St Ignatius's Catholic Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Catholicism owes much to the Jesuits; and, casuistically speaking, the Jesuits owe their existence to a broken leg. Ignatius of Loyola was their founder. He was at first a page, then a soldier, then got one of his legs broken in battle, was captured and confined as an invalid, had his immortal leg set and re-set, whiled away his time whilst it was mending in reading romances, got through all within his reach, could at last find nothing but the Lives of the Saints, had his latent religious feelings stirred during their perusal, travelled to different places afterwards, and at last established the order of Jesuits – an order which has more learning within its circle than perhaps any other section of men, which has sent out its missionaries to every clime, has been subjected to every kind of vicissitude, has been suppressed by kings and emperors, ostracised by at least one Pope, and shouted down often by excited peoples in the heated moments of revolution; but which has somehow managed to live through it all and progress. The men fighting under the standard of Ignatius have a tenacity, a mysterious irrepressibleness about them which dumfounds the orthodox and staggers the processes of ordinary calculators.

In Preston we have three churches, besides an auxiliary chapel, wherein priests of the Jesuit order labour. By far the largest number of Preston Catholics are in charge of those priests, and the generality of them don’t seem to suffer anything from the “tyranny” – that is the phrase some of us Protestants delight to honour – of their supervision. They can breathe, and walk about, laugh, and grow fat without any difficulty, and they are sanguine of being landed in ultimate ecstacy if they conduct themselves fairly. In a former article we referred to one of the Catholic churches in this town – St Wilfrid’s – which is looked after by Jesuit priests – on this occasion we purposely alluding to another – St. Ignatius’s. The Catholics in the district of this church are very strong; they number about 6,000; are mainly of a working-class complexion; and are conveniently and compactly located for educational and religious purposes. Catholics are so numerous in the neighbourhood – are so woven and interwoven amongst the denizens of it – that it is a good and a safe plan never to begin running down the Pope in any part of it. Murphyites and patent Christians fond of immolating Rome, &c., would have a very poor chance of success in this district.

The church of St. Ignatius stands in the square which bears its name. The first stone of the edifice was laid on the 27th of May, 1833: to 1858 the church was enlarged, and in the course of the re-opening services the famous Dr. Manning (now Archbishop of Westminster) preached a sermon. The building is erected in the “perpendicular English” style of architecture – literally, a very general thing, the horizontal style being yet unworkable; is railed round; and has a dim, quiet elegance about its exterior. At the southern end there is a tower, with a spire, (surmounted by a cross) above it; the total height being 120 feet, It may be information to some people when we state that the first spire attached to any place of worship in Preston, was that we now see at St. Ignatius’s. Indeed, up to 1836, it was the only spire which could be found between the Ribble and the Lune. Spires have since sprang up pretty numerously in Preston; but there was a time, and not very long since either, when the line in the well known doggrel verse “High church and low steeple” was descriptively correct. The original cost of St. Ignatius’s church, with the adjoining priests’ house, was about £8,000 and of that sum upwards of £1,000 was raised by small weekly offerings from the poor. The church has got an outside clock with three faces, and they would sustain no injury whatever if they were either washed or re-gilt. We don’t think the clock would “strike” against such a thing. The enlargement of the church, which was at the chancel end, cost about £3,000, and the money was quite ready when the job was finished.

The building is cruciform in shape, and has a fine interior – is lofty, capacious, and cathedral-like. The high altar is very choice and beautiful; and the contiguous decorations are profuse and exquisite. The painting is rich and elaborate, and the most frigid soul, if blessed with even a morsel of artistic taste, would be inclined to admire it. There is a large window behind the altar, and it is a very handsome affair; but it is rather too bright – flashes and crystalises a little too strongly; and needs a deeper tone somewhere to make it properly effective. Not very far from the pulpit, which is massive, elegant, and calculated to hold the stoutest priest in the country, there are two large statues, standing on tall stone columns – opposite each other – at the sides of the nave. One of them represents St. Joseph, and the other, we believe, St. Ignatius. Not very far from this part of the building there used to be a statue of St. Patrick; but it was removed to one side, awhile since, either to make room for some other ornament, or to edify those belonging “ould Ireland” who may happen to sit near its present position.

