The Church community gathered on Sunday 29 September to celebrate its 125th Anniversary Year Mass.

The Vietnamese community honoured Archbishop Bernard Longley's presence with a ceremonial escort into and out of the church.

A procession of candles to represent the many nationalities who were present also took place, with about 35 countries represented, many of them in national dress.

St Francis Church, Handsworth - Fr Gerard Kelly, Parish Priest

The story of St Francis Parish begins in 1847 with the opening of the new church of St Mary’s in the Convent of Mercy grounds.

That church served our parish until 1894 and survived until 1942 when it was hit by a bomb during the blitz.

The new Church of St Francis of Assisi had been opened by Cardinal Vaughan on 2 February 1894, with many diocesan priests and religious orders attending, and in the presence of the Mayor and many civic dignitaries.

We are grateful to Archbishop Bernard Longley for coming to celebrate this Mass in our 125th anniversary year.

The history of the parish is inseparably bound up with the history of the Sisters of Mercy, coming, as they did, to Handsworth in 1841 to try to alleviate the prevalent poverty of many families in the wake of the industrial revolution, and to care for the ‘foundlings’ (up to 40 orphan children), who, until then, had been cared for by John Hardman in what is now St Francis’ Presbytery.

The Sisters have always reached out to the poorest people. They established schools and helped with the training of teachers.

We now have two schools in the parish, St Clare’s and St Francis’. The Sisters have moved out of education in Handsworth in the last decade, but they continue ‘to show the way’ in adapting to the changing needs of the area.

They are greatly respected for their ‘mercy-outreach project’ and for the work they do in faith formation in their Convent Retreat House and Heritage Centre, and for their involvement with the parish in so many ways, including membership of Citizens UK Birmingham.

For some 40 years we have also been blessed by the presence of the Missionary Sisters, Servants of the Holy Spirit, who come to us from all over the world. They too are involved in outreach to the poor and are a powerful presence in the parish.

More recently we have welcomed the Sisters of St Paul the Apostle, who work mainly with the Vietnamese Community. The various congregations of Sisters give us a powerful witness of faith in Christ. Each congregation has a strong sense of vocation and give us all a great spiritual uplift.

In the last 125 years, St Francis’ Parish, like many other parishes, has welcomed people from all over the world.

Thousands of Irish people have found a ’home from home’ here in Handsworth up until the 1970s.

People still remember the days when you had to arrive very early for Sunday Mass, not just to get a seat, but even to get into the church!

Often these parishioners would meet their spouses in St Francis Social Centre (built in 1909). They often went on to be married and have their children baptised in St Francis’ Church.

In more recent decades we have welcomed Catholics from Africa, the West Indies and Asia, who have brought with them a strong, joyful and vibrant faith, and rich cultural gifts.

In the late 1970s, the ‘boat people’ came to us fleeing from the aftermath of war in Vietnam. What rich gifts they have brought with them, especially in their love of the Catholic Faith and their devotion to Our Lady.

Looking forward to the future, Peter Foster, a distinguished designer of church furnishings, is well advanced with designs for a new Altar, Lectern and Baptismal Font.

These will replace the temporary structures that are presently used. They will greatly add to the beauty of the church and the dignity of our liturgical celebrations.

On 11 May 2020, we will, God willing, celebrate the 40th anniversary of our Solemn Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

This Novena had flourished in St Peter’s, Broad Street. Canon Reilly brought it to St Francis in 1941, but after the war the Novena lapsed for a few years. The late Mgr Fallon revived it in 1980, and this devotion to the Mother of God has really strengthened the faith of our own parishioners and of many beyond our parish boundaries. It is a gift we offer not only to Handsworth, but to people from all over the city.

As we thank God for the blessings of the last 125 years, we journey onwards, renewed and invigorated, ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’. (Romans 12:12)

Anniversary Booklet

Photo Gallery by Peter Harrington

125th Anniversary - St Francis Church, Handsworth