In 1991 the parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee. As part of the celebration a booklet was produced that contained an article by Tom Fanning, who was the Headteacher of St. Bernard's Primary School at the time. The article was entitled. "A History of the Catholic Church in Burnage". The information in this Parish History section is taken from that article.
On February 21st 1930 Shawbrook Lodge was purchased from a Mr. A.E.Turnbull by Bishop Henshaw on behalf of the Diocese. The actual purchase must have been negotiated by Canon Rowntree, the Parish Priest of St. Cuthbert's, for he was also the financial administrator of the Diocese at this time.
Shawbrook Lodge had been built in 1864 by wealthy Manchester merchant, Howard Aston Holden, on a two acre site purchased from Earl Egerton of Tatton. The Egerton family had retained ownership of the land since 1212 when Burnage had been shared out among three gentry families - the de Traffords, the Egertons and the Mosleys. Incidentally, St. Cuthbert's Church and school are also built on land bought from the Egerton family.
No immediate decision was made to open a chapel-of-ease or found a new parish. The house and grounds were leased to Burnage Garden Society and it became their headquarters. Part of the grounds were used for allotments. The first recorded reference to establishing a church in Burnage is found in October 1939 in the minutes of the Diocesan Schools Commission where it states:
It was agreed that it would be desirable to have a priest in charge of this area as soon as possible, and he might wish a Mass Centre Hall which could later be incorporated into a future school.
Obviously the Diocesan authorities were concerned about the distance people had to travel to Mass and by the number of Catholic children attending local state elementary schools rather than the Catholic schools attached to St. Mary's Levenshulme, St. Cuthbert's Withington, and St. Catherine's Didsbury.
A year later in the midst of the confusion and turmoil of war the first steps were taken to open a chapel in Burnage. The lease of the Burnage Garden Society was terminated. This action roused some local ill-feeling.
Fr. John McNulty was appointed priest-in-charge. St. Bernard's was not as yet a parish. It was a chapel of ease attached to St. Mary's Levenshulme. Parish boundaries were however agreed. The boundaries were L.M.S. Railway from Westcroft Road to Mauldeth Road, along Mauldeth Road (right hand side only) to Ladybarn Lane (right hand side only) to L.M.S. Railway. Along this to Kingsway. Down Kingsway (right hand side) to Kingswood Road. Across Kingsway and along Grangethorpe Drive (right hand side) across Burnage Lane, along Crossley Road (right hand side) across Errwood Road, still along Crossley Road to the Manchester-Stockport boundary. Down the boundary to Barcicroft Road. Right hand side of Barcicroft into Westcroft Road. Along the (right hand side) to L.M.S. Railway.
In February 1941, Fr. John McNulty, with the occasional help of his brother Fr. Anthony McNulty, the Vicar-General of the Diocese, set about converting the ground floor of the Lodge into a chapel. It was war-time and skilled man-power and building materials were in short supply. The priests were ably assisted by a number of parishioners. Interior walls were removed, doorways were changed, a fire escape was constructed. The wooden altar and baptismal font were made by Mr. F. Hertzog. Much of the bricklaying, plastering were carried out by W.Allen, T.Egan, J.Daggert, T.Dignan. J.Hogan and others. Mr Tomlinson installed the electric lights. Many of the church fittings, benches and pews were items salvaged from St. Augustine's All Saints. St. Augustine's had been destroyed in the fierce bombing raids of December 1940. Some of these benches are still in use in the choir loft of St. Bernard's Church. Two large statues of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart were donated by the McCarron family of Withington.
Bishop Marshall blessed the newly constructed chapel on the eve of Pentecost May 31st 1941. The Bishop was assisted by the Vicar-General Monsignor A.McNulty, Monsignor J.Masterson, Parish Priest of St. Mary's Levenshulme, Canon J.Rowntree, Parish Priest of St. Cuthbert's, Canon J.Ward, Dean Dunleavy of St. Augustine's, All Saints, and many local clergy. The congregation numbered 250. In October 1941 the Registrar General issued a Certification of Registration for St. Bernard's to be used as a "place for religious worship". In September 1942 the chapel was issued with a certificate authorising the use of the building for the Solemnisations of Marriage. The new chapel was able to accommodate 150-180.
In September 1941 the hallway of the house was incorporated into the church. In February 1943 two small rooms at the side of the chapel were fitted with a double folding door as that they could be used as a standing are for Sunday Mass. On Easter Day 1943 Fr. McNulty noted that at the 9am Mass there were: 235 seated in the chapel, 61 standing in the chapel, 62 seated and standing in the new annexe.
