St Michael and All Angels Parish 2012
A commemorative record collated from the
memories of Parishioners and Clergy
on the occasion of the
Diamond Jubilee of the Parish
The year 2012 is a very special period in the life of St Michael and All Angels as the Parish community celebrates its Diamond Jubilee. As with all parishes there have been good times and bad times, happy times and sad times but always here at St Michael’s there has been a strong sense of community. We pull together to support, not only ourselves but those that need it in our local community and further afield. There are far too many people to thank individually for; the work done, the prayers said or simply the kind word offered; wherever they are now we thank them because they are what makes St Michael’s the parish we are commemorating. This booklet captures some of the many moments from the past sixty years in pictures and words and I wish to thank everyone who has contributed with stories and photographs. Special thanks to Steve Goulding for compiling the information and producing this souvenir edition.
By John Birch
Chairperson of the Parish Council 2012
Fr. Gerard Corcoran, parish priest of St. Michael’s and All Angels, Woodchurch, Birkenhead, was celebrating two milestones today the lifting into position of the main section of the 40ft. spire of his new church, and his 25th anniversary as a priest. “Unfortunately the lift will not be taking place until later this afternoon, and I shall be unable to watch it as I am attending an anniversary dinner.” he told the Echo
The new church, being built at a cost of £72,000. has been designed on a pyramid basis by the F.X. Velarde Partnership of Liverpool in conjunction with H. J. Irvine and Partners, of Heswall, consulting engineers.
It is due to be completed early next summer and will accommodate a congregation of about 700 arranged on three sides of the high altar.
The picture shows Fr. Corcoran and Fr. J. McLeish, curate, talking to two representatives of the architects and consultant engineers.
Extract from History Diocese of Shrewsbury 1850—1986
by Canon Abbott
ON Low Sunday 1952 Canon Goodear of St. Joseph’s celebrated the first Mass in the Catholic chapel at Landican cemetery for the people of Woodchurch and Prenton (west of Holm Lane). Later in the same year the parish of St. Michael and All Angels was started by Father Gerard Corcoran. For four years Mass was said on Sundays and Holydays in the cemetery chapel. A new school was opened in 1956 and Mass was then said in the school hall.
The new church was privately blessed on 8 December 1965 with 800 parishioners present despite very heavy rain. It is a large building with seating on three sides of the altar. The walls are of reinforced concrete; the roof is framed in steel and clad in aluminum. Clerestory windows separate the pyramidical roof from the walls and a large louvered window in the west face of the tower lights the sanctuary with greater intensity than the rest of the building. On 26 September 1967 Bishop Grasar blessed the Bronze medal which was an award made by the Royal Institute for the North West Region in recognition of its architectural merit. On this occasion the Bishop delighted his audience, which contained a number of experts in architecture, by his candid and learned appraisal of the architectural merits of the church. There is a good view of the church from the M53 motorway.
Bishop Murphy talking to Les Bailey at the laying of the school foundation stone
Notes from recollections of
A Conversation with Fr Gerry Corcoran by Wilf McManus
It has been established that there was a priest at Landican many centuries ago – recorded in the Doomsday book of 1086 – and there is a nice link in that the first priest of the intended new parish of St Michael’s celebrated Sunday mass again at Landican, this time in the Landican cemetery chapel.
The Priest was Fr Gerard Corcoran and the year was 1952. His own earlier memories of Woodchurch were of fields stretching from Oxton to Arrowe Park, from Thingwall to to the corner of Salacre Lane Upton with crops sewn in parts and cattle grazing in others with alternation of crops. It was to change rapidly. He arrived in Woodchurch to find some houses already built in Home Farm Road, Ackers Road and parts of Hoole and New Hey Roads. The rest was a building site where pipes were being laid for more houses at the Upton end of the Estate. The Prenton Dell Estate was just being started. What would be the vast Woodchurch Estate was under way.
