Archbishop Malcolm McMahon has celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) in Gateacre to mark the golden jubilee of the building of the ‘new’ parish church.
The 50th anniversary mass took place on Wednesday 15 April, with Archbishop Malcolm being joined by parish priest Father Philip Inch and other clergy connected with Our Lady's. A Papal blessing was also presented to the parish by the trustees of OLA’s jubilee charity, which is named Mukuru after the district of Nairobi in Kenya where the parish supports a school.
The ‘new’ church of Our Lady of the Assumption was opened on 29 March 1965 by Archbishop George Andrew Beck, little over 15 months after building work had commenced. At the time, the Catholic Pictorial offered the following review: "The church was designed by architect LA Pritchard. Its design is simple but imposing. The benches are made of West African mahogany and there are tip-up seats around the outer wall so the church can seat 750. The cost of the church, presbytery and a fine parish hall is £200,000 and even with 5,000 parishioners this will be a burden for years to come. But future generations will appreciate the efforts."
Curiously, in 1963 Fr Henry McCaffrie, who would oversee the church’s opening as parish priest from 1962–69, had asked parishioner Jim Seed to put the Sunday collection on a horse called Curry; when it promptly won, the proceeds paid for the land on which the abovementioned church, parish club and presbytery would all sit.
The parish of Our Lady's actually dates back to the installation of pre-fabricated houses in Childwall Valley after the Second World War as part of a widespread house-building programme. Fr Martin Burke was appointed to minister to the area, initially operating out of Christ the King presbytery, and he said the first parish mass at the Gateacre Institute on 4 May 1947; the congregation comprised 50 people. OLA’s first church was inaugurated on 10 April 1949, having been erected on Bridgefield Road just off Childwall Valley Road in the space of seven months. While the parish's Catholic population amounted to 1,100, 40% of whom were young children, the church could accommodate only 300.
Our Lady of the Assumption Junior School was opened on 10 September 1958, with an Infant School following in 1960 and then a Seniors in 1962. Fr Martin Ring joined the parish in 1966 as assistant priest (or curate) and became parish priest in 1969, serving until his death in 1991.
At this point the Montfort Missionary Fathers took over the running of OLA, with Fr Sean O’Haire and later Fr Fred Matthews as parish priests in an arrangement lasting until 1999. Since then the Archdiocese has provided priests, the present incumbent Fr Philip Inch having succeeded Fr Bill Murphy in 2008.
For four years, between 2005 and 2009, Our Lady's was part of a conglomerate of four churches that formed the new, albeit short-lived, parish of St John Almond. Subsequently, OLA has functioned as an independent parish and has also served the parishioners of its former neighbours St Cyril, St Gregory and St Paschal Baylon, all of which are now closed.