The parish continued to prosper. There were three Masses each Sunday at 8, 9 and 11am. Fr. McNulty relied on a supply priest coming to St. Bernard's each Sunday from St. Bede's College. Each Sunday afternoon there was a Benediction at 3pm. At 6-30pm there was "children's instructions" for those children attending local state schools. Miss Mary Agnes Berrell was the first catechist. During the week there was daily Mass at 8am. Benediction was also celebrated each Thursday evening. Confessions were heard each Saturday between 6-8pm. On Sunday the 9am was a children's Mass, though for some years the number of children attending must have been small as many young children had been evacuated from Burnage. Altar boys must have been in short supply. The names of some the early altar boys have been preserved: Joseph Hogan (Junior) M.C., Brian Allen, Maurice Allen, Charles Williams, Derek Black, Terence Black. Confraternities were set up for both men and women. A branch of the Sodality of the Children of Mary was founded. Miss Margaret Egan was its president. A parish choir was formed. Miss Helen Condon was its first organist. The Mass census for Trinity Sunday 1943 shows the rapid growth of the parish: 8am - 107, 9am - 227, 11am - 254, total 588. Fund raising made great inroads into the parish debt. The alterations of the Lodge meant that the Parish owed the Diocese £3,400 in December 1941. By December 1945 that had been reduced to £1,932.
"Fr. Mac", as Fr. McNulty was universally known, was loved by everyone. "A friendly, kindly and jovial priest ideally suited to bring people together in the early war years" is one parishioner's description of him. Soon after the church was opened, Burnage was bombed. Fr. McNulty visited and comforted all the people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. This action helped to dispel a certain bigotry which had arisen locally on the opening of the Catholic chapel.
The highlights of those early years were the processions in honour of the Blessed Sacrament and in honour of Our Lady, which took place in the beautiful grounds and orchard of the Lodge. An annual Garden Party was also held every June. "Fr. Mac" was a keen gardener and took great pride in maintaining the extensive gardens and orchard. The young men of the parish helped with the gardening chores. A football match was usually then organised as a "thank you". One of the young men of those days recalls
"playing football until it was dark. Fr. Mac's brother, Fr. Tony was a very good footballer, and each brother captained a side. Many a tussle took place at these games. Fr. Tony was of a professional standard. Fr. John - rough and ready. I think I can say that the hours spent at St. Bernard's in those days were some of my happiest."
On January 28th 1946 Fr. McNulty was appointed Parish Priest of St. Teresa's Blackburn and he was replaced as priest-in-charge by Fr. Vincent Reynolds (on February 1st 1946). Fr. Reynolds stayed by twelve months at St. Bernard's. He continued the good work of his predecessor. He was a good organiser and after six years as an army chaplain he found the daily routine of a parish very enjoyable. He was a good visitor, enjoyed meeting people and was quick in thought and speech. Fr. Reynolds helped to reduce the debt in the parish and on his departure on February 18th 1947 to be Parish Priest of St. Mary's Clayton-le-Moors the parish debt had been reduced to £1,000.
Fr. Robert Conway became the priest-in-charge on October 18th 1947. Fr. Conway did much to develop the social life of the parish. He organised meetings of the C.P.E.A. and established a trade union section. A youth club was formed. Dances and socials for young and old were held in the Hall of Green End Junior Girls School - the present day (in 1991) Infant School. The Youth Club organised a Parish Dance in November 1947 in Levenshulme Town Hall and Fr. Conway noted that despite the atrocious weather 170 parishioners turned up and it made £10 profit. A football sweep on "buster" was organised by Mr Daggatt and it made 30/- profit per week.
The Catholic community continued to grow in numbers, for in February 1945, Bishop Marshall on the occasion of his Parish Visitation gave permission for an extra Sunday Mass to be said. Masses were now at 8am, 9am, 10m and 11am. During his visit the Bishop remarked that St. Bernard's was the worst parish in the diocese for mixed marriages. Fr. Conway countered this charge by stating that the statistics would not be so damning if the number of marriages of St. Bernard's people which took place at St. Mary's and St. Cuthbert's were taken into account. Bishop Marshall also noted that twenty children were attending non-Catholic schools, and he asked that instruction and Benediction be arranged for them each Sunday. It was also agreed that in future all children from St. Bernard's should make their First Communion and be confirmed in St. Bernard's chapel rather than elsewhere.
