Extracts from letters celebrating the Jubilee of our church.
From Rt Rev. Edwin Regan, Bishop Emeritus (Wrexham)
Did you know that an arcade, made in the thirteenth century, and now in St. Idloes’ Church, came from Abbey Cwmhir in 1542? Thank God not everything was destroyed by Henry’s pillaging of the monasteries, and most certainly our celebration of our golden jubilee reminds us that our story goes very far back indeed, long before Henry V111!
The Church is God’s People on a pilgrimage through time to eternity. Our ancient churches and monasteries, even though they be in ruins, speak to us of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us on the way of Faith. This celebration of our beautiful little Church reminds us of the latest chapter in our story. We do not celebrate mere bricks and stones, but the living stones that form the community of Christ in his Catholic Church. We thank God for the priests and people who have gone before us on the pilgrimage of Faith, and whose voices we hear speaking to us today.
St. Richard Gwyn is one voice that encourages us today. He faced direct and terrible persecution in his profession of his Catholic Faith. Our dangers are more subtle, for the challenge today is to live a life of Faith in an atmosphere that denies a proper place to God in human life. The modern cry is that truth is what we make it – Pope Benedict states in his recent encyclical ‘Charity in Truth’ that we live ‘in a social and cultural context which relativises truth, often paying little heed to it, and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.’ St. Richard Gwyn lived and died for the truth that he knew was in Jesus Christ in the life of the Catholic Church. Today, we rejoice that other Churches also share the truth of Christ, but it is only in the Catholic Church can we find all those gifts that Christ wished to give His Church.
Thus Catholics have a great responsibility to live the truth of Christ so that others will find their way home. I pray that our celebration will inspire us to live joyfully in the Spirit of our Risen Lord!
St. Richard Gwyn, pray for us!
Bishop Emeritus (Wrexham)
From Peter Wikie
THOUGHTS ON LLANIDLOES
I spent a year as an assistant Priest in Newtown in 1960, not long after Fr. Kenneth Gillespie had built the Church of Our Lady and St Richard Gwyn at Llanidloes. Llanidloes had been part of the Newtown Parish but with the arrival of Fr. Gillespie, the Parish of Llanidloes and Rhayader was set up and was flourishing. In those days Llanidloes, Newtown and Welshpool formed a Deanery on their own. The Dean at the time was Fr. Earle who was Parish Priest of Welshpool. It was easier travelling to Deanery meetings at Welshpool rather than Wrexham! It was an exciting time for the Church which was establishing firm roots in mid–Wales. When Fr. Gillespie became mayor of Llanidloes, the Church seemed to be doing what it ought to be doing: serving the whole community. The Church was recognised by all as an important part of town life, not a small Catholic ghetto, which sometimes happens in minority communities.
When I returned as Parish Priest of Newtown about 38 years later, the old Welshpool Deanery had again become part of the Wrexham Deanery. Llanidloes was to be served from Newtown, Fr. Gillespie’s Presbytery had become the Doctor’s house, and Rhayader and Llanidloes were now in separate Dioceses! Over the following years robust characters like Eric Ryan, so much a part of Llanidloes life and others have gone to their reward and children of young families have grown up and moved on to make their way in the world.
In the late Fifties there were three Priests at Newtown who ran the Parish and helped in the school. Fr. Beddoes had hoped to establish St. Mary’s and St. Benedict’s as a Boarding Choir School which would also provide Catholic Education for the area. However, the small Parish could not afford to keep the school going nor could the Bishop find enough Clergy to staff the school with Priests. The Holy Child sisters were therefore invited to take over the school. The School was All Age (taught pupils up to the school leaving age, then 14. Pupils who passed the Scholarship would go to Grammar School at age 11). Under the Sisters’ leadership it was recognised as efficient by the Ministry of Education and became a Voluntary Aided Catholic School. When the Education reforms came along, the school was “decapitated” and became a Primary School with pupils moving on at 11 years old to the local Secondary Schools.
I first came to Newtown as the Sisters were settling in, I think it was their first full year in charge and returned just in time for their departure forty years later. The problem for the Sisters was a lack of vocations; the community at Dolerw was elderly and there were not enough young sisters to staff the school.
