St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Leeds Centenary Book.1905-2005

The Parish Clergy

St Augustine’s has had nine parish priests during its first hundred years, and all but our current one were born, educated and ordained in Ireland. There have been about twenty nine curates two of which, Fr. Spelman and Fr. Michael Kelly returned some years later to be parish priests. They all to a greater or lesser degree contributed to the spiritual growth and development of one of the largest parishes in Leeds and are thought of with great affection by the many past and current parishioners.

The Priest is ‘an icon of Christ’ for the laity, who seek his guidance and support, especially in times of sickness, bereavement and personal distress. They feel a personal loss and sadness when it is time for one of their priests to move on, although this never impedes the warm welcome given to their replacement.

During most of the 20th century the parish priest appears to have been the focal point of the parish, the Father or Shepherd of his flock, who like a parent took not only full responsibility but made all the decisions, rarely consulting his curates or parishioners.

St Augustine’s has been no exception and the authority of the parish priest is rarely questioned by the laity. However many of the curates who attained high levels of education during several years training must have found it quite difficult serving in a parish where they were given no clear delegated responsibilities and no awareness or foreknowledge of decisions or changes until they occurred. The curates were allocated a geographical area and spent much of their time visiting parishioners in their own homes and taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound.

The shortage of priestly vocations in recent years and an increasing reduction in the number of priests has brought inevitable change in the parish structure. From 1935 to 1983 St Augustine’s always had two curates and on some occasions there were three. Since then, the parish priest has had only one curate. Finally when the curate Fr. Gerry Thornton left in 1999 he was not replaced.

Fr. Michael Anthony Kelly
Fr. Kelly became the parish priest of St Augustine’s in 1996, moving into the parish for the first week in Advent after having a three-month sabbatical travelling around France. He set about making changes, clearly identifying the primary role of the priest as spiritual director and insisting that parishioners accept responsibility for most of the organisation and practical aspects of parish management. The presbytery has been reorganised, the upstairs being the priest’s private quarters while the rooms downstairs are allocated for use by parishioners as parish office and meeting room. The front room has been converted into an oratory.

He is looking to the future trying to prepare the parishioners to function as a parish in the event of having no parish priest.

LIST OF CLERGY WHO HAVE SERVED IN THE PARISH

Parish Priests

From

To

Died

       

Fr. James Coffey

1905

1929

24th Nov 1929

Fr. Patrick Leonard

1929

1942

21st Dec 1942

Fr. Charles H. O’Flaherty

1942

1956

3rd July 1985

Fr. John Adrian Craig

1956

1963

3rd Dec 1963

Fr. Michael V. O’Donavan

1963

1970

29th Sept 1970

Cannon Charles Murray

1970

1981

24th Jan 1988

Monsignor Gerard P. Spelman

1983

1989

18th March 1990

Fr. Sean Durcan

1989

1996

 

Fr. Michael Anthony Kelly

1996

   
       

Curates

From

To

Died

Fr. Andrew Kelleher

1920

1926

5th July 1961

Fr. Patrick F. Scannell

1926

1936

22nd Feb 1962

Fr. Bernard Blackburn

1935

1936

10th Sept 1965

Fr. Francis Moverley

1936

1943

12th Nov 1985

Fr. Joseph Dolan

1936

1942

 

Fr. Patrick J. Reeves

1942

1948

8th August 1982

Fr. Paul Hennelly

1943

1951

29th August 1976

Fr. Anthony Cluderay

1948

1951

19th August 1989

Fr. Eugene Daly

1951

1954

24th March 1979

Fr. Peter Walmsley

1951

1954

2nd August 1998

Fr. Bernard Battle

1954

1955

 

Fr. Gerald P Spelman

1955

1960

18th March 1990

Fr. Edward. McSweeney

1957

1962

 

Fr. Thomas J. Kenny

1960

1965

 

Fr. John Tomblin

1962

1967

 

Fr. John O’Hara

1965

1966

 

Fr. J. Bryan Sharp

1966

1968

 

Fr. Paul Moxon

1967

1968

 
Fr. Morgan 1968 1970  
Fr. Matthew Dwyer 1968 1971  
Fr. Adrian O’Connell 1970 1973  
Fr. Michael A. Kelly 1971 1976  
Fr. Kevin Griffin 1973 1978  
Fr. Anthony Fenton 1976 1982  
Fr. John F. Nunan 1978 1983  
Fr. Michael Hutton 1981 1985  
Fr. John Clarke 1985 1989  
Fr. Michael Wiley 1987 1989 6th Sept 1991
Fr. Nicholas Farrell 1988 1991  
Fr. Paul. Varey 1991 1992  
Fr. Christopher Willis 1992 1992  
Fr. David Massey 1992 1994 8th Sept 2003
Fr. Benjamin Griffiths 1994 1995  
Fr. Gerald Thornton 1995 1999  

 

Father James Coffey

Fr. Coffey was appointed as the first parish priest of St Augustine’s in July 1905. He was born in County Tipperary, and his previous appointment was that of assistant priest at St Thomas’, Goole. On arriving in the parish he was given a house on Roundhay Road to live in and one of his first major tasks was securing a plot of land to build a parish church, and negotiating with the Local Authority for planning permission to build an extension to the school which had only been completed in 1899.

