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Significant individuals and how this building came into existence
External view of St Johns at transport gateway to Rochdale

This presentation is not a history of the parish. It identifies significant individuals who brought the need, vision, decoration and construction of the present building used by the parish.

Roland Broomhead
On the 25th of July 1791 the Reverend Roland Broomhead of the Manchester Mission applied to the Salford Quarter Sessions to register a chapel in Rochdale under the terms of the 1791 Catholic Relief Act.

Catholics were able to openly celebrate liturgy in registered buildings and schools. Priests were still forbidden to wear vestments and Protestants were forbidden to participate. Broomhead registered a room in a hotel of Blackwater Street and St Mary’s Gate. This was the forerunner of worship until a 99 year lease was acquired on a piece of land on Ann Street.

The construction of Catholic facilities in Rochdale was given a boost by the Duke of Wellington persuading Parliament to pass the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act allowing Catholics to enter parliament and lifting restrictions on worship and church governance.

The foundation stone of the original church was laid in 1829 and the church opened in 1830 on land now occupied by the Health Centre car park.

John Dowling 1811-1891
John Dowling was parish priest from 1839-1891 and in that time oversaw a huge growth of the catholic community. The street alongside the church is named after him. He replaced the original stone church with a brick building in 1860.

Henry Chipp born Dublin 1864
Henry Chipp was parish Priest from 1897 – 1936. A former Salford Bishop Vaughan (obviously known to Chipp) had moved to Westminster Diocese and had overseen the construction of the Catholic Cathedral in 1903. It was a church heavily Byzantine in design with extensive mosaic decoration. Chipp wished to use this design to support his version of the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul with its huge central dome and a ‘Pantocrator’ sanctuary mosaic.

Henry Oswald Hill 1888-1917 Architect
Chipp commissioned Oswald Hill to design his new church. His son Henry was the principal architect. The original drawings which predate the World War One included a campanile (bell tower) which was not included in the post war construction. This may have been because the cost of the new church had risen by more than 50%. The fire station constructed in the 1930’s has a lookalike campanile hose tower.

Hill never witnessed the construction of his design. He was killed on active service 21/10/1917 flying in Flanders. His design commenced with laying of the foundation stone in 1923 and the building was completed in 1925.

Eric Newton 1893-1965
Author, Mosaicist, Art Critic and Academic. Eldest son of Ludwig Oppenheimer.

The spectacular mosaic is the work of the Oppenheimer company Blackburn Street Manchester. Eric Newton designed and worked on the Mosaic from 1931-33. Examples of Newton’s work can be seen in Greater Manchester, East Anglia, South Yorkshire, Ireland and France.

R & T Howarth, Contractor Crossfield Mill Norwich St Rochdale
Howarth implemented Chipp’s vision of a spectacular dome using what was a new technique at the time of a single piece of concrete to cover the dome exterior.

Howarth built the fire station opposite the church. Champness Hall 600m away on Drake Street and much of the inter war redbrick social housing (eg Turf Hill estate). He was certainly aware of the original plans for the campanile. One of their bigger projects (1908) was Arrow Mill on Queensway. Interestingly the brothers had a difference of opinion on whether the water tower on the mill should be ‘Byzantine’ or ‘Hotel de Ville ‘in design. They opted for Hotel de Ville.

Following in the Footsteps of Alice Ingham

I came from a devoted catholic family where Sunday Mass was very much a part of our lives. St. John’s church will always have a very special place in my heart because it is where I was baptised, made my First Communion and received the sacrament of Confirmation.

At the age of 25 I left my job as a teacher and became a lay missionary for 2 years in the USA. After that, I returned to England, took up teaching for a short spell and then joined Sion Community (a Catholic community for evangelisation made up of lay and religious) for 7 years. Although these “missionary” experiences were very enriching and I was very happy, there was a yearning in my heart for something more-I felt God was calling me to something else!!

The convent of the FMSJ, Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph, whose foundress of course is Alice Ingham from Rochdale, was a place I frequently visited in my younger adult days. The Sisters here were very down-to-earth and friendly, always giving me a great welcome. I was given a book to read called” From Light to Darkness” (A book about the life of Alice Ingham). I increasingly felt more and more drawn to Alice’s band of merry ladies and the Sussex Street convent felt like “home from home”.

Finally, at the age of 39, I decided to take the plunge.  I am what’s known as a late vocation.

My first overseas appointment as an FMSJ was in Kenya for 3 years, where I worked as a teacher with poor children in a primary school and then in a secondary school.

On the 30th of September 2007 I made my Final Profession in St. John’s Church. It was a very joyful and moving celebration that was shared with priests, a deacon, family,  many friends and the FMSJ.

Sister Joan O’Gorman is here receiving my vows.  She was our Congregational Leader at the time.

