Newsletter Spring 2009
From the Secretary
Our celebration at Shrigley on 1st April, marking the 75th Anniversary of the cutting of the first sod for the Church of St John Bosco, is still so fresh in the mind that I will devote this newsletter to the occasion. Here is the report I wrote for the website. Many of you will already have seen this, but others will not. Here it is:-
Shrigley looked at its best in the warm sunshine as members gathered to celebrate this anniversary, an event most remarkable because of the presence of Fr Albert Carette, who, as young boy was present on Easter Sunday 1934, the day of Don Bosco’s Canonisation in Rome.
The only blemish on that distant day was the enforced absence of Fr Franco, Rector of Shrigley, and many other staff and boys, because the College for weeks had been in the grip of a major ‘flu epidemic. Those who gathered then were but a small minority of those who could have witnessed an eagerly awaited moment.
The 75th Anniversary was eagerly awaited too, not least by Fr Albert himself. With Bro Donald MacDonald and Fr George Robson, he was seated outside the hotel looking out over the two lakes well before the scheduled start of the day’s programme. They were joined early on by Tony McCarthy who had travelled all the way from Cardiff the previous afternoon to stay at the hotel.
Coffee, tea and biscuits were served from 10.30a.m. in the Courtyard Bar, where members were greeted by Jennifer Sibbald-Wall, General Manager of the Shrigley Hall Hotel. At 11a.m. all moved into the Woodford Suite, remembered by all as the Parlour, where there was a display of pictures to mark the celebration.
Fr Albert welcomed everyone and led the opening prayer. Everyone moved outside to have pictures taken by a Macclesfield Express photographer.
There then followed a programme of readings, chosen by Peter Roebuck from the Salesian Archives and the Shrigley House Chronicle of 1934. The readings were planned as part of a walk round the grounds, to significant locations.
Peter Roebuck’s reminiscence was delivered from the patio area outside the former church, Eric Baggaley’s in the cemetery. As time was pressing, the presentations by David Murphy, Mike Kilduff and Paul Barnes were delivered on the former site of the May Sermonettes, where St Dominic Savio’s statue once stood.From the same place, Fr Albert rounded off with his reminiscence, ‘I Was There’, ending in time for a buffet lunch. Louise Davenport, formerly PA at the hotel, a good friend to the association, was a guest. Fr Albert had provided a surprise item.
This was a specially baked cake designed to replicate the grassy sod cut all those years ago. Cardboard cut-outs of John Hoey, who cut the sod, the Papal Flag that marked the spot, and of the young Albert himself completed the illusion that indeed another sod was being cut.This was cut, after lunch, back in the Woodford Suite. Everyone, including Jennifer, enjoyed a piece of the green-topped cake, which with the singing of ‘Ad Multos Annos’ and the school song brought the celebrations to an end.
The readings are too long to reproduce in full. These are some of the highlights. Full texts are available HERE
Peter Roebuck: The Plan for a Church and Shrine
The Salesian Bulletin for January 1934 carried the following announcement:‘A proposal is on foot to create at the Missionary College at Shrigley a Shrine in honour of, and in thanksgiving to, Blessed John Bosco for the many great favours granted to the English Province since its inception in 1887. It was in that year that Don Bosco himself, a few months before his death, sent over the first Salesians, Fr. McKiernan and Fr. Macey, both since gone to their reward, to open the House at Battersea and to commence the Salesian work in England…
’The Bulletin for February 1934 returned to the matter of ‘the proposed Shrine of St. John Bosco [distinctly but forgivably premature] to be created [here at Shrigley]. It will be the tribute of the whole Province - Salesians, Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, their pupils, and the Co-operators - to the Saint, in thanksgiving to God for all the graces received since the Province began. May the Shrine be worthy of the Province’.
The Community at Shrigley in 1934
Presiding over all was the Rector, Fr Angelo Franco, then 49 years old…. After being obliged to serve in the Italian army during the Great War, he was asked to come to England, where he worked successively at Burwash, Cowley and Battersea before coming north to Shrigley. It was he, apparently, who argued most forcefully for the establishment of a junior seminary in England, and he was Provincial Tozzi’s travelling companion in the search for a suitable property in the late 1920s…
His deputy, as Vice-Rector, who was at Shrigley from the very start, was the Maltese Fr. Joseph Ciantar… His key role at Shrigley was as a roving ambassador, building up the Co-operators and, crucially, recruiting aspirants. Franco and Ciantar knew each other well and had worked together before Shrigley. Travelling the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland, Ciantar ’brought home the bacon’, as contemporaries put it, whereupon Franco ’cured it’…
Fr. Joseph Dunne was Catechist and Fr. Thomas Payne was Prefect of Studies or Headmaster, and the Community also included 15 or so clerical brothers studying Theology… Along with Laurence Biello and Chris Gorton were a further nine lay brothers, testimony to continuing heavy development work at Shrigley in the House, the grounds and on the farm. With around 160 boys the entire complement must have approached 200. The place was lively, busy and crowded.