The church, known locally as ‘The Tin Church’ was completed in 1908. He moved into the newly built presbytery in 1926, where after a long illness he died on 22nd November 1929. R.I.P. He was buried in Killingbeck cemetery.

Fr. Coffey was described as having a kindly nature and gentle unassuming manner with a ‘pious fervour that won the hearts of his parishioners.’

Father Patrick Leonard

Fr. Leonard, who was born in County Meath, was the senior assistant priest of St Patrick’s in Leeds before his appointment as Parish Priest of St Augustine’s in 1929. After his first Mass in the parish he announced that early in the new year he hoped a start could be made on the building of a new church, a project that had been delayed due to the illness of the late Fr. Coffey. He liaised with the local Anglican church and secured the use of their hall for Sunday Masses during the interim period until the new church was built on the site of the old one.

Fr. Leonard died on 21st December 1942

 

Fr. Charles H. O’Flaherty

Fr. O’Flaherty was born in Cork in 1902 and was ordained for the Diocese of Leeds in 1930. He became Parish Priest at St Augustine’s in 1942. He continued the fund raising efforts of his predecessor by ensuring the church building was finally paid for enabling the church to be consecrated in 1952.

In 1956 he was moved to the Holy Rood parish in Barnsley and was made an Honorary Canon of the Diocese the following year. He died in St Gabriel’s Nursing Home in Horsforth on 3rd July 1985. R.I.P. and was subsequently buried in Killingbeck cemetery.

He was described as being a priest who would be remembered for his gentleness and courtesy and for his ability to counsel with wisdom and sympathy. His generosity and kindness was evident, arranging an annual distribution of presents and a Christmas Party in the Astoria ballroom for all the children in the school.

Fr. John A. Craig

Fr. Craig was ordained in Carlow in 1933. He was appointed parish priest to St Augustine’s in 1956 but suffered a coronary thrombosis the same year. In 1960 he arranged for the refurbishment of the church and around the same time there was a campaign introducing the “Covenant Scheme” to the parish known as CHAS.

Fr. Craig died suddenly on 3rd December 1963 while he was spending a day of recollection at Myddelton Lodge, Ilkley. He was having lunch with his fellow priests and during conversation collapsed and died. R.I.P.

Fr. Craig was an intensely spiritual man and a sought after confessor.

Fr. Michael V. O’Donovan

Born in Waterford in 1910, Fr. O’Donovan came to Leeds following his ordination in 1935. He became parish priest at St Augustine’s at the beginning of 1964, and soon set to work to fulfil a great need for adequate accommodation for meetings and social functions by the building of the parish halls. Encouraged by Fr. O’Donovan this enabled the social life of the parish to flourish.

In September 1970 he went to Ireland for his annual holiday and it was there that he died suddenly on the 26th of that month. R.I.P.

Parishioners have very fond memories of him as he developed personal and close relationships especially with the elderly and sick, and he showed a tremendous kindness to anyone who approached him with a personal problem.

Canon Charles J. Murray

Born in Belfast in 1912 and ordained in Carlow, his first appointment was as a curate at St Patrick’s in Leeds in 1938. He became renowned for his interest in providing education for the children of the diocese after opening a Catholic primary school in Yeadon, and after a long struggle, St Mary’s Comprehensive school at Menston. This was barely completed when he was transferred to St Augustine’s in 1970. The following year he was made an Honorary Canon of the Diocese before setting off to represent the Diocese on a short visit to Peru. He was later appointed as the first chairman of the Peru Commission.

During his time at St Augustine’s he had the presbytery extended, had the church decorated and carpeted, and built the new primary school at St Wilfred’s Circus.

In 1980 he suffered his first stroke and after his recovery in 1981 was moved to a much smaller less demanding parish. Due to ill health he retired in 1985 and died on 24th January 1988. R.I.P.

Monsignor Gerard P. Spelman

Born in County Roscommon in 1930, Gerard Spelman was ordained a priest for the Leeds Diocese in 1955 and sent to St Augustine’s as a curate for the first five years of his ministry. In 1983 he was given a warm welcome by delighted parishioners when he returned to St Augustine’s as parish priest after having spent the previous six years looking after Vietnamese refugees at Wood Hall near Wetherby. In 1989 he was transferred to St Paul’s in Alwoodley, where only seven months later on the evening of 18th March he died suddenly. R.I.P.

The presence of over a hundred priests and over a thousand people at his funeral Masses at St Paul’s and St Augustine’s was the mark of the respect in which he was held.

The many tributes paid to him after his death reflected how much he had touched the lives of so many people. All spoke of his great patience, kindness and above all his gentleness.

Fr. Sean Durcan

Fr. Durcan was appointed parish priest of St Augustine’s in the autumn of 1989. On the morning of 23rd March the following year the school burnt down, and Fr. Durcan had to undertake the task of organising the building of a new school which he did with great enthusiasm.

He acquired a beautiful marble altar from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church which had closed down at Seacroft and had it erected in memory of Monsignor Spelman. The church was redecorated and alterations were made to the halls to improve the kitchen facilities and make the use of the halls more attractive and functional.

He was known and loved by his parishioners for his welcoming smile and his ability to bring light relief to a sad or solemn situation with his unique sense of humour. He was born in Sligo and when he was serving in the parish he never missed an opportunity to boast that he came from the best County in Ireland! In September 1996 he was appointed parish priest of St Joseph’s Castleford.