ST FRANCIS of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Westfield Road, Morley, marked its centenary on Monday.
Mass was celebrated by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Arthur Roche, and 12 other priests, including the present incumbent Father Michael Mahady and two of his predecessors, Father Gerald Creasey (1988-90) and Father Lawrie Hulme (1991-99).
The Roman Catholic community in Morley dates from 1853, when the town formed part of what was known as the Batley and Birstall Mission. People had to travel to Batley every Sunday for Mass. They eventually numbered 600.
In 1881, a room adjacent to the Market Hall in Hope Street, Morley, was rented, but this soon became too small.
Then the Oddfellows Hall in Fountain Street fell vacant, and church elders were able to hire it. Soon a piece of land in Westfield Road, large enough to accommodate a church and a presbytery for the clergy, became available and it was duly bought.
A notice in the Morley Observer of May 6 1898 advertised Mass at the Oddfellows Hall on the following Sunday, at 10.30am. The celebrant was to be Father William Dobson, then curate, but who was afterwards to serve for 28 years as parish priest.
The foundation stone for the new church was laid on May 24, 1904, and the building was officially opened a year later, on May 30, 1905.
Since 1878, there have been ten parish priests, including perhaps the most famous of all, Father Austin Moran, who completed a record 41 years from 1947 to 1988 and died in 1993, and Father Dobson, who held the post from 1911 to 1939.
Monday’s Mass was also attended by Father Bernard Ratlidge, curate under Father Moran, 1977-88. The Mass was followed by a reception in the church community centre.
Speaking about the centenary, Father Mahady said: “I am absolutely delighted to be parish priest at this time.
“We have a wonderful congregation, who really appreciate the church and all it has to teach.
“Despite the bank holiday and the fact that schools are on half term break, we decided to celebrate the centenary on the actual date.
“Our confidence was not misplaced. In spite of constant reports of falling numbers in church attendance, we are actually bucking the trend. Between St Francis’s and the Church of Our Lady in Westerton Road, Tingley, which is also in our diocese, we are averaging between 350 and 400 people at Mass on Sunday.
“On one occasion recently, we held three Sunday Masses and attracted a total attendance of 578 people. The future bodes well for our churches and congregations.”