By Mgr Timothy Menezes

The Centenary of English Martyrs Church, Sparkhill, Birmingham – 8th September 2023

8th September – the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – is a special day in the life of the Church but 8th September 2023 will surely live on in the memory of so many people who gathered to celebrate 100 years since the founding of English Martyrs Parish. 

Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Emeritus Archbishop of Southwark and former Parish Priest of English Martyrs was the main celebrant of the Mass, together with Bishop David Evans, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, former Parish Priest, Fr Patrick Gilsenan, present Parish Priest, Fr Robert Murphy and a number of priests from the Deanery, former priests of the parish and those with associations with English Martyrs over the years.

This beautiful Church, which has been a spiritual home for so many people in and around Birmingham over these 100 years, was buzzing long before the Centenary Mass began. Reunions of old friends, past teachers of English Martyrs and St Bernard’s Primary Schools, people returning from the many parishes in different parts of the city and beyond for this wonderful evening of prayer and thanksgiving.

There was a most encouraging participation of young people at the Mass: children from the parish primary schools, altar servers and singers.

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Kevin spoke of this parish which, in the 1960s and 1970s was known to have been one of the largest Catholic parishes in the country in terms of Catholic population and Mass attendance, with Mass on the hour in the Church and on the half hour in the Parish Centre alongside.

He spoke of his time as Parish Priest in the 1990s as a time of recognition of a very changing demographic in the area and his own involvement in Interreligious dialogue in a very practical way in the local area.

Read Homily in full

The whole evening of the Centenary Mass was characterised by joy and appreciation of all that English Martyrs Church and Parish means to so many people. Among them, a number of Head Teachers who grew up in the parish; the Columban Lay Missionaries; the Justice and Peace group and many people who have given so much to the Church and who love English Martyrs Church.

A most beautiful and well-researched booklet was produced and sold on the night. If you have connections with English Martyrs Parish over the years, do visit again soon and buy a copy.

Fr Robert Murphy, a son of the parish and the present Parish Priest, said at the end of Mass: “I get it! I have heard so much of what this church and this parish has meant to so many people over the years. Some are here this evening who have not been inside this church for 50 years. I just ask that you don’t leave it 50 years until you come back. Come and visit and be part of this community which you have loved in the past.”

One of the striking features of English Martyrs Church is the stunning mosaics at the back of the church. Archbishop Kevin referenced them and drew particular attention to St John Fisher and St Thomas More portrayed standing at the foot of the Cross. The significance of the English Martyrs as heroes of faith cannot be overstated. May their example and the parish dedicated to them continue to be a source of spiritual sustenance for the people of Sparkhill and all those who, living beyond its boundaries now, will continue to cherish its history and be part of its future.