Sunday, 29 November 2020.

St Finbarr’s Church celebrates 60 years

20 November, 2017

This weekend the parishioners of St Finbarr’s Roman Catholic Church will celebrate its 60th anniversary since opening in Aylesham.

A special mass will be said on Sunday 25 November at 11.15am and all are welcome to join the celebration.

The Roman Catholic Church’s links with Aylesham can be traced back to the village’s earliest days when the first residents arrived in 1927. The first Masses were said at a private house in Ackholt Road while money was raised to build St Joseph’s Church in 1929. Nearly all the local miners, whether Catholic or not, had contributed half a crown a week (12.5p) to pay for the building and install the first priest, Father Jeremiah McCarthy.

Five years later, the church was extended and this would later provide the first elements of St Joseph’s primary school.

At the height of German bombing during the Second World War, in May 1941, tragedy struck the village when nine people were killed in a raid which destroyed four houses in Bell Grove and caused serious damage to the church.

In the latter stages of the conflict, German prisoners held at Goodnestone – who included a priest – were allowed out from their camp to celebrate Mass at St Joseph’s. Altar boys were recruited from within the group as well.

It would not be until 1948 – three years after the war ended – that repairs to the church could be carried out. The primary school finally opened in 1952. Its playground was levelled off by volunteer miners using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. The little church led a double life, school canteen from Monday to Friday, church on Saturdays and Sundays. St Joseph’s School is still on this site near the railway station.

The present site of St Finbarr’s, adjoining Market Place, was purchased in 1950 and several schemes for new buildings were explored. However, all proposals, though modest, went well beyond the economies of country, diocese and parish, all of which were in a poor state after the war. Reluctantly, the Catholic community had to accept a building of pre-cast concrete, which would have the dual purpose of church and hall.

As Father McCarthy, then parish priest, said, this had the ‘advantages of space, durability and relative cheapness.’ The building was intended eventually to serve as the parish hall. The dream was that a much grander church would be built on adjoining land (see picture below).

The new church was officially blessed on 28 April 1957 at the 11am Mass by Canon de Laubenque. St Finbarr was the bishop, and a founder of, the city of Cork in Ireland.

‘St Finbarr’, wrote Father McCarthy, ‘will very readily appreciate our wants, and provide for them.’

Parishioners and friends, many of whom still have relatives in the village, worked and gave generously to provide everything from the organ to altar cloths. The site of the church was levelled by miners in preparation for the foundations and much of the outside work, including the boundary wall, was undertaken by them – all at no cost. It is truly a community built church.

Since that time, several wonderful priests have served at St Finbarr’s. The present incumbent, Father Jeff Cridland has been here since 2002 and is now priest of the Good Shepherd parish comprising St Paul’s, Dover, as well as St Finbarr’s.

We pray that, for all who care for the future of the village and the church in Aylesham, this diamond jubilee will be the beginning of more wonderful memories.

Photos courtesy of Aylesham Heritage Centre and St Finbarr’s Church.

*This brief history has been drawn from the account written by Father Jeremiah McCarthy, the first priest at St Finbarr’s, and from the memories of parishioners. Many thanks to all who contributed. A more detailed history of the church will be on display at the Anniversary Mass.