The Priest’s house in 1952 was 68 Home Farm Road, services were held here on weekdays and in Landican Chapel on Sundays. These were able to cope with the number of parishioners for a time but obviously were only temporary arrangements and the need for a new church became more urgent each year. Weekday masses were moved from the house to the new school hall in 1956 which eased the situation for a while but it was an occasion of great joy when the foundation stone of a new church was laid at last in April 1964 by the Bishop Rt Reverend W.E. Grasar. This was followed by the blessing of the church the following year, 8th September 1965. There were over 800 parishoners present despite the pouring rain and the new church was ready for regular services by September 30th the feast of St Michael. The feature of the exterior is its pyramid roof, covered in Aluminium, rising to a height of 83 feet above the sanctuary and now quite a landmark. The walls are of reinforced concrete and there are continuous clerestory windows separating the roof from the walls. The main entrance is on the west side of the church, the original design had a baptistery at one side balanced by a cry room on the other. Inside the church, which seats 650, there is a nave and two transepts, behind the altar is a Blessed Sacrament Chapel. A concrete wall separates this chapel from the sanctuary but this wall is deliberately incomplete so that the tabernacle on the Blessed Sacrament Altar can be seen from the main nave.
Bishop Gray Confirmation 1990
The roof, impressive from the inside, is of Finnish white timber with artificial light originally coming from twenty five concealed spots. The lighting is now provided by fittings along the walls.
A bronze medal on a wall in the porch informs the visitor that this is a prize winning church. The Institute of British Architects awards gold, silver and bronze medals, usually each year, for what is considered to be the best design of any public or private building. Ten areas of Britain are awarded medals and for the area covering Cheshire (including Wirral), Shropshire, Lancashire and parts of Cumbria and North Wales, St Michael and All Angels was awarded all three medals. The gold went to the architect Richard O Mahoney, the silver to the builders Mohin Bros. of Bebington whilst the church as the client received the bronze. This was blessed and placed in the church on 26th September 1967.
The choice of name for the church seems to have been somehow destined.
When a Mrs Bagnall of Upton died she left a small carved and coloured statue of St Michael in her will to Fr Corcoran which he had long admired. He placed it in the priest’s house and from time to time, with a glance at the statue, asked St Michael to find a suitable name for the church although the choice was up to the Bishop. One morning a letter arrived, it was from the Bishop of Shrewsbury informing the Parish Priest that, after some thought, he had decided that the new church at Woodchurch should be dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.
The First Time
Reflections on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of St Michael and All Angels Parish
By Fr John McLeish
The Parish was inaugurated in 1952 and in 1963 I succeeded Father John O’Gorman, Father Corcoran’s first Assistant Priest. Twenty six years later I succeeded Father Corcoran as the second Parish Priest when he retired after 37 years working in the parish of St Michael and all Angels.
As a young priest ordained only 4 years and second Assistant Priest at St John’s New Ferry and Clatterbridge Hospital, then a General Hospital before Arrowe Park Hospital was built, I left the quietness and refinement of a well established parish for the excitement and vibrancy of a new estate without a Church and teeming with young families and children all needing a school which had to be the first building project for the parish. Father Corcoran lived in the Council house at the roundabout on Home Farm Road and Ackers Road until around 1961, with first his Sister, then Bridie as his housekeeper.
Even with the building of the large Infants/Junior school, there was still a shortage of places so that many children were farmed out to the Catholic Schools of St Laurence’s Birkenhead; St Anne’s Rock Ferry; and St Winifred’s School, and one of my earliest memories in the parish was the line of buses along New Hey Road each school day taking the children who had no place at St Michael’s to their temporary places at one of the other schools.
The Church was built during my first years at St Michael’s. Nothing like it had ever been seen before on the Wirral, especially once the towering pinnacle was set in place, and even now, it is a noticeable land mark from the M53 as well as from the top of Home Farm Road. I was fit and foolish enough in those days to climb the scaffolding right to the top of the pinnacle for a fantastic view of the area minus the motorway and the hospital at the time, from 30-odd metres high
The Church was opened on 8th September 1965 and “The Birkenhead News” of the time reported that the official blessing and opening of the Church took place during a thunderstorm. I have no recollection of the storm so we obviously had a roof by that time, but I do remember another event shortly after the opening: within weeks, one evening during the October Rosary Devotions in the newly opened Church, there was an almighty crash of shattering glass as Vin Williams, in a hurry to join us, missed the glass door in the dark and walked through the glass panel next to it. Shaken but unhurt, Vin is still living in the Parish proving that there is life after walking through a 2 metre x 5 metre pane of glass.
