By Con McHugh

Parishioners at St Thomas More in Coventry have made 2018 a Jubilee Year celebrating 75 years a Parish and 50 years for the Church building.

The Parish Priest, Fr Stephen Day, with support from parishioners have organised several events throughout the year including a Parish Mission 17th February - 4th March, St Joseph Day 50th Anniversary of the first Mass in the New Church 19th March, 50th Anniversary of the Blessing of the new Church Sunday 6th May, St Thomas More day Mass 22nd June, Flower Festival 22nd June - 24 June.

To mark the Jubilee year an icon of St Thomas More was commissioned. The Icon can be seen in front of the Altar in the photographs, and was made by Noreen Thornhill, a parishioner and an iconographer.

The most recent celebration was on 20th July, a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Bernard Longley with the vestments worn being the ones used by Pope St John Paul II during his visit to Coventry on Sunday 30th May 1982, and the presidential chair also being the one used by the Pope.

This can be seen in the photographs. Many Clergy with previous associations to the parish also attended.

Those unable to attend were able to watch Mass live on the internet.

Archbishop Longley's Homily gave a wonderful overview of the Parish history and is repeated below:
" Today we are giving thanks for the last 75 years of parish life since 1943 when parishioners began gathering in this newly-formed mission dedicated to St Thomas More.

"We remember Canon Patrick Smith, who was asked by Archbishop Thomas Leighton Williams to establish the mission.

"We give thanks for his energy and enthusiasm in forming a new Catholic community here in Styvechale and in shaping its identity as a distinctive part of the city’s Catholic life.

"Twenty-five years later Fr Smith’s successor, Fr Philip Cleary undertook the building of this parish church, with the support of Archbishop George Patrick Dwyer, as the Catholic community’s permanent home here in Styvechale and so we are also celebrating its fiftieth anniversary tonight.

"The building of this fine church was a sign of the growing confidence of the Catholic parishioners at that time and of their determination to establish a presence here that would continue well into the future.

"Some of the parishioners who began worshipping in this church in 1968 are with us tonight.

"I make particular mention of Miss Honora O’Brien who came as housekeeper to Fr Cleary, in response to an advertisement in The Universe newspaper, having already served the Church as a teacher.

"Miss O’Brien continued to look after Mgr Thomas Gavin following his appointment in 1978, witnessing the historic visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to this parish during his pastoral visit to the United Kingdom in 1982.

"That was part of the rich legacy of pastoral care and evangelising mission which Mgr Gavin left for his successor, Mgr Timothy Menezes in 2004.

"This papal throne and the vestment I am wearing tonight are touching reminders of Pope St John Paul II, re-united and evoking his powerful call to evangelise.

"We pray for Mgr Gavin whenever we pass his grave beside the statue of Our Lady of Cotton, lovingly brought from Staffordshire, and for all the deceased clergy of this parish.

"Today you are fulfilling the hopes of the clergy and parishioners of 1943, still worshipping in this place and cherishing the heritage that you have received from them.

"So in this Mass we also commemorate the first Mass to be celebrated here for the benefit of the Catholic people of Styvechale and, through them, for all their neighbours. Today we continue to witness, through the parish and school, to the love of Jesus Christ for all the people of this part of Coventry.

"It is fitting that we should recall the story of this parish and the life and example of its parishioners over the last three-quarters of a century.

"We recall with thanksgiving the people and the priests and deacons, and all those who have helped to shape parish life over the years – but especially we are grateful for the way they have reflected the love of Christ for his people in this area.

"We recall the service so many assistant priests over the years, some of whom are with us tonight – remembering especially Fr Douglas Lamb, Mgr Pat Browne, Fr Gerry Lennon, Fr Harry Curtis, and Fr Jonathan Veasey.

"Today’s readings from the Scriptures help us to reflect on this special parish anniversary. St Matthew’s Gospel encourages us to persevere in our faith, just as your patron St Thomas More was given the grace to endure disgrace and imprisonment and ultimately to forfeit his life.

"This church building which bears his name and which is so evident to those who pass by is an unmistakeable symbol of the church community which is at home here.

"At the same time, the church community which meets here week by week is a foretaste of the community of God’s eternal Kingdom which we look forward to seeing in its fullness at the end of time – for the man who endures to the end will be saved.

"One of the achievements of this Catholic community over the last seventy-five years has been the establishment and development of your parish school.

"The work of the school, has enabled many families to grow and thrive in Styvechale. I congratulate the Headteacher, Mr Morgan Williams, the staff and governing body together with the parents for all that they have brought to the families of this neighbourhood.

"Your school has enriched the local community through educating and caring for the faith and wellbeing of our children and this is greatly appreciated within and beyond the local Catholic community.

"Among the many works of mercy which are part of your parish’s life, I am grateful for the renewal of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, beginning during Fr Philip Gay’s time as Parish Priest and continuing to flourish with the support of Fr Stephen today.

"I thank all the volunteers and supporters of the SVP for helping to make your parish a loving place of welcome to the newcomer, the stranger and to those in need.

"I also give thanks for the ways in which the Andrew Robinson Fund supports and enriches the faith of the young people of Coventry – my particular thanks to Clive and Stella Robinson who are with us tonight. In these and other ways you have been truly living the values of the Gospel and putting your faith into action.

"This is what lies at the heart of the parish and it shapes our Christian and Catholic character. Over the seventy-five years witnessed by this community it is the steady, dedicated faithfulness of many people to your parish mission that we celebrate, for that has enabled generations of believers to hear and live the message of the Gospel. But it is more than that.

"Today above all we thank our Lord that he has always remained faithful to you, parishioners under the patronage of St Thomas More.

"May you continue to echo the voice of Christ and to be a true, fruitful and ever-joyful sign of his love for this neighbourhood and for all its people – until that moment with St Thomas More when we all meet merrily in heaven."

Following Mass there was a Barn dance in the school giving everybody a chance to relax and chat with each other and to meet visitors. There was a scaled model of the church made in gingerbread cake by Claire Rutter, a parishioner.

The cake was cut by Archbishop Longley helped by Viv Bateson, a parishioner. The photographs clearly show everybody having a good time.

In this week’s newsletter Father Stephen Day says “Thank you to all involved in the preparation, planning and participation in this event. Servers, musicians, readers, cleaners, flower arrangers, setters up, putters away, bar staff, cake maker, school caretaker and staff, visiting clergy, former curates and those ordained here, visitors and everyone who came! The Archbishop said some lovely things about the parish and its people. What a wonderful evening!”

Photographs of the event can be viewed here

A livestream recording of the Mass is available here

To complete the Jubilee year the following events have also been organised:
• Afternoon Tea: Saturday 15 September in Margaret Roper Room at 2pm.
• Pilgrimage to Rome: Week beginning 22 October.
• Parish Jubilee Dinner: Fri 9 Nov at the Village Hotel in Coventry.

What a wonderful year for the Parish of St Thomas More!!