Eric Baggaley: The Spring and Summer Terms at Shrigley in 1934
Less than a year earlier, on 20th April 1933, Shrigley had experienced its first death - of Andrew Gallagher from appendicitis. Then in November that year Daniel McAfee was admitted to Macclesfield Isolation Hospital and died there from diphtheria… Moreover, it was only just over a decade since the influenza pandemic which, it is estimated, had killed some 40 million worldwide, and it was this which most worried contemporaries. There had been an outbreak at Shrigley in 1932… but Shrigley’s first major ’flu epidemic came in the Spring and Summer terms of 1934, forming a rather sombre and very disruptive background to the Sod-Cutting ceremony and the Canonisation.
Developments are described in detail in the House Chronicle:
15 March ’…four or five boys are down with the ’flu…’
16 March ’…Thirty-two boys are vaccinated…
23 March ’…The ’flu epidemic is on the increase; twenty boys are now down…
’26 March ’As the number of boys suffering from influenza is still increasing, it is considered advisable to discontinue the boys’ exams. A programme of outdoor work is arranged’.
29 March ’Maundy Thursday…Master Vincent Screen’s illness has developed into pneumonia; his condition is very serious and he has been moved into the Pink Room. Fortunately, Mrs. Magee, a certified Nurse and mother of one of the boys, is on the spot and undertakes to nurse him night and day’.
30 March ’Good Friday. Fr. Rector is unable to celebrate the Mass of the Presanctified as he is confined to his bed with influenza’.
31 March ’Holy Saturday - Blessing of the Paschal Fire etc. begins at 6.30 am. Bro. James Brockbank arrives from Bolton to assist in attending the sick’.
5 April ’Martin Screen’s condition is becoming serious; he is therefore anointed, and his parents arrive’.6 April ’Martin Screen’s condition is still critical. Fr. Rector is still confined to bed’.
7 April ’At last the turn in the tide of sickness comes and most of the sick boys begin their convalescence’.
9 April ’Martin Screen is removed to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, having contracted pleurisy’.
16 April ’[The new] Term begins. It is impossible to carry on the full class timetable as many of the boys are still convalescent and several of the staff are ill. Classes are given in the morning only - longer recreation and study in the afternoon. Mrs. Magee leaves after having most generously devoted her intended holiday to the nursing of Martin Screen and to the repairing and washing of Church linen’.
17 April ‘Fr. Rector is able to say Mass for the first time since his illness‘.
7 May ‘The full class timetable is resumed once more’.
Coming hard on the heels of Danny McAfee’s death in the previous autumn and the diphtheria scare - which saw visits from the local Medical Officer of Health and his staff, and which led to several staff and many boys being isolated from the rest - this ‘flu epidemic caused a further bout of disruption. Martin Screen survived, but because of widespread illness the 1933-34 academic year was not a smooth one.
David Murphy: Commemorative Tree Planting
Two of the older priests at Shrigley were the official Confessors, Fr. Joseph Musgrave and Fr. Edward Goy. The latter provided yet another link with the earliest days of the Salesian Congregation… He was also possessed of a range of practical skills which he had much opportunity to exercise in his new environment: he was a competent mechanic and no slouch as a plumber and electrician. Above all, the Lowthers having left behind them a substantial kitchen garden and sizeable formal grounds, he was an enthusiastic and experienced gardener. This prompted him to mark the Canonisation of Don Bosco in a special way.
The Chronicle for 1934 takes up the story:
9 March ‘Dominic Savio’s “Remembrance Day”. League matches in the afternoon. Fr. Goy plants the “Canonisation” trees quietly, and without the [originally] intended “ceremony” on the new Sacred Heart Terrace. After supper a Concert is given under the auspices of the Sodality of Dominic Savio’.
The inside front cover of the Salesian Bulletin for March 1934 carried the following advertisement:
‘Salesian Pilgrimage to Rome and Turin for the Canonisation of the Blessed John Bosco on Easter Sunday 1934. Under the leadership of Very Rev. Fr. Provincial SC. Conducted Visits to the Basilicas and Catacombs. Special Audience with the Holy Father. Mass and General Communion in St. Peter’s, Rome, and also in the Basilica of Our Lady, Help of Christians, in Turin.
£28. 0. 0. (1st Class Fare and 1st Class Hotel)
£22.10. 0. (2nd Class Fare and 2nd Class Hotel)
£18.10. 0 (2nd Class Fare & Convent or College Accommodation)Ten Days. No Extras.
London back to London. Leaving London Good Friday 9 AM. Arrive back in London Low Sunday afternoon.
Apply early to the Organising Secretary: Rev. J.Ciantar SC, Salesian Missionary College, Shrigley Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire’.
The Sod-Cutting Ceremony
For details of what happened at Shrigley on the great day 75 years ago we must turn again to the House Chronicle which, given the occasion, had a remarkable brief, almost cryptic entry:
‘April 1st. Easter Sunday. Missa Solemnis 9.30am. At 10.45 all the boys and Community [minus a considerable number who were unwell] assemble in the front Hall before the statue of Blessed John Bosco, beautifully decorated for the occasion, to sing a hymn. They then proceed in procession, accompanied by the Band, to the site of the [proposed] new church, where at the same time as the Holy Father was declaring Don Bosco a Saint, the first sod was cut by Master John Hoey, who had been chosen by ballot. Unfortunately, the widespread sickness robbed the day and the occasion of much of its solemnity, and of the presence of Fr. Rector’.