One of the pleasant memories of those early years was that the heating system in the Church consisted of under floor heating, and for some years it worked! So long as it was left on over Saturday/Sunday it produced a nice warm Church with an exceptionally comfortable warm floor once the stone tiles had heated. In the really cold weather it was noticeable how many people took off their shoes on arrival for Mass, and thawed out on the warm floor tiles.
I was asked to go to Stalybridge a few months after the opening of the Church, and felt so sad to be leaving the helter-skelter life of Woodchurch with so much happening especially for the many young families and the schools. I was leaving an estate barely 20 years old for a parish which was approaching its 150th anniversary and Stalybridge was just beginning a clearance of the many Victorian back to back dwellings, workshops and cotton mills for which it was famous. The Parish Priest there had made a BBC Radio broadcast just before my arrival beginning with the words : “I am standing at the window of my study facing Manchester and I can count 18 tall chimneys from cotton mills about to be demolished in the near future..” …. From the Woodchurch Estate to Stalybridge, – such was the variety in one’s appointments in our Diocese!
First Holy Communion
2nd Time Round
By Fr John McLeish
In 1989, Bishop Gray asked me to take over the parish as P.P. on the retirement of Father Corcoran in the September of that year. I was delighted to be back, but after twenty something years, inevitably returning to a very different parish and geographical situation I had left : Arrowe Park Hospital had been built; there was a new motorway behind the Church; a yellow “Middle School” had been built next to the Infants School and then had been demolished; St Benedict’s School was up and running, but that too would eventually be demolished. It was obvious that the peak population of children and young people had passed, and the estate teeming with children and young families was by then just a memory. I had with me Father Michael Gannon who was full time Chaplain to the Hospital and part time worker in the parish. He was followed by Father Philip Egan, and together with the Parish Sisters we all spent extremely busy but happy years looking after the Parish and the Hospital.
The first time we experimented with a public address system I invited two former BBC engineers to give advice. After careful consideration they came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to carpet the whole of the floor area in order to avoid an echo and other acoustic faults from any system. St Michael’s could hardly pay for itself let alone the price of carpeting an area almost the size of a football pitch so that is why we are still waiting for the carpet.
It eventually dawned on the Powers that be that with St Michael’s, we had a very modern Church within a stone’s throw of a motorway junction; with a huge capacity, and plenty of parking space and everybody able to see the sanctuary clearly unencumbered by the huge pillars blocking the view as in many of the older churches. It was then that the letter arrived from the Bishop’s Secretary : we had been chosen as the Church for the Chrism Mass of Holy Week 1992
I can’t remember the parishioners ever working so hard, in preparation for that Holy Week Even though Bishop Gray had reservations beforehand, I heard he was afterwards delighted with the space, visibility and ease of movement during the Ceremonies. Around 800 people attended comfortably seated with a perfect view of the Sanctuary, and at the appropriate time, 118 priests took their places standing on the huge Sanctuary for the Canon of the Mass. For St Michael’s it was the first of quite a few subsequent major Diocesan Liturgical Occasions which needed a large Church.
Father Corcoran died in July 2003. May he rest in peace. As usual, the Shrewsbury Diocesan Directory published at the end of that year carried the photographs and the obituaries of the priests who had died during the year. When the new Directories arrived just before Christmas 2003 I sat down to read the latest edition and found myself looking at a photograph of my younger self in the obituaries section! Eventually I found out that the author of Father Corcoran’s obituary had sent along with his piece, a photograph taken of Father Corcoran and myself with instructions to print the photo of the person on the left. and of course the printer had chosen the person on the right, – Me.