Towards the higher end, and on each side of the church, there is an opening, projecting back several yards. A gallery occupies each of these spaces, and beneath there are seats. The roof of the nave, which is finely decorated, depends upon parallel stone columns; but they are rather heavy – are massive and numerous enough to support another church, if ever one should be erected above the present edifice. The seats are of plain stained wood, and the doors are gradually disappearing. Open seats are desiderated and whenever the opportunity occurs, the doors are attacked. Some of the pews have doors to them, and so long as the present occupiers hold their sittings in them they will not, unless it is requested, be disturbed; but as soon as they leave, the doors will be quietly taken off and either sold, or judiciously split up, or quietly buried.

Adjoining the chancel there are four of those mystic places called confessionals. The other evening we were in every one of them, viewed them round from head to foot, asked a priest who was with us the meaning of everything visible, and left without noticing in any of them anything to particularly fret at. “Confession is good for the soul,” we are told; and by all means let those who honestly believe in it “go the entire figure” without molestation or insult. Every morning, on week days, there is mass in the church at seven, half-past seven, and eight o’clock; every Friday evening there is benediction; and on Sundays a great business is done – at eight, nine, ten, and eleven, in the forenoon, at three in the afternoon, and at half-past six in the evening, there are masses, combined more or less with other ceremonies. The “proper services” are understood to be at eleven and half-past six. The nine and ten o’clock masses are by far the best attended; partly because they appear to be more convenient than the others, and partly because the work is cut comparatively short at them. Human nature, as a rule, can’t stand a very long fire of anything, doesn’t like to have even too much goodness pushed upon it for too long a time, believes in a very short and very sweet thing. It may have to pay more for it, as it has at the ten o’clock mass on a Sunday, at St. Ignatius’s – for the price of seats at that time is just double what it is at any other; only the work is got through sharply, and that is something to be thankful for.

School children have the best seats allotted to them at the mass just named, and the wealthiest man in the place occupying the most convenient seat in it has to beat a mild retreat and take his hat with him when they appear. The more fashionable, and solemnly-balanced Catholics attend the services at eleven and half-past six. They are made of respectable metal which will stand a good deal of calm hammering, and absorb a considerable quantity of virtuous moisture. At this, as at all other Catholic chapels, the usual aqueous and genuflecting movements are made; and they are all done very devotedly. More water, we think, is spilled at the entrance, than is necessary; and we would recommend the observance of a quiet, even, calm dip – not too long as if the hand were going into molasses, nor too fleetingly as if it had got hold of a piece of hot iron by mistake.

At ten and three on Sundays the music is sung by a number of girls, occupying one of the small galleries, wherein there is an organ which is played by a nun. The singing is sweet, and the nun gets through her work pleasantly. The Catholic soldiers stationed at Fulwood Barracks make St. Ignatius’s their place of devotional resort. They attend the nine o’clock Sunday morning mass, and muster sometimes as many as 200. One of the finest sights in the church is that which the guilds of the place periodically make. On the first Sunday in every month the girls’ and women’s guilds, numbering about 600 members, attend one of the morning masses; on the third Sunday in each month the members of the boys’ and men’s guilds, numbering between 400 and 500, do like-wise. Fine order prevails amongst them; numerous captains are in command; special dresses are worn by many of the members; some of the girls are in white; all the members wear sashes, crosses, &c.; and, after entering, their bright golden-hued banners, are planted in lines at the ends of the seats, giving a rare and imposing beauty to the general scene. The church will hold about 1,000 persons; and the complete attendance on a Sunday is about 3,500.

