Updated April 2021
Article by Beverly Stevens
Photos by John Aron
It was an august assembly for an historic event. In November 2015, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon O.P. of Liverpool – the Metropolitan Archbishop for the North of England – attended in choir the Mass of inauguration of St Mary’s, in Warrington, England. Also present was Abbot Cuthbert Madden O.S.B., of the famous Benedictine Abbey of Ampleforth in Yorkshire. The Mayor of Warrington and representatives of other religious denominations attended as well.
The inauguration marked the Fraternity of St. Peter being given a shrine in England – and in the six months since, a great deal has been happening in this church once threatened with closure. In this exclusive REGINA interview featuring the painterly photographs of John Aron taken during the Triduum celebrations there, the Rector of St. Mary’s, Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP, explains.
REGINA: Tell us about the Faith in Warrington.
Fr Armand de Malleray: Thanks to the dedication of Benedictine priests from Ampleforth Abbey, the Catholic faith was kept alive in Warrington even under Penal Times. Diocesan clergy assisted the Benedictines, as attests the example of Warrington-born Blessed Fr James Bell, who died a martyr in 1584 under Queen Elizabeth I. In the 19th century, Irish immigration strengthened Catholicism in the Liverpool hinterland.
REGINA: And today?
Fr Armand de Malleray: But parishes are now being merged here like all across the country, due to the lack of clergy and to aging and dwindling congregations. The older generation have retained some Catholic practice, but one sees and senses that it is increasingly fragile and not successfully passed on to the younger ones. Despite 25% of the Warringtonians being Catholic, few of those under fifty are committed believers.
REGINA: How was the parish before the FSSP was invited there?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Ampleforth Abbey had founded St Mary’s parish and the three other parishes in town in the 19th century. In January 2012, Abbot Madden announced the withdrawing of the last Benedictine priest in Warrington, then Parish Priest [Pastor] of St Mary’s. This was a last resort, due to the absence of vocations at Ampleforth Abbey, which forced the recall to the Abbey of the monks engaged in pastoral ministry.
REGINA: How terrible!
Fr Armand de Malleray: The Archdiocese of Liverpool tried to take over, assigning a parish priest [pastor] for St Mary’s, with responsibility over two other parishes. After three years, due to the lack of diocesan clergy, St Mary’s was to be shut down: a tragic ending, sadly occurring more and more across England.
REGINA: What happened then?
Fr Armand de Malleray: To prevent this, the new Archbishop invited our Fraternity to take over, with the mission to make St Mary’s a centre for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the sacraments.
REGINA: Were there any problems anticipated in this transition?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Apart from the last three years, St Mary’s had been a non-diocesan parish since its foundation by the Benedictines in 1877. This manifested itself through a more elaborate type of worship, with polyphonic music and a level of decorum superior to the average. No doubt this specificity made the transition to our Fraternity easier.
REGINA: Often, these church buildings are in poor repair, aren’t they?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Ampleforth took good care of this splendid Pugin church. We inherited a building structurally sound. It is a truly beautiful Neo-Gothic church; not overly ornate though, which makes the long term upkeep less costly than if there were many flying-buttresses and pinnacles, intricate sculptures, and huge stained-glass windows.
REGINA: Well, that’s good news!
Fr Armand de Malleray: However, the Organ Loft is too small, and thus unfitting for our large choir (up to 40 singers), and the organ is in bad repair. The heating system was poorly installed and needs upgrading. There is no parish hall, which is a hindrance in particular for people traveling from a distance for the sake of the traditional liturgy, as they like to meet up with like-minded Catholics after Mass. The magnificent white-stone reredos needs to be cleaned, professionally lit and some of its sculptures restored.
REGINA: How are your living conditions?
Fr Armand de Malleray: The 1983 adjacent priory is large enough and in good structural condition, but needs upgrading. Built for five priests, it includes even a lift. The latter is out of order, but since our clerics are young, we don’t need it and would like to turn into a cloakroom or a devotional Lady altar.
REGINA: Wonderful! So, how have you been received?
Fr Armand de Malleray: North West Catholics in England are straightforward people. They ask questions and expect simple answers. They waited to hear what we would say, and to see what we would do.
REGINA: Fair enough.
Fr Armand de Malleray: From the start, a few more committed parishioners offered assistance. It gradually broadened and we now have a full panel of coordinators for various tasks: church cleaning, collection counting, coffee organisers after Mass, flower arrangers.
REGINA: Wait, did you say your brand-new choir has 40 members?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Yes. Music is a fundamental part of St Mary’s life, and though our Music Director and one singer are formally employed by the Shrine, they and the 35 voluntary singers work with generosity and joy. The same applies to our Shrine secretary, who has served under the two previous regimes (first Benedictine, then Archdiocesan) and whose knowledge of the local history and community is very useful.
REGINA: It sounds like your local community is quite supportive.
