News from around the Archdiocee of Liverpool
Winifred Park has a lifetime of memories of the Metropolitan Cathedral – dating back to the day the foundation stone was laid in 1933.
‘It is not a stained-glass roof if I may say so – it is solid lumps of coloured glass and that’s why the colour is so intense,’ says Winifred Park, hinting at the deep well of knowledge she would draw from regularly during 16 years as a guide at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
It would not be easy to find anybody with a better appreciation of the Cathedral than Winifred – and not just for her aforementioned spell as a guide. After all, this is a woman who, on 5 June 1933, visited the site where the foundation stone had been freshly laid earlier that same day as work began on the original design by Sir Edward Lutyens.
Winifred was then eight years old and a pupil in the prep wing at Bellerive Convent School. ‘We learned a special hymn which had been commissioned for the opening of Christ the King Cathedral – Hail Redeemer King Divine,’ she remembers. ‘My parents were invited to the opening. It was an open-air service, and they had built this big altar with a covering. There was great excitement all over the city. They came home afterwards and said, “We’re going to take you down to see where we’ve been today.” We saw this big site with buildings around it because they hadn’t demolished a great part of the workhouse.’
Later, as a Modern Languages student at Liverpool University, Winifred would pass the former workhouse site on Brownlow Hill where work on the Lutyens crypt continued until 1941 and was completed after the war. By the time the redesigned Cathedral opened in 1967, she was the mother of three boy choristers.
‘I had three boys in the Cathedral choir and one of them, William, was a soloist at the opening,’ she says. ‘I was tucked away on one of the balconies and I remember what a joyful sound it was as the organ was playing for the first time and the trumpets were blasting out.
‘There was great excitement but it was just a shell of a building – the spaces were there for the chapels but none had been set up. They just had the altar up on its high position and the archbishop’s throne and the altar servers. They just wanted to get it open as soon as possible so we could enjoy the experience of having a Cathedral when we had waited so long.’
Winifred’s own timeline of Cathedral memories also takes in Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982. ‘The roof was raised when he came in! In the Catholic Church we don’t on the whole clap but it was so joyful.’
Previously a reader at Mass for 15 years, Winifred, now 92, still comes to the Cathedral each Sunday and will be present at the Mass of Thanksgiving on 4 June. She believes she has much to give thanks for, reflecting: ‘Sometimes when I go in, I recall the wonderful times we’ve had there. It’s a place of joy and prayer.’
Eileen Petrie attended the Metropolitan Cathedral’s consecration in 1967 and 50 years on has participated in an audio project celebrating its golden jubilee.
Eileen Petrie was only eight years old at the time yet there are certain impressions which have not left her of that day, five decades ago, when she attended the very first Mass at Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
It was the Mass of Consecration, celebrated by Bishop Augustine Harris, on 14 May 1967 and for Eileen, a pupil from St William of York primary school in Thornton, the sights that greeted her inside the newly opened place of worship were rather overwhelming.
‘I remember walking into the Cathedral as I’d never been into such a big building before and I remember how light it was and how many people were there – it was a bit scary in a way for a child. Another memory is there was some modern dance in the ceremony, and it was the first time I’d seen anything like that.’
If a shock to the senses then, the Cathedral became a place of succour for Eileen subsequently. As a teenaged pupil at Seafield Convent Grammar School she and a friend would travel into Liverpool each Maundy Thursday to attend the lunchtime Mass of Chrism there. ‘The year I did my A levels, when I was 17, I asked Archbishop Worlock to pray for me,’ she says. ‘The friend I was with was cross because I didn’t ask for her too, but I did get an A for my English!’
Eileen, who later worked for the Diocese of Westminster’s Pastoral Centre, is today a regular parishioner at St Peter and Paul’s in Crosby. Her presence at that first Cathedral Mass 50 years ago meant she was perfectly placed to play a part in ‘Voices of the Met Cathedral’, the Heritage Lottery-funded project, to which 50 people each contributed a memory or anecdote about the Cathedral’s 50 years.
‘I am on one of the listening posts talking about the opening ceremony and I interviewed some people as well,’ says Eileen. ‘The project started around March and was officially launched on LightNight [19 May],’ she adds, explaining that there are listening posts placed along Hope Street – at the Hope Street Hotel, Philharmonic Hall and Everyman Theatre as well as the Cathedral itself – which will move later to Liverpool ONE.
Today, at 58, she reflects that the Cathedral remains a special place for her. ‘I know Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral very well and have been very privileged to see many Cathedrals abroad,’ says Eileen, who works with charities in the Merseyside area. ‘I still think of the Metropolitan Cathedral as my Cathedral, though. I’m very proud to be a Catholic in Liverpool and what has always struck me is how the Cathedral comes to life whenever there is a service in it. It changes so much when there is a service on. The biggest thing I love though is the light and how the light changes through the day as the sun moves around.’
Canon Christopher Cunningham
Canon Christopher Cunningham, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart and St Alban in Warrington, assisted with the opening ceremonies at the Cathedral and was ordained there just a week later. As he celebrates the Golden Jubilee of his ordination he recalls the events of fifty years ago.
During May 1967 I was a deacon preparing for ordination to the priesthood. We, the deacons at Upholland College, were invited to be involved in serving at the liturgy for the opening ceremonies. On Saturday 13 May some of us assisted at the consecration of the walls of the Cathedral. In a relatively private ceremony, with Bishop Harris as celebrant, we processed around the outside and then the inside of the Cathedral, and the bishop anointed the walls at various places with Chrism. Mass was not celebrated since the altar had not yet been consecrated.
A few days before, we had a rehearsal for the two ceremonies, I recall thinking how bare the walls of the Cathedral and the chapels looked, since work had not yet been completed: it would take several years to bring them up to the present standard. Also, at this time, the benches had not yet been put into place.
On Sunday, the grand ceremony of opening the Cathedral took place and we, the deacons, once again assisted in serving during which my role was to be one of two acolytes. The Cathedral was full, of course, and Cardinal Heenan presided on a throne at the side of the sanctuary whilst Bishop Harris was principal celebrant at the Mass; in the absence of Archbishop Beck who was too ill to participate. Every parish had been allotted a couple of tickets each and my mother was fortunate to be asked to attend on behalf of her parish (Sacred Heart, Wigan). My sister, (a student at Liverpool University) without a ticket, enjoyed observing the long procession of bishops and priests making their way into the Cathedral via the ramp: the steps were not yet in place.
The Mass which included the consecration of the High Altar was a wonderful, unforgettable experience. As we returned to the college (without further celebration) we managed to catch the evening news to view the report on television, a rare privilege for students at the seminary at that time.
On the following Saturday, 20 May, nineteen of us were ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Cardinali who was the Apostolic Delegate. The ceremony lasted three and a half hours, finishing at 2.00 pm. This was probably the first time it had taken place in English and the archbishop (an Italian) must have doubted the validity of the words used, so he repeated the words of ordination in Latin… just in case! After Holy Communion when people were expecting to leave, the archbishop asked everyone to be seated saying in broken English ‘I wish to speak to the parents’…another sermon, lasting for almost half an hour. This caused some unease as the FA Cup final was taking place that afternoon.
Fifty years ago: wonderful occasions, never to be forgotten.