The congregation is principally made up of working-class people, and they have got a spirit of devotion and generosity within them which many a richer and more rose-watered assembly would do well to cultivate. There are four priests at St. Ignatius’s, and in addition to the duties discharged by them in the church, they have special departments of labour to look after outside it. Father J. Walker, the principal priest, superintends the female guilds, and visits the soldiers at the Barracks; Father R. Brindle attends to the male guilds; Father Boardman hangs out an educational banner, and has the management of the various schools; the fourth priest officiates as auxiliary. Wonders used to be worked in this district by the Rev. Father Cooper – an indefatigable, far-seeing, mild-moving man, in very plain clothes, who could any time get more money for religious and educational purposes than half a score of other priests. He was always planning something for the improvement of the district; was always looking after the vital end – the money; and was always bringing in substantial specimens of the current coin. He included Protestants among his supporters; people who in nine cases out of ten would give to nobody else – were always calmly tickled and trotted into a generous mood by him.

St. Ignatius’s district was stirred into full and active life by Father Cooper; he extended and elaborated the church; improved the schools greatly; touched with the wand of progress everything belonging the mission; and the Catholics of the neighbourhood may thank all their stars in one lot for his 15 years residence amongst them. A man like Father Cooper was bad to follow; it was no easy matter putting his shoes on and walking in them regularly through the district; but his successor – Father Walker, who has seen something of the world, has done service in the West Indies, has fought with mosquitoes, confronted black and yellow fever, preached to dark men and soldiers, and made himself moderately acquainted with the hues and habits of butterflies, centipedes, and snakes, if the museum at Stonyhurst College is anything to go by, was not the priest to be either disheartened or ignored.

Father Walker is a locomotive, wiry, fibrous man – full of energy, wide awake, – tenacious, keenly perceptive; could pass his sharp eye round you in a second and tell your age, weight, and habits; could nearly look round a corner and say how many people were in the next street; has a touch of shrewd, sudden-working humour to him; can stand a joke but won’t be played with; has a strong sense of straightforwardness; is tall, dark complexioned, weird-looking, wears bushy hair, which is becoming iron grey, and uses a thin penetrating pair of spectacles. He has been at St. Ignatius’s for two-and-a-half years; the decorations in the church are mainly due to him; and he has earned the respect and affection of the people. His style of preaching is clear, sonorously-sounding, and vigorous – is not rhetorically flashy, but strong, impetuous, and full of energy. The ardour of his nature makes his utterances rapid; but they are always distinct, and there is nothing extravagant or tragic in his action. He is a clear-headed, determined, sagacious man, and would be formidable, if put to it, with either his logic or fists.

Father Brindle, who has been at the church about ten years, is a quiet, mildly-flowing, gently-breathing man; has nothing vituperative or declamatory in his nature; works hard and regularly; has an easy, gentle, subdued style of preaching; but knows what common sense means, and can infuse it into his discourses. If he had a little more force he would be able to knock down sinners better. The oracle can’t always be worked with tranquillity; delinquents need bruising and smashing sometimes. Father Boardman – an active, unassuming sort of gentleman – has been at the church for about a year. He is quick in the regions of education and literature; knows much about old and new books; has a lively regard for ancient classical and religions works; is perhaps better acquainted with the 26,000 volumes in Stonyhurst College library than anybody else; likes to preach on tuitional questions; has a mortal dislike of secular education. He is plodding, intelligent, up to the mark in his business, and if 50 changes were made it is quite probable no improvement would be made upon him.

