Diocese of Arundel & Brighton
Help of Christians
A Short History of our Parish
The villages of Byfleet and Pyrford were essentially agricultural centres - 'West' Byfleet was part of Byfleet Common, which was enclosed and divided into large estates in 1801. The Byfleet Manor house - now much reconstructed - has historical connections with the Black Prince and later with Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon.
In about 1840 the rail line from Waterloo was developed - leading to the creation of Woking as it now is. West Byfleet Station - initially 'Byfleet and Woodham Station', was only opened in 1887 and much of the development in West Byfleet dates from that time.
The few Catholics living in the area before the First World War attended services either at Weybridge, or at the Woking Mission Church built in 1899 (St Dunstan's church was built in 1925). In 1917 a number of Belgian war refugees settled in the Byfleet area and the first Mass was said in that year by Father Christians van Aspert, a Belgian priest attached to the Woking Mission. The first services were in a small temporary building in Madeira Road - on land that had been originally nursery and orchards; the building was leased from the local builders Tarrants, and was eventually sold to the parish in 1935 for £100.
The church served as a chapel of ease after the departure of Father van Aspert in 1919, but from 1923 Father Plummer was coming from Woking to say Sunday Mass (sometimes relieved by a Salesian priest from Chertsey) after which the Church would be closed until the following Sunday. This continued, with some expansion of the original 'temporary' building, until 1935, when Father Plummer announced that West Byfleet was to be established as a separate parish - the first parish priest being Father Loader, who had served in a machine gun unit during the First World War. He remained with the parish until just after the outbreak of World War II, being succeeded in November 1939 by Father Sullivan.
On the day that Father Sullivan arrived he was told that two Marist Sisters and a number of children had arrived at West Byfleet station, having been evacuated from their school in Fulham. This led to the establishment of the Marist School in Sheerwater Road.
The 'temporary' wooden church - by now painted green, continued to undergo ad hoc expansion but by the early 1950's the church was packed to capacity with late comers having to look through the windows! A building finance committee was established in 1954 and in remarkably short time the foundation stone of the new church of Our Lady Help of Christians was laid by Bishop Cowderay of Southwark on the 10th December 1955 with the first services in October 1956. Also in 1954 a second priest was assigned to the parish. The wooden building became the parish hall and survived until the construction of the present hall in 1982. In May 1965 the Southwark Archdiocese was divided, and West Byfleet became part of the new diocese of Arundel and Brighton.
The parish grew rapidly with the development of new housing estates in Byfleet, Sheerwater and Pyrford - and Masses were being said in the Sheerwater Community Centre, and in the Binfield Hall in Byfleet.
These pressures soon led to the opening in 1961 of the St John the Evangelist Church in Sheerwater (closed at the end of 1995) and in 1973 the church of St Thomas More was completed. This was shortly after the retirement of Father Sullivan at the end of 1972 after some 33 years - including service as a fire-warden for Madeira Road during World War II.
Father Sullivan was succeeded in October 1972 by Father Reynell, who supervised the implementation of changes and spiritual renewal introduced following Vatican II. The high altar in the church was replaced by the altar facing the people, and the pulpit removed - and novelties were introduced into the liturgy - such as Offertory Processions and the Kiss of Peace. He also oversaw the planning for the new parish hall, handed over to the parish in November 1982.
Father Reynell left us in September 1982, being succeeded by Father James Maguire.
Father Maguire also served the parish for almost 10 years, being followed in August 1992 by his curate Father Peter Edwards, who administered the parish during the interregnum. A little more than a year later, in September 1993, Father Jerry O'Brien took over as parish priest.
Father Jerry was with us for 6 years, leaving for Chichester in September 1999 - at the time of his arrival, we lost the second priest, leading to the closure of our third church, in Sheerwater. During his ministry, the Church roof was insulated and the upper windows double-glazed, so that for the first time services were not interrupted by passing trains! The porch in front of the church was built creating sheltered space for a repository and notice boards - previously the church door opened directly onto the pavement. The cost of the sound insulation and the new entrance porch were covered in part by the proceeds from the closure of the Sheerwater church.
A Parish Project was initiated in 1997 - each year the parish decides on 2 charities to support with special collections, one in the UK and one abroad. UK Charities have included the Cardinal Hume Centre, the Woking York Road project for the homeless, Woking Mind, The Passage and Age Concern. Our overseas donations have led to the construction of classrooms and a dispensary in Itaka, Tanzania. In 2013 our two charities are Itaka in Tanzania and LinkAble (formerly Link Leisure) in Woking - actively supporting people with learning disabilities.
Father Dominic McIlhargey was with us from September 1999 until November 2000.
After a few weeks, we welcomed Father Anthony Hale C.P., who joined us to administer the parish just before Christmas 2000. Father Anthony was with us for nearly 13 years, leaving the parish in September 2013.
At the end of September 2013 we welcomed Monsignor Malachy Keegan as Parish Priest.
Mass attendance in 1917 was 12, by 1981 this had grown to 1051 in 3 churches with two priests. By 2004 we had just one priest and 2 churches - with assistance on a Sunday from a visiting Salesian priest from Chertsey - and a mass attendance of 741 .
St Thomas More Church in Byfleet was closed with last mass being said in 2006. In 2013 we have the one church in West Byfleet with average mass attendence of 639.
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