The Archdiocese of Birmingham - The Parish of the Immaculate Conception

Departure of Father Webb.
8th March 1946.



After a ministry of nine years with the Bicester and Hethe Roman Catholic Churches Father S.F.Webb, S.J., leaves to-day (Friday) for Great Yarmouth, where he is to open a new mission. During his sojourn in this parish he has made numerous friends of all classes and denominations, and has never spared himself in his work for the promotion of the Faith. Improvements to St. Mary’s R.C. School and the welfare of the children have been dear to his heart, and mainly through his untiring enthusiasm and leadership, much has been accomplished in these directions. The C.W.L. canteen situate close to the school has proved a boon to hundreds of Service personnel through the war years, had a worthy champion and worker in Father Webb, and it is with real regret that members of his church bid him God speed in his departure.

On Monday there was a representative gathering in the St. Mary’s schoolroom to show their appreciation in the tangible form of a presentation. Father Evans, RC Chaplain at the Bicester Garrison, presided, supported by Lady Torrington and Mr. C.R.Winship: and the Vicar of St. EDburg’s Church (Rev. C.P.Cowland-Cooper) was also present.

Father Evans read a letter from Mrs. M.Morpeth, headmistress of the school, tendering her sincere apologies for not being present, and stating that although officially the school had said goodbye to Father Webb before the Christmas holidays, she would have liked to have thanked him more fully on that occasion for all the untiring efforts he had made on its behalf, and for the personal interest he had taken in each child. The new school building would for ever remind them of his wise solicitude for Catholic education in Bicester, and she hoped that his new work would bring him happiness and encouraging results.

Father Evans said that it was no occasion for rejoicing, but he welcomed the opportunity to associate himself with the sentiments of that gathering, and to express his appreciation in Father Webb’s regard. He felt hat they were losing a great friend, as well as a parish priest, one who had not spared himself in furthering the spiritual interests of the church, as well as associating himself with the practical side of their social life, not forgetting his corporal acts of mercy. While Father Webb had often carried to the heights of spiritual reflections he had always put into ready practice the theme of his sermonising. Always ready, always eager, to take up a challenge, or, again, to seek out every opportunity of expressing the church’s attitude and teaching on great moral problems, he had truly been a stalwart of the church here – a soldier of Jesus Christ. “A more indefatigable and tireless worker I have never seen; never idle, never late,” continued the speaker. “The Devil who we are told always finds mischief for idle hands to do, must have had an awfully busy and useless time trying to break those resolutions of Father Webb. Not satisfied with the amount of work here, he must move further afield, and, indirectly, lots of people have to thank him for a good brew – when they have had it – for the Worcester Hop Mission was his idea and, feeling those hop pickers were in need of spiritual supervision, he sacrificed his yearly holiday to minister to them. His spirituality has been an inspiration to us all and I hope we shall not forget his wise exhortations and lucid exposition of the Church’s teaching. Devoting his boundless energy to the church, school and children, canteen, camps and scouts, he would still fund time to do a little extra, and was never heard to say ‘no.’ I shall often recall his generosity and kindness in my regard, and I wish him God-speed in his new venture. May Father Webb find Yarmouth the good ground, yielding the harvest a hundredfold, as I feel his successor must find here. We are sorry he is going, but we shall meet again.”

The Rev. Cowland-Cooper said he felt some diffidence in entering what was purely a family and domestic gathering, but nevertheless welcomed the opportunity of associating himself with the sentiments of appreciation expressed to Father Webb, both personally and on behalf of the congregation he represented. He had come to develop a high sense of regard for Father Webb, for his sense of duty and the way in which he fulfilled it. They had perhaps not always seen eye to eye on all matters, but they were agreed, and quite firm about their church schools, and he was grateful to Father Webb for a great deal of instruction and enlightenment he had given to him in conferences. He tendered his very great sorrow at the severance of their friendship, and offered his sincere good wishes to him in his new work, in which the speaker hoped he would receive every blessing.

Lady Torrington, on behalf of the C.W.L. canteen, said she wished to pay her small tribute to the minster for his great work and help in connection with the canteen. She had not had the privilege of knowing Father Webb long, only one year and one week, in fact, but had it not been for him, she felt that her association with the place might have lasted only a week! The successful establishment of the canteen had been due to him, likewise the success of it. The best wishes of the staff, and their prayers for his future happiness, would go with him.

Mr. C.R.Winship, in asking Father Webb’s acceptance of the gift of the sum of money from the members of the churches at Bicester and Hethe, said that he had been a regular go-getter, and had worked hard for the rearrangement of the school and the paying off of the debt. He had put the church in order; and in addition to his work for the canteen he had formed the parish for their future guidance. Three of the most outstanding characteristics which could be attributed to Father Webb were faith hope and charity, and they were ll very sorry to lose him. Mr. Winship paid tribute to the work of Mr. And Mrs F.C.Hurst in collecting the gift.

Father Webb said he had never before sat down and had so many bouquets thrown at him. He appreciated all the kind, but undeserved, things said about him. He was, however, well conversant with the goodwill which existed in his parish, and had experienced a great deal of it since he had been here. Whatever had been done in their little parish they could look back on with satisfaction, because things in the supernatural world did not work out quite the same as in the natural, and when they saw a certain amount of success in a material way, they always looked for the cause of it, for what one man sowed, another reaped. In this respect they remembered many, including Father Glossop and the Misses Durram people who had spent a lifetime fighting against odds – of which they, of their generation, knew little – to keep the faith alive. He thanked the company very much indeed, not only for the gift, but for turning out on such a night to present it. His stay in the neighbourhood, first at Hethe, then at Bicester, had been a most happy one, firstly because there had been no friction and no division at all. If there had been, then he had not been conscious of the fact. It was the most important thing in any parish. Secondly, because of their most happy relationship with the military chaplain, Father Evans, and he, personally, had been much impressed at the manner in which they had been able to work together. Father Evans had done very good work indeed. Their relationship with their separated brethren had also been most amicable, and he thanked the Vicar – who had been very charitable on all occasions – for joining them that evening. Here, Father Webb said, the words contained in the epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, were most applicable – “Charity cuts through everything.” Father Webb spoke of the happy relationship with the school, and paid special tribute to the headmistress and staff for their work under such great difficulties. He would, he said. Leave this sphere of his ministry with great regret. Expressing appreciation of the work of the C.W.L. canteen, he said that they all took it for granted, but one had to see the staff wrestling with the serving of hundreds of soldiers to really appreciate all that was being done in that building, and they were grateful to Lady Torrington for her interest and help. Visitors to that canteen had to use that “awful road” – and here Father Webb expressed the hope that some publicity might be given to the present state of it – but he knew that the members of the Forces were deeply appreciative of the kind attention they received there. In conclusion, Father Webb said that he had preached approximately 700 sermons since he had been here , but of all his failings that of preaching a long one could not, he thought, be attributed to him. He therefore once more thanked them sincerely for their kindness, and hoped that they would pray for him and his work. He would leave them with the words of Sir Thomas More, spoken from the Tower of London – “I hope and pray we may meet merrily in heaven.”

Father Webb’s successor at Bicester will be Father Thomas Foynes, of St. Patrick’s, Walsall.

[Bicester Advertiser, Friday, 8th March 1946.]

Many thanks to Monica Smith for saving the newspaper cutting.