So the Parish has reached its 60th anniversary. From the First Mass in Landican Cemetery to the Jubilee Mass this year, so much work has been done with the help of so many people. How many Baptisms? First Holy Communions? Confirmations? Marriages? Sick Calls? Hospital visits and emergency calls? Requiem Masses and Funeral Services? – the Lord alone knows, but all has helped so many of us, – Priests, Deacons Religious and Parishioners – on our journey through life. For those who have gone before us, – a prayer for their eternal rest; for those of us still on that journey, – a prayer that the generosity of the Lord will continue to provide the help we need to reach Him at the end, and may the Parish of St Michael and All Angels continue to be the source of God’s providence and grace “Through the Ministry of the Church”.
Silent Night in the Stable
By Tony Evans
My first visit to St Michael’s was for a sad occasion, as a twelve year old back in 1967. Tommy Cairns, a close friend of mine at St Hugh’s High School, had died tragically young after a long illness and I can remember all his classmates attending his requiem mass in our school uniforms.
I next attended many years later when I was living in West Kirby and looking for a Saturday vigil mass which my parish didn’t have. As the months and years panned out I found myself being drawn back here more and more by the warmth of the atmosphere (if not always the building!). Having made so many good friends here and enjoyed so many memorable occasions I consider the twelve mile round trip a small price to pay for belonging to such a wonderful parish. Strangely though my favourite memory didn’t take place in the church itself. During Fr Simon’s first Christmas at St Michael’s he introduced us to Los Pasados a New Mexican tradition recounting, over several nights, the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. For a couple of years this culminated in mass being celebrated in a tiny wooden stable at Barnacre Farm in Saughall Massie. Those lucky enough to have been there will no doubt remember trudging across a muddy field by torchlight with plastic carrier bags tied round our shoes while all the time ensuring that the statues of Mary and Joseph made the journey safely!
For our first “mass in the stable” a donkey, a goat and, I think, several inquisitive sheep made up part of the congregation outside the wooden shelter. They certainly made an unusual and noisy accompaniment to the strains of Christmas carols filling the night air. Amazingly though, as Fr Simon raised the Host above the straw bale altar an eerie silence fell upon the human and animal gathering. I like to think it was God talking to all His creation through the presence of Jesus. Whatever it was the memory of that very special SILENT night will live with me for ever.
Fr Francis Meehan wants his newly-formed team to emulate the ‘Red Devils’ … and he’s got his bishop’s backing!
Fr Meehan, chaplain at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral and curate at Birkenhead’s St Michael and All Angels, is player manager of his Parish’s young side, which is showing ferocious talent although only months old.
There’s no doubt; they’ve got what it takes,’ says Fr Francis, who founded parish teams in Stalybridge and at Shrewsbury Cathedral.
I’ve told Bishop Gray that all I need is 19 more postings and the diocese will have its own Premier side,’ he said.
Fr Francis is an ever-present this season at Old Trafford, home of the title-chasing Red Devils, also known as Manchester United. Any young member of the St Mike’s side found wearing Blackburn Rovers regalia is thus immediately treated to a lengthy theological discourse on the dangers of idolatry.
Now St Michael’s will play Shrewsbury Cathedral F.C. for the All-Hallows Trophy, founded by Fr Francis six years ago.
Fr Francis says: `Football is a great opportunity for men and lads to come together and enjoy sport. Families can join in as supporters and it can be a great day out for parishes. It is a pity that more parishes don’t pick up the idea, especially when youth clubs are folding up or non-existent in some areas.
`It helps youngsters keep in touch with their parishes and they too can encourage younger lads for the future’ said Father Francis.
St Michael’s has thrown down the gauntlet to other parish sides on Merseyside.
Memories from the Early Years.
By Teresa and Vin Williams
Vin remembers Fr Jimmy Fitzgerald pointing to a house on the corner of Ackers Road and telling him that it was the beginning of the Woodchurch Estate. Vin was an altar boy at St Joseph’s and they were in a funeral car en route to Landican so it was probably about 1946.