Mike Kilduff: True Reminiscences – the memoirs of an architect by Philip Tilden
There were many days that were auspicious on that wonderful site, before a sod was cut or a stone was laid, and when I first visualized its form and qualities.
There was the day when the Father Rector and a few boys with spades went out in the biting wind to cut the first gash in the sleeping hillside. There were weeks when boys were wheeling barrows of earth and tipping it in all directions - very difficult to supervise. There were weeks when the fathers, brothers and boys hacked and delved and wheeled, each feeling and knowing that he was helping to create something that might live for centuries. I have no doubt that had ‘time’ been of as little importance as most things, the fathers, brothers and boys would have built the church themselves. But that was not to be, and the professional touch was brought in to raise the walls and crown them high with roofs.
There was a drenching day of a great procession when the Bishop of Shrewsbury laid the foundation stone, all in the glory of vestments covered up by umbrellas and coats and mackintoshes. There was the day when the old quarry was opened up, the loose stone removed for road metal, and new slices and blocks of hard, virgin rock sheered off and worked by the cunning hands of a few men, a few bars and a few chisels.
From that time on, day in day out, one could hear the tap-tapping of metal against stone deep down in the gulf of that quarry, and bit by bit the stones changed from meaningless lumps into things of quality and shape. And bit by bit the walls rose from the flat raft that sat the hill amongst the gigantic rhododendrons and sinuous snake-skin beeches.
Never in my life have I experienced such warmth of spirit as at Shrigley, where I was welcomed with smiles and hospitality on every visit; but never in my life have I been colder in body, for the wind cuts clean across the Derbyshire Fells, and the Salesian life is a hard one. I was indeed favoured by being given a bedroom with a hot pipe running through it, and many a time when I had unfrozen one end of my body, I had to reverse myself to get warm at the other end, consoling myself all the time that not one other of the whole Order had such a thing as this lovely hot pipe.
Paul Barnes: The Canonisation in Rome
There was a full report on this in the Salesian Bulletin for April 1934, from which the following excerpts have been drawn:
‘The great piazza of St. Peter’s was packed with a happy, struggling throng from the earliest hours of Easter Sunday morning. 60,000 or more would be the fortunate ones for whom room could be found within the mightiest church on earth. To count the teeming thousands left outside was a task which none but a juggler with figures would attempt’.
‘Heavy rain made it impossible for St. Peter’s to be illuminated that night. It was but a joy deferred. On the following night, thousands flocked to the square of St. Peter’s and to every vantage point in Rome to see the basilica bathed in light from flares which flickered from the colonnades and on every spot even to the summit of the mighty dome’.
On the 9th March the House Chronicle noted: ‘the Pilgrims return from Rome amid great excitement’.
Shrigley’s Own Celebrations, June 1934
As Shrigley’s celebrations were not held until June, the next Newsletter will carry in full Paul Barnes’ account. He did note that on 20 February 1934, the Chronicle had recorded ‘a meeting of the Committee formed from the members of the Community to organise the forthcoming celebrations in connection with the Canonisation of Blessed John Bosco’.
Bishop Moriarty arrived at Shrigley on 16th June, was accorded ‘an enthusiastic reception’; on 17th said Mass at 7.00am and ‘pontificated’ at 10.45. He left at 4.30pm.
The House Chronicle recorded on 19th June: Today we have our own “at home” celebrations. The Community and boys all dined together in the front Hall. Unfortunately the wet weather prevented the afternoon cricket, but an impromptu Concert was held in which Bro. Victor Clitheroe (Cape Town) figured prominently with his songs and conjuring tricks’.
We have no text for Fr Albert’s reminiscence, ‘I Was There’, in which he spoke of his recollections not only of the occasion of the cutting of the sod, but of his life at Shrigley. Earlier he had introduced the day with this prayer:
Lord, we as members and friends of the Shrigley Association havecome here today to recall with gratitude the initiative to establishhere at Shrigley Park a training centre for Salesian missionary vocations and to build a beautiful church in honour of the newlycanonized Saint known as Don Bosco.Even though the church now forms part of the Shrigley HotelComplex and the church is no longer used for religious services. It remains, with the Hotel Building, a magnificent structure, full of Memories overlooking the Cheshire plain.We, as a Salesian Family, will keep in our prayers members past and present and especially those buried in our Salesian Cemetery nearby.We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord. Amen
The Mass and Social Event at Bolton in May has been cancelled, so the next event will be the AGM and Annual Reunion will take place this year over the week-end of 18th-20th September at Shrigley and Savio House.
Please book early by contacting
There will be a Social Week-end at Farnborough over the weekend of 28-29th November arranged by Paul Barnes. Details in the next Newsletter.
Subscription for the year is £10. You can pay by cheque or standing order.