In February 1948 Canon Maspero, Parish Priest of St. Mary's, asked permission for the annexe to the church to be used as a classroom for the over 14's attending St. Mary's all age school. Nothing came of this scheme though the Manchester Education Committee gave the plans its approval. The parish continued to grow. Fr. Conway noted in the Parish Log that by Easter 1948 Easter Confession: 577; Baptisms for year: 40; Converts: 1; Marriages: 11; children attending non-Catholic schools: 21.
By September 1948 all but £250 of the parish debt had been paid off. In addition St. Bernard's hard contributed £345 towards the cost of a new secondary school - St. Pius's in Victoria Park. By January 1949 the last installment of the debt incurred in 1941 had been paid. Fr. Conway now laid plans for the parish to have its own school. The number of Catholic children attending the state schools were increasing each year. Each Sunday afternoon the whole church had to be used for catechism lessons. There were now three catechists: Miss Somers, Miss Keenan and Miss Meacham; Miss Parr played the harmonium.
A social committee was formed to raise funds for the school. Mr Egan was the first chairman and Miss Somers acted as secretary. The Garden Party held in June 1949 was extremely well supported. Fr. John McNulty had come back to be guest of honour and it made a profit of £250. At the end of June Fr. Conway deposited £500 with the Financial Secretary of the Diocese towards the cost of the school. By Christmas 1949 £750 was held in deposit by the Diocese. The weekly football pool was making a profit of £11 per week. Fr. Conway was commended for the work of the pool organisers: Mr Sheridan, Mr Lawton, Mr Street and Mr Carter. By May 1951 £1500 had been saved. On May 12th 1951 Fr. Robert Conway was appointed Parish Priest of St. Peter and St. Paul, Ribchester.
Fr. Conway was succeeded by Fr. Earley, and for two years he continued the work of his predecessor. It was now becoming obvious that St. Bernard's was ready to become a fully-fledged parish. Fr. Earley was replaced in 1953 by Fr. Murtagh Henry. His letter of appointment referred to his office as Administrator and this was an appropriate word to describe the new incumbent. Fr. Henry was a man of action; a man determined to get things done. He decided that St. Bernard's needed a new church as well as a new school. He put the parish finances on a more firm basis. A new collection: "a shilling a week per worker" was introduced. The football pool was widened in its scope. Inside the entrance to the old chapel a "thermometer" was erected to to record the progress of fund raising. A target of £55,000 was set for the erection of the church.
On April 8th 1957 the building firm of Browne of Wilmslow moved onto the site of the new church. The foundation stone was laid by His Lordship George Andrew Beck on Saturday November 9th 1957. There was a magnificent turnout of around 600 parishioners for the ceremony. Men of the parish formed a guard of honour along the path from the existing chapel to the site of the sanctuary of the new church where the stone was positioned. Forty priests from all parts of the Diocese were present. The Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Leslie Lever M.P. and Lady Mayoress Mrs Lever were guests of honour. Bishop Beck in his sermon spoke of the necessity of the material building of the a church to provide the people with a place where they could lead the fullness of their Catholic lives. He congratulated the congregation for turning out in such large numbers. He thanked the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress for being present on "this historic occasion". Fr. Henry in an interview with the press said that the building alone would cost £40,000 and with fittings the total cost would be £60,000.
On February 20th 1958 St. Bernard's was formally made a parish by Bishop Beck. Fr. Henry was inducted as the first Parish Priest on March 9th 1958 by Dean O'Shaughnessy. On Monday March 30th 1959 St. Bernard's new church was blessed and opened by Bishop Beck. Afterwards he sang the first Mass in the new church. A Dinner Dance to celebrate the occasion was held later that evening at the Grand Hotel, Manchester.
Whilst the construction of the new church was underway, Fr. Henry was negotiating with the Diocese and the Ministry of Education for permission to build a new primary school. Official approval for the school was granted on July 26th 1958. Bishop Beck laid the foundation stone of the school on September 5th 1959. Mr Michael Kelliher was appointed Headteacher of the new Primary School on March 17th 1960.
The school consisted of eight classrooms. Fr. Henry's dynamism and energy were needed elsewhere and in December 1961 he moved to St. Peter's Newchurch-in-Rossendale. He died on April 9th 1966.
Fr. Francis Shutt, a quiet scholarly man, who had spent many years on the teaching staff of St. Bede's College, became the new Parish Priest. He was faced with the unenviable task of paying off the debt of the new church and school. In 1962 the debt stood at £34,200. The old chapel was transformed into the Parish Hall in February 1962. Weekly "bingo" was introduced. The planned-giving system started. A youth club was opened. However, by Whitsun the Parish Hall was taken over for classes as the newly built school was unable to accommodate the ever increasing number of pupils. By September 1964 three classes were based in the "house" as the ground floor section of Shawbrook Lodge was affectionately called. On March 22nd Fr. Shutt died.
