to study for the priesthood in Valladolid, Father Dykes goes with him to complete his PhD. Late in the year, due to a shortage of priests in the dioceses Knutton and Chesterton parishes are amalgamated with Wolstanton, with Fathers Dykes and Davies serving all three communities, assisted by Canon David Goodwin at times.
Father Dykes finishes his PhD. After a period in the nursing home at Stone, Father Shannon dies. Several hundreds attend his funeral at Clayton.
Christopher Miller is ordained deacon in Rome and returns to the Birmingham Diocese to complete his final year of training. The car park surrounding the church, school, community centre and the New Smithy is resurfaced. Craig Szmidt is now in his second year at Oscott. The choir visit Saint Wulstan's in Little Malvern to celebrate a mass celebrated by Archbishop Vincent Nichol to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward Elgar.
Christopher Miller is ordained priest at Saint Wulstans in the presence of hundreds of guests, parishioners and priests. He goes to serve Lemington Spa in Warwickshire
In early August Father Anthony Dykes moved on to serve the people of Lichfield. We thank him for his devoted service over many years. He will be sorely missed, but we wish him well and offer our prayers for him in his new post.
He served the parish for over 16 years and presided over many changes. Perhaps, we will remember him most as someone who always encouraged us to pray - in whatever way we could, even if we could only manage it for short spells and irregularly. Prayer, he reminded us, is something that we can all actually do - and we can never fail at it!
He enriched us all with his deep knowledge of Latin and Church History, and reinvigorated our practice of the traditional prayers of the Church.
In a Catholic Church that has been through through great turbulence in the last twenty years, Father Dykes was a true source of stability in our midst. He encouraged us all to attend weekday masses wheneve we could. Those who went along always came away feeling refreshed spiritually and in a much better state to face the events of the day.
At times, Father's talents, meant that he was 'stretched thin' as he tried to cope with commitments teaching at the English College in Valladolid, and more recently, Oscott College in Birmingham, on top of running Saint Wulstan's parish, and after a short time, Chesteron and Knutton parishes as well.
He will be a hard act to follow!