Father Baron comes next. When we visited St. Ignatius’s he had only been there a few weeks, and since then he has gone to some place near London. For a long time Father Baron was at Wakefield, and during his stay there he officiated as Catholic chaplain of the gaol. He was the first priest in the kingdom who made application, under the Prison Ministers Act, for permission to hold regular gaol services. In Wakefield he earned the respect of all classes; and there was general regret expressed when it became known he had to leave. Protestants as well as Catholics liked him, and, if he had stayed in Preston, the very same feeling would have been created. He is just about the most fatherly and genial man we have seen; has a venerated, rubicund, cozy look; seems like the descendant of some festive abbot or blithesome friar; makes religion agree with him – some people are never happy unless they are being tortured by it; has hit upon the golden mean – is neither too ascetical nor too jocund; is simply good and jolly; has ever so much vivacity, sprightliness, and poetic warmth in his constitution; can preach a lively, earnest, sermon; has a strong imitative faculty; is brisk in action; can tell a good tale; is fine company; wouldn’t hurt anybody; would step over a fly rather than kill it unkindly; and is just such a man as we should like for a confessor if we were a believer in his Church.

He has been succeeded by Father Pope, who is no relative of the old gentleman at Rome, but is we believe, a nephew of the celebrated Archbishop Whately. All the priests at St. Ignatius’s avoid in their discourses that which is now-a-days very fashionable – attacking other people’s creeds. A person who has regularly attended the church for twenty years, said to us the other day that he had never heard one sermon wherein a single word against other folks creeds had been uttered. The great object of the priests is to teach those who listen to them to mind their own business; and that isn’t a bad thing at any time.

The music at St. Ignatius’s is of a high order. It is not nice and easy, but rich and vigorous – fine and fierce, comes out warm, and has with it a strong compact harmony indicative of both ability and earnestness. The conductor is energetic and efficient, wields his baton in a lively manner, but hits nobody with it. There is a very fair organ in the church, and it is pleasantly played. The blowers also do their duty commendably. Adjoining the church there is the priests’ house – a rather labrynthal, commodious place with plain, ancient furniture.

Beyond, is a very excellent school for girls as well as infants of the gentler sex. It is supervised by nuns, some of whom are wonderfully clever. They are “Sisters of the Holy Child;” are most painstaking, sincere, and useful; never dream about sweethearts; devote their whole time to religion and education. All of them are well educated; two or three of them are smart. The school, which has an average attendance of 550, is in a high state of efficiency; is, in fact, one of the best to the country. The sceptical can refer to Government reports if they wish for absolute proof.

Still further on there is another school, set apart for the instruction of middle class boys, and in charge of three Xavierian brothers. About 90 boys attend it, and they are well disciplined. At the rear of the school there is a fine playground for the boys – it is about the largest in Preston; and close to it we have the old graveyard of the church, which is in a tolerably fair state of order. Brothers of the Xavierian type have been in charge of the school for about nine years. The three now at it are mild, obliging, quiet-looking men. They live in a house hard by, and do all the household work themselves, Well done, Xavierians! you will never be aggravated with the great difficulty of domestic life – servant-maidism; will never have to solve the solemn question as to when it is “Susan’s Sunday out;” will never be crossed by a ribbon-wearing Jemima, nor harrowed up in absent moments by pictures of hungry “followers” fond of cold joints and pastry. In addition to looking after the school, the Xavierians in question give religious instruction at nights, and on Sundays, to the children attending St. Ignatius’s school in Walker-street. The Sunday after we visited the church, about fifty whom they had been training, received their “first communion,” and in addition, got a medal and their breakfast given, – two things which nobody despises as a rule, whether on the borders of religious bliss or several miles therefrom.

The school in Walker-street is attended, every day, by about 400 boys and infants, and is in an improving condition. The Sunday schools are in a very flourishing state; the girls attending them numbering about 650, and the boys about 500. Taking all into account, a great educational work is being carried on in the district of St. Ignatius. The importance of secular and religious instruction is fully appreciated by the priests; they know that such instruction moulds the character, and tells its tale in after life; they are active and alive to the exigences of the hour; are on the move daily and nightly for the sake of the mind and the soul; and they, like the rest of their brethren, set many of our Protestant parsons an example of tireless industry, which it would be well for them to imitate, if they wish to maintain their own, and spread the principles they believe in.