A Short Parish History.
The post-Reformation revival of Catholicism in Bicester is largely due to the Hon. William North of Woxton Abbey. At his instigation, in 1869, Fr. J.Robson from Hethe celebrated Mass in the home of an Italian jeweller, Rocco Tenchio that is thought to have stood on the site of the Handy Stores, his wife taking four children for catechism classes on Sunday afternoons. He seems to have been a long established member of the Bicester community. A directory of the time records that he:
"Begs to thank the Public of the Town and Neighbourhood for the patronage bestowed upon him for the past 20 years, and hopes, by selling the best articles at the loweest possible prices, to share a continuance of the same".
Although its location is unknown, there are references to a Catholic school existing at this time. The Bicester Herald of the 20th of November 1868 records that:
"Roman Catholicism is making progress in this locality, one of the results is the intended opening of a Catholic school at Bicester."
Hewitt's Directory of Bicester lists a Miss. Harriett Lurker who is described as a "Catholic school mistress" and who apparently resided on the Oxford Road in King's End.
In 1882, Fr. Philip Sweeny, also from Hethe, acquired land in King’s End, now occupied by the Montgomery Health Centre, and on March 19th 1883, a Catholic school/chapel was opened. There were just a dozen children taught by a Miss. Hughes. This first Mass was celebrated that Easter Sunday, as the Bicester Herald of the 30th March reported:
"A religious service was held in the new Catholic School room, King’s End, Bicester, by the Rev. P.Sweeney, of Hethe, on Saturday last, March 24 at 7pm. It consisted of prayer and instruction. On Easter Sunday Mass was said at 8 am, during which a discourse was given. It referred principally to the Feast of the day, and the necessity of all Catholics receiving at this time the Holy Eucharist in obedience with the command of Christ, and the precept of the Church."
The twentieth century saw the return of religious orders to Bicester. Exiled by religious persecution in France, eight Benedictine (Olivetan) Nuns settled in ‘South View’ in 1904 moving subsequently to a house in Priory Lane – their chapel there would, upon their departure in 1920 become Bicester’s Catholic church. At about this time too, another French group, the Sacred Heart Fathers, resided at ‘The Limes’ serving both the spiritual needs of the nuns and of Bicester’s Catholics. They also left in 1920 when the political climate in France became more clement.
During the years leading to the Second World War, the Servite Fathers at Begbroke served Bicester’s Catholics from Souldren as well as the Franciscans from Buckingham and in 1931 Bicester was again served from Hethe under Fr. Ignatius McHugh. During this period, under the headship of Mary Morpeth, the St. Mary’s school grew with the addition, in 1939, of two new classrooms and the installation of electric light and central heating. In September 1943 the Catholic Parish of Bicester was created, Fr. Stephen Webb, S.J., (right) then Parish Priest at Hethe, became the first Catholic Parish Priest of Bicester since the Reformation.
The post-war expansion of Bicester saw, under the stewardship of Fr. Thomas Foynes, the start of a new Catholic school off Queen’s Avenue. The first classrooms being completed and ready for occupation after the summer holidays in 1958. Fr. Foynes was also responsible for the introduction of the Presentation Sisters from the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin as teachers at the school - the school having previously been in the care of lay staff. Under the direction of Mother Michael Ryan, they took over the teaching posts in September 1953 and a convent has existed in Bicester since then becoming in recent years their Provincialate. Perhaps the most visible testimony to Fr. Foynes’ drive and vision is the Catholic Church in the Causeway. It had originally been planned to build the new church adjacent to the old school. However, there were problems with the purchase of the necessary land. When the site occupied by Bonner’s Stables became available, this was purchased, and works begun in 1961 the adjacent property, Henley House became the new Presbytery. The new Church was opened and blessed by His Grace, the Most Rev. Francis Grimshaw, Archbishop of Birmingham on 23rd March 1963.
The continued expansion of Bicester since then has been mirrored by continued expansion in the both the parish community and St. Mary’s School. With the expansion of the Queen’s Avenue site, gradually the old school in Piggy Lane was abandoned, finally being sold and in 1998, the buildings were demolished to make way for the new health centre. In the Causeway, in 1993, the property abutting the Presbytery was acquired, refurbished, and re-named Webb House in honour of our first Parish Priest. It served as a parish centre housing offices, meeting, and function rooms, and on its first floor, the local ‘Life’ office. The parish, having outgrown its facilities, the building was recently sold as part of the fund raising drive to build the new Parish and Community Centre. The Church building too has undergone a number of changes with the addition in 1993 of the large statue of the Immaculate Conception – perhaps completing one of the plans Fr. Foynes had for the front of the church. More recently a refurbishment of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel took place with the addition of new tabernacle and stained glass windows and shortly before Christmas 1999, the installation of the new crucifix painted by the Prior of Farnborough Abbey.
The latest, but not the final, chapter of the story of the Catholic community in Bicester took place on Monday, the 10th of July 2000. His Grace, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, solemnly consecrated the Church thus marking it in perpetuity for the service and worship of God. The service stood both as a tribute to all those, known and unknown that have sought to keep the Catholic Faith alive in Bicester since the Reformation, and as an inspiration for the generations to come. As Fr. Aldo Tapparo wrote in the introduction to the Order of Service:
"We pray for them in gratitude…with the hope that we, in turn, will continue to build for future generations who will worship in this place."
Rectors of the Bicester Mission.
Rev. J.Robson (Hethe) 1869-1883
Rev. P.Sweeney, D.D. (Hethe) 1883-1888
Rev. S.Glossop (Souldren) 1888-1900
Servite Fathers from Begbroke, Franciscan Fathers from Buckingham, Rev. C.J.Bowen (Banbury) 1900-1902
M. L’Abbé Pasquier 1902-1903
Rev. Venance Vié, OFM 1903-1904
Rev. Abel Costédoat, SCJ 1904-1907
Rev. Joseph Permasse, SCJ 1907-1913
Rev. Leonard Costédoat, SCJ 1913-1920
Rev. John Hanrahan 1920-1921
Rev. Christopher P.Heron 1921-1924
Servite Fathers from Begbroke 1924-1931
Rev. Ignatius McHugh (Hethe) 1931-1937
Rev. Stephen F.Webb, SJ 1937-1943
Past Parish Priests at Bicester.
Rev. Stephen Webb, SJ 1943-1946
Rev. Thomas Foynes 1946-1964
Rev. Philip Wyles 1964-1972
Rev. Terence Smith 1972-1987
V. Rev Canon Peter Reilly 1987
Rev. Aldo Tapparo 1987-2002
Rev. Michael Stack 2002-2003
Rev. Paul Martin 2003-2013