Majestic Saint Mary’s Lives Again

Interview by Michael Durnan

Photos by Joseph Shaw and John Aron

Father Armand de Malleray is the pastor of the FSSP Shrine of St. Mary, in Warrington, Lancashire. The church is a priceless treasure, a Grade One listed building designed by the 19th century English architects E. W. Pugin and P. P. Pugin.

In June 2017 this 19th century Gothic jewel was the site of an historic occasion, significant for St. Mary’s, the FSSP, the Archdiocese of Liverpool and the development of the Latin Mass in England: the first priestly ordination in the traditional rite for half a century.

REGINA’s Michael Durnan recently caught up with Fr de Malleray, who was Juventutem’s first chaplain, on these exciting developments.

REGINA: Fr de Malleray, unfortunately, St Mary’s was tampered with in the late 20th century, like so many beautiful Catholic churches. How is your restoration work going?

FR DE MALLERAY: The altar has been put back in its original location in the sanctuary, rather than in the middle of the nave.

REGINA: Excellent start! What’s next?

FR DE MALLERAY: In due course, we will need to clean the beautiful stonework on the reredos and have it professionally lit. The main stain glass window above the altar will also need consolidating.

REGINA: Any other projects planned?

FR DE MALLERAY: Yes. We will need to build a proper hall. Currently, there isn’t a space large enough for our congregation to meet outside of Holy Mass. A hall will allow more people to attend our activities for families, youth and conferences for all.

REGINA: That’s long term, we imagine.

FR DE MALLERAY: Yes, but this autumn we will convert our garage into a music room for our talented polyphonic choir. They currently use the original sacristy, leaving us clergy with practically no space to properly store the vestments and liturgical items, and to vest. So, when our singers move into the ‘garage’, we’ll move back into our sacristy, playing real musical chairs.

REGINA: We saw you have a notice near the church entrance which informs visitors how much, per week, St. Mary’s costs to run. Why?

FR DE MALLERAY: It’s been one year and ten months since we took over St Mary’s. The weekly collection has tripled since our arrival.

REGINA: Impressive.

FR DE MALLERAY: The full cost to run St Mary’s Shrine for one week in £1,440. This includes the clergy allowances, pension and travel expenses, plus the yearly maintenance and insurance of the church and priory.

REGINA: Do you anticipate being able to raise enough money for St. Mary’s to be self-sustaining financially?

FR DE MALLERAY: We haven’t yet reached a full equilibrium, but we are hopeful that it will happen soon. More people have set monthly or weekly direct debits with their bank, which provides us with a predictable income and make counting the collection quicker.

REGINA: Are people discovering St. Mary’s?

FR DE MALLERAY: Numbers are very stable, with about 150 attending every Sunday, and about 30 every week day. An event such as the priestly ordinations of two FSSP priests which happened here in June 2017 draws attention to our presence here.

REGINA: Yes, tell us about the ordinations.

FR DE MALLERAY: We at St Mary’s Warrington are very grateful to our local ordinary, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon O.P., for having ordained two priests for our Fraternity at St Mary’s Shrine, last 17 June. For the first time in fifty years, the ceremony was performed according to the traditional Latin rite.

REGINA: You had a number of British and American FSSP priests there as well.

FR DE MALLERAY: Yes, Fr Josef Bisig, Rector of our American seminary in Nebraska, and one of the main founders of our Fraternity 29 years ago, was the Assistant Priest to the Archbishop. Fr Matthew McCarthy served as Subdeacon. Although he has worked as pastor at our parish in Atlanta and now in Lincoln, Fr McCarthy is an Englishman who grew up in Wigan, fifteen minutes north from Warrington. Fr Simon Harkins, currently serving as Bursar to our North American District, is also one of our UK vocations (from Scotland) and acted as Deacon of Honour during the ordinations. More of our British (and American) seminarians served in various capacities.

REGINA: Is this historic?

FR DE MALLERAY: In June 1968, Pope Paul VI approved a new rite of priestly ordination. But already in June 1967, the very first priestly ordinations in the freshly consecrated metropolitan cathedral of Liverpool took place in English. Thus, for half a century, there hadn’t been in the Liverpool Archdiocese (and probably neither across England) a traditional ordination in the Latin rite. In addition to the objective grace of two new Catholic priests, these ordinations provided Catholics in England with an eloquent signal. It showed 1) that EF communities produce vocations and 2) that the hierarchy supports it.

REGINA: Does your hierarchy support this?

FR DE MALLERAY: Our local ordinary, Archbishop Malcolm Mc Mahon, O.P., is generously supportive. Within one month, he conferred the sacraments in the extraordinary form at St Mary’s twice: confirmation and holy orders.

REGINA: Do you detect a sea change in the thinking of some of the English Catholic hierarchy?

FR DE MALLERAY: Like many bishops in England and in Europe, our Bishop buries many more priests each year than he ordains. In Warrington (like everywhere in the country), the number of priests in active ministry diminishes, leading to the amalgamating of parishes. In each local church, fewer Holy Masses are offered, and even less confessions heard.

REGINA: Seems pretty hopeless.

FR DE MALLERAY: By contrast, this sad situation makes St Mary’s Shrine an attractive option, with two (young) priests offering Holy Mass and hearing confessions seven days a week without any exception. Three quarters of our present congregation are Novus Ordo parishioners who knew or remembered only the Mass in English, and are now happily committed to our Extraordinary Form ministry.

REGINA: How are laypeople getting involved?

FR DE MALLERAY: The preparation of the ordinations gave our congregation an opportunity to be involved in various ways: preparing the canopy for the Archbishop, rehearsing the ceremony and the chant, creating magnificent flower compositions, organising the food and drinks for hundreds of visitors and, last but not least, providing accommodation for nearly thirty clerics.

REGINA: A huge day, no doubt.

FR DE MALLERAY: Yes. After a meal for three hundred, newly ordained Fr Alex Stewart (who begins his ministry at St Paul Minneapolis) presided at Vespers. The following day, after his first Solemn High Mass, Fr Stewart led the first Corpus Christi procession across town organised in Warrington for decades.

REGINA: A procession across busy Warrington!

FR DE MALLERAY: Yes. On arrival at St Alban’s, the mother parish of Warrington, Fr Stewart handed the monstrance to the local diocesan Dean, Canon Christopher Cunningham, who had just celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of ordination (and acted as Deacon of Honour at the ordination the day before). Canon Cunningham was among the new priests ordained in English at the Liverpool metropolitan cathedral in 1967. He gave the final Benediction after the Corpus Christi procession. It was a beautiful way of expressing continuity in the priesthood, over half a century, ad majorem Dei gloriam.

REGINA; We understand that anyone can view St Mary’s masses broadcast live?

FR DE MALLERAY: The entire ceremony was broadcast live via our LiveMass network. Equipping St Mary’s Shrine with LiveMass has taken a lot of time and effort last Lent, involving even an engineer flying from America to spend a full week working on the installation. Now, the system is well in place and allows anyone in the world to watch our daily Mass with homilies.


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