For the last 14 years I have been working in Ecuador as a Parish Sister. I am involved with catechism, Eucharistic services, visiting the sick and teaching English.  We receive donations to help with housing, medical and educational needs, food parcels and the setting up of small income generating activities for families with limited resources.

Mateo, to my right, has just received his First Communion. Sr. Rosemary (FMSJ), Fr. Martin and I accompanied him and his family on this joyful occasion.

A saying from Alice Ingham, Mother Foundress:

“Blessed be God, how wonderful are His ways.”

Sr Nula

Alice Ingham

Alice Ingham was born in Rochdale on 8th March 1830 and baptised at St John’s Church. Her mother, Margaret Astley, died in 1842 giving birth to her seventh child. The following extract is taken from an article by Sr Joan Kerley FMSJ, ‘To Love and to Serve: Alice Ingham’

“Alice’s early life was that of a member of a working class family in a typical mill town, a member of the small Roman Catholic minority. The Ingham family lived on Milkstone Lane and later over the shop at 149 Yorkshire Street. George Beck in his book The English Catholic 1850-1950, writes that on Sunday March 30, 1852, Rochdale had a population of 29,000 but total church attendance was 9,719. The total number of Catholics who attended Mass that day was 453, of whom Alice was more than likely one.”

Alice continued to live at 149 Yorkshire Street and became an active member of the newly established St Patrick’s parish of 1851 where she taught religious education. Like many at that time, Alice had little formal education but she made her way as a religious, lived with a small community of like minded women and joined the third order of St Francis. Awareness of the charitable work Alice was doing grew and she was invited by the the Bishop of Salford, Herbert Vaughan, to travel to London to take up a post at Mill Hill where she and her small community of women were to undertake domestic duties at St Joseph’s Missionary College.

In 1883 Alice and eleven of her colleagues took their vows and established the congregation as Sisters of St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. The Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph (FMSJ) worked as charitable sisters in the North West and became known as the Rescue Sisters. In the following years they became an international missionary community working in many countries including Africa and the USA. For an up to date account of the work of the FMSJ’s go to

Mother Francis, as Alice Ingham was known, died on 24 August 1890. The order she established, her faith and her commitment to the poor live on.

This poem, Alice Ingham 1830-1890, by Sister Maureen Maguire, FMSJ, who served at St John’s for many years, gives a light-hearted account of  the Foundress of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph and the early community. It is written in a Lancashire Dialect. Please watch the video below.

Priests who have served in the Rochdale Mission

It was well into the 20th century before Roman Catholic Missions were described as parishes. The early missions did not have the hierarchical geographical structure we are familiar with today.

Salford Diocese was established as one of the thirteen Dioceses and three Archdioceses on the re-establishment of the Catholic Hierarchy when Pope Pius IX signed the decree on 29th September 1850.

Apostolic Vicars had been the principal administrators in the eight districts covering England and Wales. They were not Bishops and relied on overseas seminaries for clergy. Salford was in the Northern District.

After the Council of Trent 1543 the formation of priests was through the Tridentine structure. (All outcomes of the council of Trent were labelled as Tridentine.) The Counter Reformation priests were tutored in ‘Apologetics’ which confronted the heretical ideas of Protestants. This was two years study of philosophy and four years theology in an enclosed environment. Douai and Rome were the major source of clergy. After the mayhem caused by the French Revolution. Douai was closed and William Allen, staff and students were expelled from Belgium back to England. Ushaw and Ware were the scions of the expulsion from Douai.

The Tridentine formation not only consisted of academic formation but also spiritual and social . The spiritual formation of regular discipline in prayer and periods of separation and silence continued into the post Vatican II era.

Priests had little training in how to live in a parish. They were to be seen as separate and lived accordingly. They dressed differently. They socialised with their peers and carried the burden of good example which marked them out as different. Many of the pictures of clergy demonstrate their middle class dress code.

The role of the clergy developed through the history of St John’s. From growing the parish, providing facilities for education, visiting their mission on foot, administering sacraments to large families, seeding new missions to a peak in the 1930’s when St John’s had 4,000 parishioners and four priests to the managed decline of today where we have a single priest in amalgamated parishes.

One of the earliest priests identified ministering at the Rochdale Mission was Fr Michael Trappes, who is recorded making an entry in the parish baptismal record in 1826 (see 150th parish anniversary booklet). He was born in 1800 and is recorded in the 1841 census as resident at St Patrick’s Church Huddersfield.

