The Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes was originally part of St. Gregorys Parish. Until the end of the Great War in 1918 the area was mainly rural in character. However around this time the Farnworth Urban District Council realised that a great number of the inhabitants of Farnworth were living in houses which were not fit for human habitation. To their credit they were the first municipal authority in the whole of England to advocate and carry out a slum clearance policy, re-housing the displaced tenants in Council Houses. Highfield was the first of the new Council Estates to be completed and this was followed rapidly by the New Bury and Harper Green Estates.
It soon became apparent to the Diocesan Authorities that a Chapel of Ease would be required for the many Catholics who lived in the area and in 1931 Bishop Henshaw came personally to inspect the locality. He decided that it should become a separate Parish and plans were set up accordingly.
There was some disagreement from the outset concerning the boundary which divided the new Parish from that of St. Gregorys, Father Cobb insisting on a zigzag boundary through the back streets instead of the natural course along Egerton Street and Albert Road.
THE BOUNDS OF THE PARISH IN 1931:
“From Deane Boundary south of the Holme Cut by a bee line to the East and West to the Bolton Boundary. By the latter to the railway just North of Moses Gate Station. Thence Southerly by a bee line to and by Thynne Street and the Street from Gower Street to Trentham Street. By the latter Glynn Street, Almond Street, Harrowby Street and a lane East of Heaton Mill to the West end of St. Germain Street and thence by the Cricket Field to the Church on Buckley Lane. By the latter to the Little Hulton Boundary and by it to Moss Hall Farm and Northerly to the Deane Boundary. The centre of the roads being the boundary unless otherwise stated.”
In 1931 Bishop Henshaw, Father Leo Parker and the Reverend P. Kelly selected a site for the future Church, Presbytery and School and this was rented at 70 per annum. The site chosen was to provide many complications for the future Priests of the Parish the land being liable to subsidence and being bounded on two sides by unadopted roads.
On July 22nd 1931 the Reverend Father Thomas Butler was appointed the first Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes. On August 1st a Garden Party was organised on land belonging to St. Gregorys Parish which realised 100. With this in hand Father Butler held a meeting in the tea room of the Farnworth Cricket Club and there the new parishioners pledged their enthusiastic support. Mr. W. Sutton, as spokesman, approached the authorities for permission to build and submitted plans which had been agreed upon by Father Butler and the men of the Parish. Approvals and work proceeded with speed.
On September 6th 1931 the first sod was cut by Father Butler, September 7th work commenced on the building using voluntary labour and on September 27th 1931 High Mass was celebrated for the first time.
The first stage of the temporary church, erected by the parishioners voluntary labour at a cost of 653 19s. 3d, was 75ft long by 35ft wide, a wooden structure on a brick foundation, lined with beaverboard. It was lit by electricity and heated by six gas radiators. In the autumn of 1932 the building was enlarged by another 31ft and two ante rooms were added. This time the work was contracted out at a cost of 291 1s. l0d.
In 1936 Father Butler left Our Lady of Lourdes and went to St. Teresas, Firswood, Manchester. Father J. O’Mahoney took charge of the Parish made various improvements to the temporary church over the next decade, including remodelling the sanctuary and altar and stripping the beaverboard and recovering the interior in plywood that was stained and polished. In February 1953 he once again succeeded Father Butler in a Parish that of St. Teresa, Firswood, Manchester, and our present priest Father James Melvin was appointed Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes.
By December 1955 he was able to announce that all the improvements made to the temporary church had been paid for. When he was appointed Parish Priest Father Melvins instructions from Bishop Marshall had been to make the building of a school his first priority. However, though he received the backing of the local Education Authorities, the higher Government Authorities turned down his appeal.
Permission was granted for the church hall to be used to accommodate the overflow from St. Gregory’s school which was overcrowded. On September 8th two classes of infants, 42 children in all, were accommodated in the church hall with their teachers Miss Dilworth and Miss Minihane.
Father Melvin then decided to go ahead with the building of the new church. On June 1st 1956 Bishop Beck, on his first visit to Farnworth laid the foundation stone. In addition to the building costs which were estimated at 26,000, the interior furnishings were estimated at 4,000. Out of the total cost 5,000 had to be set aside for the building of a concrete raft under the main walls of the church to counteract mining subsidence.
The new church was designed to Father Melvins desires and is of contemporary style. It is 112ft in length, 33ft high and has a campanile or bell-tower rising another 54ft in height. The splayed walls widening to 60ft give the church a distinctive appearance. The tower itself has six splayed walls reflecting the shape of the main building and from it access may be gained to the church gallery by means of a covered bridge. The Narthex which contains the baptistry is on two levels.
The church was opened on October the 7th 1957 by Bishop Beck.
The Government Authorities finally gave permission to build a school, the building of which and the laying out of the playgrounds meant that the old hut had to be demolished. Part of the painting by Mr F Twist of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven which was shaped to fit over the High Altar and had taken twelve months to paint was given to the Polish Church in Bolton. The Altar of the old Church was given to a Church in Manchester. So with great sadness the parishioners saw the demise of the building which had been the centre of parochial life for almost thirty years. Indeed it is still remembered with great affection. The Parish Social Centre and Club cost 28,000 and was opened in 1964 and is used by all sections of the Parish.
Abridged from the Souvenir of Golden Jubilee booklet printed in 1981.
CLERGY OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES, FARNWORTH:
1931-1936 Rev. Thomas Butler
1936-1953 Canon John OMahoney
1953-1983 Canon James Melvin
1983-1992 Rev. Denis Sheehan
1992-2003 Rev. Michael Cleary
2003-2007 Rev. Thomas Brendan Quilter
2003-2010 Rev. Gerald Murphy
2011-2012 Rev. Michael Fleming
2012-2016 Mgr. John Dale
2017-Present Rev. David Egan