After 10 years at Llanidloes I am very impressed by the warm feeling of community here. Many parishioners have been very supportive to me personally during my continuing period of bad health. I am very grateful for that. Music at Our Lady and St. Richard Gwyn is usually lively and sung with hwyl. The Blessed Sacrament is well cared for by Parishioners and the Church building is kept neat and tidy. The Ministers’ Rota works very well, though we have to keep an eye on the Church opening/closing rota! Let’s hope that the next fifty years will see progress continuing, the Church filling up again and — who knows? — if vocations increase, it could even be re–established as a Parish one day.
Fr. Peter Wilkie – Parish Priest *Dates
The ‘now’ Bishop Peter, Bishop Edwin and Fr. Peter at the Celebration of the 50th Jubilee of the first Mass of Sunday 18th October 1959
From Quentin Jackson
Llanidloes – Our Lady and Saint Richard Gwyn.
I recall, as a youngish friar, hearing murmurs that our Province was considering an incursion into “mid-Wales”. It was hush-hush because, so went the story, the local people would not look kindly on these Romans – and predominantly English – coming among them. So the Provincial and some of his Council donned collar and tie (unheard of for a proper priest in those days), and surveyed the land somewhat after the fashion of Joshua’s scouts in the Promised Land. Evidently they reported favourably, for in due course the purchase of a property was negotiated and agreed. The friars appeared and settled in Llanidloes. The venture prospered mightily
Most of this was due to the energy and imagination of Kenneth Gillespie. A man, you might say, who knew his own mind and did not allow obstacles to deter him. Friars live in groups, as a brotherhood. Kenneth however though a very good friar, was well able to live on his own, as he had been forced to do as a war-time military chaplain and a subsequent overseas posting. He always kept close contact with us, and visited other friaries to ensure he belonged. He was an excellent pastor to the local flock. He was proud of Wales and its Catholic tradition. To this end he organised pilgrimages in honour of the local patron Richard Gwyn. The Vatican Council came, and the church moved on in directions new. Kenneth heeded the new trends. Assiduously he invited experts to speak on a wide range of topics, which practice generated much discussion and debate. The town may not be a metropolis, but it deserved good teaching and this Kenneth provided. How did such a small community manage to finance all this? Kenneth enlisted the Friends of Wales. Living at Stratford I encountered the strong link he had forged with that parish, and some generous benefactors there. Another church was built in Rhayader and so the family grew.
Time took its toll, and eventually Kenneth was called to his reward. Everard then took over the care of the parish for a number of years. Many of us friars paid visits. There were times in the regime of both pastors when they needed holidays or were otherwise engaged. Both Llanidloes and Rhayader were delightful places for a substitute to spend a week or two of quiet. I can recall several such spells that I enjoyed. It was an oasis of calm away from the Provincial Office in London’s East End.
It was my misfortune to be responsible for the Friars’ missions when advancing age and fewer new friars forced us to retrench our commitments. I had to approach Bishop Regan to say we could no longer serve the parish. He was very understanding, as were you.
Now many of those who visited are no longer with us. Still there are some who treasure happy memories: of the beauty of the Elan valley and the whole countryside in which you live; of the close-knit family worshipping in each of the churches; of your loyal devotion to us friars and the causes that your parish priests had urged on you. It is the job of friars to evangelise and then move on. Fortunately till now you have found other priests to give you the Mass regularly. Now these too are dwindling. Shortage of priests is not a new experience – worldwide, but also here in the penal times. It is you the faithful who are the church. You have laid good foundations for a continuing church in Llanidloes. Long may this tradition continue.
We friars share your joy in celebrating this Golden Jubilee of your parish. We congratulate you. We thank God for you and the happy memories we share. And we pray for your good estate now and into the future. May God bless you all abundantly.
From Peter Corcoran (Marist)
LIFE IN LLANIDLOES
“It’s easy to find the church,” they told me.
“You simply cross the county boundary – which is also the diocesan boundary – then you turn right at Llangurig then left into Llanidloes then left at the Market hall then left over the bridge then just keep on going. If you miss it you can turn round in the builders yard – mind the coffins – and make your back and it is on your left.”
Living in Rhayader and being part of the church community there and in Llanidloes, life in Mid Wales was slightly different than in East London and Central London where I had previously been. At times grid references replaced squares in the A to Z. But it was good. And I enjoyed it. And it was also closer to Yorkshire.