Vin’s family moved into Prenton Dell Road in January 1955 and on the same evening, they got a visit from John and Laurie Tarpey, two members of the Legion of Mary who were looking for new Catholic families in the parish.
Vin remembers the long walk from the top of Prenton Dell Road to Sunday Mass at Landican Cemetery Chapel.
Our family moved into Robin Way on the Woodchurch in spring 1953. I remember the lovely smell of the wide grass verges in Commonfield Road and later Homefarm Road and that every garden seemed to be heavy with perfume.
Daily mass was said at 68 Homefarm Road and often people knelt down the stairs and out onto the pavement. I remember kneeling on the stairs waiting to go to confession.
St Michael’s school was opened in 1955 and mass was held in the school hall for a number of years. This often caused conflict with the school staff. The staff milk jugs would mysteriously become vases on the makeshift altar and the school timetable was often in jeopardy.
I remember calling into the hall late at night on the way home from dances to watch before the Blessed Sacrament, e.g. Maundy Thursday.
I remember when Vin came to a Legion of Mary meeting – met me – and decided to join the SVP!!
Mary Brown was the president when I joined – she is the sister of Dr George Brown and they lived in New Hey Road. I remember visiting the sick and the elderly. There was a lot of loneliness because people had been separated from their community and young and old felt isolated. We also used to take Miraculous medals to new babies -and there were many of them and count the number of children who would be available for the school that was planned.
There was one unusual activity – it involved taking the ferry boat and carrying out Evangelical work at the pier head on Saturday evenings. It came to an abrupt end when my father and Fr Corcoran found out – our wings were clipped.
I was president of the junior Legion of Mary for a time and I remember the bevy of young girls who attended the meetings and distributed medals – Anne Stauss (McManus), Anne Patrick and Gillian Davies (Gaunt) among others.
Vin remembers with great affection the wonderful founding members of the SVP -men e.g. John Bryan, Joe Ellis, Bill Horan, Ted Blanc, Frank Casey, Danny Williams and Cliff Gaunt and others who worked hard visiting families and older people in the parish. No-one had a car so members of all organisations walked from one end of the parish to the other. Bridie always thought that the men from the SVP were very holy because they told her that after the visits they would meet for “night prayers” – a euphemism for a drink at the Woodchurch pub and later the Pelican.
The parish had an enormous debt and the Union of Catholic Mothers was a magnificent fund raiser. They had coffee mornings and jumble sales and helped to run the bingo sessions on a Sunday evening. Annie Cronin, Mrs Williams, Mary Kennedy and Rose Riley were among the stalwarts. No matter what the parish occasion was about, Annie Cronin and Mary Kennedy always seemed to be selling draw tickets. Vin remembers the first choirs with choir leaders like Jimmy Graham and Fr Will McManus. He was always amused when Fr McManus would bring in the choir with an exaggerated four stamps of his foot.
There are sad memories. I remember Mrs Colligan from Prenton Dell – a member of the UCM who was killed in Woodchurch Road on the 1st May on her way to clean the church and Mrs Rogers, a neighbour of my mum who was hit by a motor cyclist as she was crossing the bend in New Hey Road on her way to a Good Friday service in the school hall in 1963. I remember cradling her head as she lay dying and holding a phial of oil as Fr O’Gorman gave her the last rites. He was trembling. It was the first accident he had witnessed and what made it worse was that Mrs Rogers had nursed him as a baby in the small Irish village.
We were married like many others in St Joseph’s Upton before St Michaels’s Church was built and John was christened by Vin’s brother in the staff room of the school.
Finally, I remember that marriages did not take place in St Michael’s on a Saturday afternoon if Everton were playing at home – that is until later years when a curate would be encouraged to carry out the ceremony.
Just a Few of the Weddings from across the Years
Intentions from Rome
By Nellie Holmes
Fr Corcoran went to Rome 1979, round about that time my niece was taking instruction from Fr Corcoran for first Holy Communion and confirmation mass intentions for Christine were offered by Fr Corcoran at Rome.