Fr. John Horgan became Parish Priest on June 1st 1965. Fr. Horgan had been Parish Priest of St. Boniface's in Lower Broughton, Salford and was in poor health. Fr. Francis Deeney who was his curate at St. Boniface's came with him to St. Bernard's. Fr. Deeney ably assisted Fr. Horgan in the running of what was now a large parish. In 1967 the Catholic population was 2,250. Mass attendance averaged 1,363. The Primary School had 420 children on roll. Moreover the rather arbitrary drawn parish boundaries meant that many of St. Mary's parish also regarded St. Bernard's as their church. By 1967 the Parish debt had been reduced to £30,000. Fr. Horgan died suddenly on October 7th 1968. He died on the Feast of the Holy Rosary - a devotion to which he was devoted from childhood.
The church received a number of valuable gifts during Fr. Horgan's years as Parish Priest. A chalice and vestments were donated in memory of Fr. Shutt in 1966. In the same year the Catholic Women's Confraternity donated a monstrance in memory of Fr. McNulty and Fr. Henry, who had both recently died. In June 1967 the Union of Catholic Mothers gave a tabernacle to be placed on the side altar. In 1969 a further set of vestments were presented to the parish in Fr. Horgan's memory.
On November 29th 1968 Fr. Thomas O'Sullivan took up his duties as Parish Priest at St. Bernard's. Fr. Deeney remained as curate. Fr. O'Sullivan was a quiet unassuming man who had a wonderful rapport with all his parishioners. He was deeply interested in the spiritual well-being of the youth of the parish. A rambling club was formed. The cellars of the house - Shawbrook Lodge - were converted into a meeting place for the youth club. He introduced liturgical changes as recommended by Vatican II. Fr. O'Sullivan pressed the Diocese and the Department of Education for an extension to be built to St. Bernard's School. Permission was granted in February 1970 and the new infant block was blessed and opened by Fr. O'Sullivan in October 1971.
In March 1972 Fr. Deeney was appointed Parish Priest of St. Mary's, Burnley and soon afterwards Fr. O'Sullivan was taken ill with diabetes. He found the task of running a large and busy parish too much, and in September 1972 Fr. O'Sullivan exchanged parishes with Fr. Tangney. He moved to the rural parish of St. Peter's and Paul's Barrowford. He died there on February 10th 1980 aged 56.
Fr. Denis Tangney became Parish Priest on September 19th 1972. Fr. Tangney was a reserved man. Yet he became in a short time very much the "Father" of the parish. He was assiduous in visiting all his parishioners. He had a phenomenal memory for names and faces. Young and old would be warmly greeted by their first name. He loved visiting the Primary School where was always able to greet each pupil by their name.
Fr. Tangney saw his role as one of consolidation. He paid off the debt on the church and the school. He helped to set up St. Mark's Secondary School in Didsbury, and was responsible until his death for the Diocesan side of the financing of St. Mark's and its later expansion and renaming as Barlow High School. he was Parish Priest for seventeen years at St. Bernard's. He was taken seriously ill in September 1989 and died in Cork on October 16th 1989.
Fr. Denis asked to be brought back and buried in Southern Cemetery - to be, as he said, among his friends. The huge crowds which attended the Requiem Mass on the evening his body was brought back to St. Bernard's, and which filled the church on the following day for the Solemn Requiem Mass, testified to the great esteem and love he engendered in all who came into contact with him. The quiet word, the unnoticed acts of kindness, the charity given without show were remembered by his parishioners.
Fr. Tangney had been planning to have St. Bernard's Church re-ordered and consecrated in the Jubilee year of the founding of the parish. This was not to be. Fr. Keane, who became Parish Priest in November 1989, carried through the plans. The sanctuary was re-ordered, and the interior and exterior of the church have been re-decorated. The extension to the Primary School was completed, and temporary classroom units obtained to cater for the marked increase in the number of Catholic pupils seeking places at the Primary School.
The article from which this history was taken was written in 1991 - only a short time after Fr. Keane arrived at St. Bernard's. Fr. Keane was to be the Parish Priest at St. Bernard's for an even longer period of time than Fr. Tangney had been. Perhaps, someone will continue the detailed parish history for the period following the Golden Jubilee.