Fr Armand de Malleray: By now, we have been fully “adopted” by the congregation. The local clergy has been welcoming, and the parish priest in particular is supportive. With him, we plan joint events with the wider parish, like a Corpus Christi procession and a pilgrimage to a diocesan shrine. He will also take his congregation to St Mary’s to visit the church, attend our Mass and ask any questions they wish about our liturgical charism.
REGINA: How has lay involvement developed?
Fr Armand de Malleray: There can’t be many places in the world so far where a congregation has shifted overnight from daily Mass in the vernacular to daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Obviously all those involved had prepared the transition through meetings, written presentation and discussions. Also, St Mary’s type of worship was conservative Novus Ordo, with polyphonic Masses sung in Latin according to the classical repertoire on Sundays and main feasts. However, daily Masses were in the vernacular, with lay readers, altar servers of either gender and lay ministers of the Eucharist.
REGINA: So, a big change.
Fr Armand de Malleray: Considering the differences with the EF liturgy, we were happily surprised when most of the congregation stayed on. When we arrived, about 35 attended the 12:10pm daily Mass and 120 the 11am Sunday Mass. Those numbers are slowly but steadily increasing. Already, with 350 walking through our church doors every week, St Mary’s is one of the largest EF congregations in Great Britain.
REGINA: Great! Do you have any idea why this is?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Over the months, it became clear that people were not staying mainly for the convenience of a midday Mass in a town centre church they were used to attending. Rather, any initial reluctance or perplexity turned into genuine interest. Every week, more and more people discover the riches and depth of the EF liturgy. Some wonder why it has been kept hidden from them all along; others give thanks for this “new” option which, they say, deepens their relationship with Christ.
REGINA: Are you attracting young people?
Fr Armand de Malleray: In general, the congregations served by the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter worldwide comprise many young adults as well as families with children. Such was not the case when we arrived at St Mary’s last November. Clearly, the young and the families are scarce. But things are improving. In April we had our first gathering for young adults, with 13 attending – a very encouraging figure for North West England. We plan to meet every month.
REGINA: Any plans for events for young people?
Fr Armand de Malleray: As Chaplain to the Juventutem Federation, I went go to World Youth Day in Krakow. We also went with them to the annual Pilgrimage of Christendom in Chartres, and to the LMS Pilgrimage to Walsingham, England’s national Marian shrine. We also have a monthly session with families, most of them homeschoolers.
REGINA: I know this is a bit early to ask, but any signs of vocations?
Fr Armand de Malleray: In January, we held a Vocations Weekend. The fact that our clergy is young, and that we attract young vocations, is a signal perceived favourably by the young.
REGINA: Fantastic! How was the turnout for your Triduum liturgies?
Fr Armand de Malleray: The Easter ceremonies were very beautiful. More people attended than on Sundays, many of them for the first time. Members of our congregation told us that it had been a revelation, some adding it was “their best Holy Week ever”.
REGINA: Why do you think this is?
Fr Armand de Malleray: They saw better how eloquent the EF liturgy is, because it speaks through symbols, colours, incense, classical music and Gregorian chant, and also through silence. On Good Friday in particular, the adoration of the Cross was a moment of intense collective recollection. Details such as the Celebrant walking bare foot to the Cross, or the Deacons singing the Passion side by side facing North, spoke of austerity and of the power of prayer. As we do on Sundays, we had booklets printed in English and Latin for every single liturgy, including daily Tenebrae. With the help of our splendid choir singing Franz Joseph Haydn’s Heiligmesse and other pieces by Byrd and Capillas, our Easter Sunday Mass was a true jubilation.
REGINA: What is your top priority for your new parish?
Fr Armand de Malleray: Everything. The EF liturgy is a providential instrument to share the Good News of Salvation in neo-pagan England. At St Mary’s, Divine Providence entrusted us with optimal architectural and musical complements to this splendid liturgy. For worship, building and music to match at that level of quality on an ordinary basis is rare (I am merely stating a fact, to give thanks). We see that it touches souls who had no previous exposure to it; any soul.
REGINA: Agreed. So, what’s your plan?
Fr Armand de Malleray: To make it last, we need to secure financial stability. We need to inculcate a missionary spirit where needed, against the current spirit of being resigned to decline. This begins with attracting more penitents to the confessional where I sit every day, half an hour before every Mass, and twice a day on Sundays and feast days. Further, it implies more communicants at daily Mass, and more adorers every Saturday morning when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for two hours (again with Confessions heard during that time).
REGINA: And your goal?
Fr Armand de Malleray: I would like every parishioner to be convinced that the total conversion of England is willed by God, and lies with him or her, through God’s grace. Lastly, since we cannot seek and love God and His Church if we don’t know them, we also put great emphasis on teaching the faith without ambiguity and with charity. We would like every parishioner to fall in love with the Truth Incarnate, Jesus, and with His Church.