The inscription inside the cover reads:
A little souvenir for Nellie to let her know that her intention for Christine was offered at the Receptionist Church in Via Maulano (San Alphonso) after we had assisted at John Paul II’s mass for John Paul I in St Peters, on the occasion of the first anniversary of his predecessor’s death.
Rome Pilgrimage 2010
Jubilee Memories September 2012
By Janette Woolrich in memory of my parents George and Bridie Hodgson
I am writing this for my mother (Bridie) It was her wish that I should share her memories.
My family moved to the Woodchurch Estate in 1951. (before I was born)
My mum remembers the first Mass in 1952 at Landican Chapel, and then the long walk every week, even in terrible weather, which didn’t keep us away.
Mum was an active member with the Union of Catholic Mothers, with all of her many friends she had. She recalled using my pram to collect jumble with all the `Mothers’ to raise money for the Parish. She used to laugh and say that she couldn’t remember if I was underneath it all!!
In 1958 I was baptised in Father Corcoran’s house in Home Farm Road, where also they used to celebrate Mass sometimes.
My earliest memory was in the sixties when I made my First Holy Communion in the school hall. A couple of years later I remember the start of the construction of the church.
On completion I remember standing in awe gazing up at this huge silver pyramid , and clutching my dad’s hand. I knew this was a really special parish, to be remembered for many years to come .
Our very special and wonderful St Michael and All Angels.
Deacon Paul's Ordination
By Maria Sutcliffe (Murphy)
Maria remembers picking up a cushion from the back of the hall so that she didn’t have to kneel on the hard floor during Mass in the school. She remembers seeing Fr Corcoran riding his bike at speed around the estate looking like batman in the wind.
On one occasion she and her brother Robbie, were given money to buy cigarettes for their father on the way home from mass. Unfortunately, they got mixed up and put the wrong coins on the plate at the collection. They decided to face Fr Corcoran rather than the wrath of their dad. They asked for the money back. Fr Corcoran invited them into the presbytery and gave them the money and a bacon buttie each!
Christmas Party Pictures
Our more senior parishioners enjoying the festive season
School Sports Pictures
Only 40 years!
By Chris Perkins
I am a relatively new Parish member (40ish years) but can recall a couple of incidents.
I remember when we first started to attend Mass at St Michaels about 35 years ago, the church felt very strange and unfriendly, the first person to greet us was John Jackson (Peggy Jackson’s husband), he always spoke to us especially Jenny & Martin and I have never forgotten his kindness.
Jenny was also one of the original members of the very first music group along with Vin Williams in Father McLeish’s time at the parish.
There was also the time when Jenny was to be confirmed at St Michael’s, it was a Bank Holiday and Father Corcoran had forgotten this and we had to wait over an hour for the Vicar General to arrive we were not a happy group!!!!
Flower Festival Photos
Priests that have served the Parish
Father Gerard Corcoran 1952 to 1988
Father John O Gorman 1960 to 1963
Father John McLeish 1963 to 1966 and 1988 to 1994
Father Wilfred McManus 1966 to 1968
Father David Smith 1968 to 1970
Father Paul Sidoli 1969 to 1971
Father John Rafferty 1970 to 1974
Father David Woodier 1974 to 1978
Father Anthony Leonard 1976 to 1980
Father John Daly 1980 to 1981
Father John Feeney 1981 to 1985
Father Donal Dwyer 1985 to 1988
Father Michael Gannon 1988 to 1991
Father Phillip Egan 1991 to 1994
Father Francis Meehan 1994 to 1996
Father William Fitzgerald 1994 to 1999
Father Stephen Woolley 1996 to 1999 and 1999 to 2007
Father Simon O’Connor 2007 to 2012
Father Lucas Ngwa 2012
A big thank you to all those who submitted articles and pictures for this booklet, without you it would not have been possible. With the eventual restriction on space it has not been possible to include everything but we hope you enjoy all that has been. Let’s now look forward to the next sixty years. God Bless you all.
This booklet is a compilation of parishioners’ memories, we apologise if any factual errors exist please let us know if they do.