So what do I remember of the church of Our Lady and St Richard Gwynn? Well quite a lot. Chiefly that it was the centre of a very lively welcoming parish community made up of different people from different places with different accents.
Who could forget the photograph taken of the 91 year old parishioner presenting a new-born daffodil to the one year old parishioner? The Christmas Mass which started by intention the same time as the Mass in Bethlehem. The strains of the pop song ‘Beautiful Day’ filling the air as we prepared for a First Communion. The time our own parish community hosted the Stations of the Cross for our fellow CYTUN Christians.
The church was the focal point for the various parish celebrations and more. For so much that happened beyond. The house masses miles away in the hills and valleys. The town Christmas Pageant where on one occasion an obstinate mulish donkey refused to go the extra mile to Bethlehem due to the slippery carpet. The leading of the assemblies in the Junior and Senior schools.
For me to be a Yorkshire man abroad was no novelty. But rural life was different. To be part of the parish community was to be part of the town community. That was good. And I thank all those fellow members of the overall community who made me so welcome.
Extract fromBiographical article by Cynric Mytton-Davies for the County Times April 1978 with corrections/additions by Father Gillespie.
Just 25 years ago this coming September a new Franciscan Friar slipped quietly and unobtrusively into Llanidloes to take over from Father Ralph at the Friary, as Catholic Priest for the town and its surrounding area and for Rhayader. He was Father Kenneth Gillespie who, whether wearing secular dress or his brown Franciscan habit, has become known, by sight at least, to everyone in the two towns.
Scottish by birth, Father Gillespie has seen service, chiefly during the war when he was a Chaplain to the Forces, in many lands before settling down to serve the Catholics of Mid-Wales. But he serves not only the members of his own Church; he works assiduously in many capacities for everyone – Roman, Anglican, Nonconformist or even non-believer. He was a member of the old County Council for six years, serves on the Llanidloes Town Council, is Chairman of the Llanidloes Branch of the Royal British Legion, Chairman of the Llanidloes Hospital League of Friends, President of the United Services Club, and is a member of the Montgomeryshire Society for Handicapped Children. He is, moreover, deeply committed to the cause of Oecumenism, and has organised talks and discussions on the subjects for twenty years and more.
Besides all this he is an author, and his book ‘Friends of Wales’ about the work of the Franciscans in the Principality brought him the thanks and appreciation of Pope Paul, conveyed to him in a letter from Cardinal Benelli, the Papal Secretary of State. He is at present engaged in writing another book about the Church in Somaliland.
St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order, was a great animal lover, and Father Gillespie takes after him in this. Not only does he enjoy the companionship of a dog, he once while living in Africa, kept a pet cheetah!
When he left his Jesuit college in 1929 he entered the Franciscan order and underwent the seven years course of study required for ordination to the priesthood, and was ordained in 1936. His first appointment was not to a church but to undertake literary research work at the British Museum. This lasted for a year, after which he was appointed to pastoral work in Liverpool.
In 1939 he volunteered for service as an Army Chaplain and his first posting took him to the Orkneys and Shetlands, thence to the Middle East where he saw service first in Greece in 1941 and then in the Western Desert. Back in Egypt after the siege in Tobruk he served for a while in the Canal area and then in Palestine and the former Trans-Jordan, his journeys taking him often from Jerusalem or Amman to Aquaba, Damascus and along the road to Baghdad, allowing the occasional visit to Petra – ‘rose-red city half as old as time’. In 1943 he volunteered for the Parachute Regiment and enjoyed its gallant, heroic comradeship in North Africa, Italy and afterwards in England.
After seeing service later in India he was demobilised and returned to pastoral work in Liverpool for five years and then accepted a ministry in Somaliland where he spent three years in Hargeisa and built a church for the Catholics there, after which he was appointed to Llanidloes and Rhayader.
There was no Catholic Church in either town when he took over from Father Ralph. In Llanidloes Mass was said in the front room of a private house, and in Rhayader in the Magistrates Court, and later in a hotel. Through his efforts a church was built in Rhayader in 1957 and in Llanidloes, next door to the Friary at Penygreen, in 1959.