The church of St. Bede, Bishops Avenue, Chadwell Heath, opened on 15th November 1935. Bishop’s Avenue was then a sleepy road flanking fields, with the odd donkey and pony happily grazing. The land was originally bought by Canon Patrick Palmer, who shrewdly rented it out for allotments until the time would come to build. There were then railings around the grounds, but when war came they were taken compulsorily by the Government (presumably to use for armaments).
In 1935 parishioners were few in number. The parish was originally served from SS. Peter & Paul’s Church, Ilford, with priests from there taking turns each Sunday to cycle to Chadwell Heath. The first Mass at St. Bede’s was celebrated by Canon Patrick Palmer and was assisted by Father Dan Shanahan. Older parishioners have described how, when the original church was first opened, the parish could not afford even the most basic practical requirements, such as implements for cleaning. Everyone “mucked-
Parishioners worked very hard as they were determined to have a parish and eventually a school of their own. From the earliest days of the parish, and despite deprivation and shortages, fundraising was a fundamental part of the parish’s activities. Beetle Drives, Whist Drives, Old Time Dancing, all were held, in other locations if necessary.
During the War, in 1943, the Sunday congregation was swelled by eight or nine Grenadier Guards who were billeted at Little Heath. They were an overspill from the 2nd Battalion stationed at Wanstead Flats. These soldiers, with an NCO, would march from Little Heath to St. Bede’s, be dismissed by their NCO, and attend 9.15 Mass. After Mass they would have a quick smoke, form up and march back to their billet.
When they left the area, these Guards were replaced by American soldiers, some of whom also attended Mass at St. Bede’s. In contrast to the Guards though, they would arrive in jeeps, smoking cigars and greeting parishioners with “Howdy”!By 1948 the parish had its first parish priest, Father Pat Carthy, and in time the following organizations were set up:
Eventually, Father Frank Heenan replaced Father Pat Carthy and fundraising continued apace. There was no Presbytery and the priest lived in Jarrow Road. For some time around 1962, Mass was celebrated in the “Moby Dick” public house, an event so newsworthy that it made the Sunday papers! Sadly Father Heenan became ill and never saw the church completed. He was followed by Monsignor Christopher Creede who came just as the new church was finished. The original building became the church hall on 19th June 1963 when a new octagonal church in a striking mid-
Since then and up to the present date, the parish hall has been well utilized by the organizations mentioned above, as well as others, such as St. Bede’s Play School, Irish Dancing Classes, Cubs and Scouts, Youth Club, Friendship Group, The Chadwell Heathens (a group of parishioners in the early days, who organized variety shows to raise funds for the parish and charities), and for social facilities for the parish. The Parish Social Club (later closed) was built by men of the parish.
Until St. Bede’s Catholic School was opened, classes for 5 – 6 year olds were held in the church, with folding doors separating the classrooms. A great deal of work and preparation was necessary to ensure that the church was ready for its various functions -
When children left St. Bede’s, they went to St. Anthony’s in Hainault, a difficult journey for small children. However Monsignor Christopher Creede, the parish priest at the time, badgered the Council into supplying a bus, which made things easier. Members of the parish’s Legion of Mary visited every house in the parish and collected names of children who wished to attend Catholic schools. Those figures were presented to the Council as evidence of the need for Catholic schools, resulting eventually in the thriving schools we are fortunate enough to have today. Monsignor Creede was also instrumental in persuading the Wanstead Sisters of Mercy to finance a new primary school in Canon Avenue, which opened in 1967.
Needless to say many priests have passed through the doors of our church, some staying for a while, others for long periods, but all in one way or another left their mark on the parish. We are fortunate that Father Martin O’Connor, our present parish priest, has been with us since October 1997.
Over the years, thank God, our parish has grown and flourished. We now have many nationalities enriching our congregation, and many young families. Over the years many Pilgrimages to Lourdes were organized. Following this tradition, in October 2010 a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was led by our parish priest, the first to that part of the world for some years. It was a great success and everyone who was part of it felt profoundly moved and enriched by the experience. On the strength of it, a Pilgrimage to Lourdes was organized for September 2011, which proved so successful that another will be held in September 2012. Also, in July 2011 Father Martin was invited to accompany the Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which included a dozen or so young members of our own parish.
Significant Events over the Years
28th May 1982 saw the first ever visit of a Pontiff to the UK. In kneeling to kiss the soil on his arrival at Gatwick Airport, Pope John Paul II (since May 2011 Blessed John Paul II) began a six day visit to England, Wales and Scotland. Some 80,000 people were present at the first Mass of Pentecost and Renewal of Baptismal Promises at Wembley Stadium, including pilgrims from St. Bede’s parish. In his homily, the Holy Father said that he “believes in the unique dignity of every human being…..that each individual has a value that can never be ignored or taken away”.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Glasgow on the 16th September on a four day visit to the UK. On 18th September he travelled to London where he celebrated Mass in Westminster Cathedral. At the end of Mass he spent some time with over 2,500 young people, including many from our Diocese. Others from the Diocesan Youth Service went with their teachers and priests to the big Assembly at Twickenham and representatives from all parishes, again including our own, to the Prayer Vigil in Hyde Park.
In addition the Holy Father met the Queen, the Prime Minister and members of the main political parties, took part in an ecumenical service with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey, presided at the Beatification Mass of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham, and gave an address from the spot in Westminster Hall where St. Thomas More died a martyrs death in 1535.
In his opening address to Queen Elizabeth, the Holy Father concluding by saying “May it (the United Kingdom) always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate”.