ST FRANCIS XAVIER'S PARISH


ST FRANCIS XAVIER'S CHURCH
(A Short History)

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St Francis Xavier's Church (Salisbury Street, Liverpool 3) first opened its doors on 4th December 1848. It has been staffed by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) ever since. Jesuits had been working in the Liverpool area from the 17th Century. In 1712 they built the first Catholic chapel since the Reformation. A second larger, chapel was built in 1736 only to be demolished by a mob in 1738. It was rebuilt in the following year disguised as a warehouse. In 1783, some years after the suppression of the Society of Jesus, it was handed over to the Benedictines.

Much of the hard work which led to the building of St Francis Xavier's Church (Salisbury Street) was done by the Society of St Francis Xavier. This was a group of lay people some of whom had been educated at Stoneyhurst, the Jesuit college. They were all fully aware of Liverpool's debt to the Jesuits.

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In 1811 the number of people living in Liverpool had reached 100,000 and by 1831 this figure had risen to 205,572. In the opinion of the Society of St Francis Xavier, Liverpool needed another Catholic Church and, at their first meeting on January 21st 1840 at the Rose & Crown Pub in Cheapside, they declared: "We, the undersigned, form ourselves into a provisional committee for the formation of a society with a view to erecting a Catholic church in Liverpool to be presented to the president of Stoneyhurst College.

A small Jesuit college was opened in 1843 followed by the church five years later. Between the planning of the church and its opening the Great Famine had devastated Ireland. It was soon found that - which had been designed to hold 1000 people - was too small. In 1888 the beautiful Sodality Chapel was opened. The steeple of the church is 60mtrs high and the church is the only Catholic church in Liverpool to have a full peel of 8 bells.

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The life of St Francis Xavier is depicted in the stained glass windows behind the high altar. These widows were placed in the church in 1945.

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The stained glass widow of Christ the King was added into the design of the church in 1930. This widow is situated above the choir loft and church organ which is the largest parish church organ in Liverpool.

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The parish flourished and by the Second World War was the largest Catholic parish in England, with over 13,000 Catholics living within its boundaries. It had a variety of schools including SFX College - the first Catholic Secondary Grammar Day School in the country (1843). The poor schools were founded in 1853.

It remained a large parish until the early 1960s. At that time the College moved to the outskirts of the city, whilst nearer home the council started to clear the slums and re-house parishioners in other parts of the city and beyond. The area went into sharp decline. By the early 1980s there were plans to demolish the nave of the church, but a massive nation-wide campaign was successfully fought to save the building.

In recent years new houses have been built and the community has started to regain its former confidence. Hope College - the only ecumenical college of higher education on the country - moved part of its campus into the disused school buildings. In 2001 two local parishes, St Joseph's and St Mary of the Angels joined with St Francis Xavier's to form one new parish. On December 8th 2001 Archbishop Kelly renamed the Sodality chapel "The chapel of St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph".

This amalgamation opens up a new chapter in the history of the church. The roof of the church has been replaced at a cost of 980,000. The next phase of the renovation programme is the rewiring of the entire building. This will be followed by the replacement of the heating system, repainting and renovation to the exterior stonework. If you can help in anyway please contact Brother Ken Vance - email vancek@hope.ac.uk