Parish Priests
1827 Fr William Turner Educated at Ushaw and Rome. Ordained Rome in 1825 he was appointed in 1827 to oversee the growing St John’s population. Turner is more well known as the first Bishop of Salford. He established Loreto College and Salford Catholic Grammar School. (picture available) He died 1872.
1832 Fr Henry Walmsley
1835 Fr Edward Brown
1839 Fr John Dowling was the first of the clergy to have a significant and long stewardship of the Rochdale Mission and oversaw its early expansion into a network of missions. The access street to the present church bears his name. (photo )
1871 Edward O’Neill (picture) Educated Ireland Ordained 18/09/1852 Died 1895.
1895 Fr John Boulaye (Photo) Born Manchester 1840 Ordained 20/06/1864 in Rome. Vicar General. Died 16/12/1912.
1897 Fr Henry Chipp (picture with 2 curates in top hats) Born Dublin 1864, educated at St Bede’s College. Trained at Ushaw College. Ordained 24/08/1891. Died 10/04/1937.
1937 Fr Patrick Kelly (photo with 3 curates) Educated Ireland. Ordained10/06/1906. Dean of Rochdale District. Appointed domestic prelate to Pope Pius XII 1957. Died 18th Feb 1963.
1963 Fr Angelo O’Connell (photo) Group photo July 15th1967. Youthful photo. Ordained Dublin 05/06/1932./ appointed Dean 1963. Died 27/09/1985.
1985 Fr Desmond O’Driscoll (photo) Ordained Ireland 08/06/1968.
1993 Fr Martin Brogan (photo) Ordained Bradford12/04/1980. Died 22/10/2014.
1994 Fr Gerard Barry (photo) Ordained 14/07/1991.
1996 Fr William Molloy(photo)Ordained Ireland 16/08/1994.
2003 Fr Mark Harold (photo) Ordained 15/07/1995 PP of amalgamated parish of St Gabriel’s and St John’s 1999-2008.
2008 Fr Barry Lomax (photo) Ordained 27/06/1993.
2009 Fr Christopher McGrain (photo) Ordained 14/07/2001 Tottington.
2014 Fr Michael Johonnett (photo)

Curates and visiting priests
Prior to the establishment of Salford Diocese and creation of a secular clerical structure, priests would travel around their district. The following list gives some of the priests who have worked in Rochdale and at St John the Baptist . The dates give a continuity of service.
1859 John Newton (Picture) Ordained 1858, Died 03/09/1886
1859 Michael Moriarty (Picture) Educated All Hallows
1877 James Brady
1877 John O’Neil
1877 James Brady (picture) Ordained 27/05/1877 Salford Died 1908.
1881 Charles Hanrahann (Picture) Ordained 1886, Died 11/03/1942.
1882 Terence McGuire
1884 James O’Riordan (Picture) Ordained 01/08 /1880 Died 02/03/1923.
1885 Thomas Twoomey (photo) Ordained 1885 Salford, Died 08/10/1902.
1899 Wilfrid Cahalan (Photo with Henry Chipp) died 31/12/1959.
1890 John Godley.
1891 Thomas Walshe (Photo) Ordained 1886 Salford. Died 11/11/1940.
1892 Fred Pozzi Holt (Photo) Ordained Ushaw 20/10/1890. Died 09/07/1948.
1904 John Aspinall (Photo)Ordained 12/08/1900. Died 27/01/1957.
1915 John Drescher (Photo) Ordained 30/07/1905. Died 16/10/1958.
1922 Frederick Coupe (Photo) Ordained 1912. Died 17/07/1948.
1927 Joseph Keaton
1930 James Doherty
1931 Patrick Watterston (Photo) Ordained 14/06/1930. Died 20/05/1993.
1931 J.A.Doherty (Photo) Died 18/05/1959.
1936 Michael O’Sullivan (4 clergy Chipp,Watterston,Doherty) Ordained 27/06/1920. Founded Legion of Mary branch 21/01/1937./ Died 03/05/1956.
1936 Patrick Reddy (photo)Ordained 11/06/1922. Died Manchester blitz 26/12/1940.
1938 Thomas Brady
1947 Denis Tagney Ordained 22/06/1947. Curate 1947-63 – one of the longest stays. Died 17/10/1989.
1960 Brendan Cantwell (Photo) Ordained 05/06/1960, Returned to Ireland. Ordained Wexford. Died 02/12/1989.
1960 Thomas John Lyons (Photo)Ordained 19/06/1949, Dublin. Died 02/03/1984.
1963 Gerard Fearon (Photo)
1973 Joshua Sheeky
1977 John Joseph Spring (Photo) Ordained Dublin 16/06/1974. Returned to Ireland.
1977 Kevin McKeon (Photo)
1989 John Atherton

Helen Dwyer (an inspiration to all who new her)

Helen was a lifelong St John’s parishioner; she entered the world in 1920, before the present St John’s was built, and remained a parishioner until she left us in 2024. Helen witnessed first hand the evolution of the parish of St John the Baptist where she prayed and lived out her life. She would, for instance, have been a young teenager when the Oppenheimer mosaic was installed in the church. During her 103 years Helen lived a full life: she taught Home Economics, had an audience with Pope Pius XII, was housekeeper to various St John’s priests and received a card from HRH Queen Elizabeth on her 100th birthday!

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