News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool
LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
- A LOOK BACK AT OUR COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE
by Neil Sayer - Archdiocesan Archivist
Rumours of Father Lennon’s wealth circulated around the parish of Weld Bank, Chorley, following his death in 1897. The parishioners held back from contributing towards a headstone for his grave in the cemetery at St Gregory the Great, though they did eventually do so. In life, Father John Lennon had certainly been generous to them. The poor of the parish, and particularly those in distress, could always rely on a discreet handout. As his obituary said, ‘no deserving case of want came under his notice without evoking a responsive sympathy in his heart and prompt relief.’
His philanthropy in fact reached much further than the venerable precincts of Chorley. At least two Catholic churches in our Archdiocese exist through his generosity, as he funded the building of Sacred Heart at Chorley and Sacred Heart in Warrington. He also gave several thousand pounds to the school-chapels at Longton and Withnell, and to the Catholic College at Upholland.
Born into a Liverpool family in 1830, he was sent to Douai and then to the English College in Lisbon to be trained for his priestly calling. It seems his ability was quickly recognised on his return to Liverpool, as a year after his Ordination he was given charge of the new Mission of St Mary and St John in Newton-le-Willows, where he undertook the building of the church and presbytery. Following his appointment to Weld Bank in 1870, his younger brother James became Rector at Newton-le-Willows.
Father James had followed his brother to Douai and Lisbon and enjoyed an equally meteoric rise, becoming the first Rector of Sacred Heart in Hindsford and building the new church there at around the same time as his brother was doing the same a few miles away in Newton-le-Willows. Unfortunately, Father James seems to have created petty squabbles among his parishioners, and whilst his elder brother was funding the school, the brass band and the club in Weld Bank, Father James is the subject of more than one complaint among Bishop O’Reilly’s papers in the Archdiocesan Archives.
Father John was said to have been ‘possessed of private means’, though whether that wealth derived from the brother Edward whom he buried at Newton-le-Willows in 1866, or from earlier family money, isn’t clear. It is certain that he invested shrewdly and profitably in the railway companies and other stocks and shares that could be said to have provided the dotcom boom of their time. After his death his younger brother inherited what remained of his wealth - he claimed to have been ‘empty’ after his church-funding activities of the mid-1890s. Father James, his executor, fell out with Bishop Whiteside possibly over his brother’s will. After he died in 1908, Father James was characterised as ‘a peculiar man and very touchy’. Canon Alfred Snow, the Diocesan Treasurer, also vaguely described the falling-out as ‘some wholly imaginary grievance’, despite which Father James ‘declared that he would not leave a penny to Liverpool’. In fact, he didn’t leave a penny to anyone. Having retired from working in the Diocese of Liverpool, he spent some time staying at Blairs College, near Aberdeen.
This was the seminary for Scottish boys training to be Catholic priests, founded in 1829 as the successor to the secret institutions educating young men in the Highlands and Islands: those whose training was entirely in Scotland were known as ‘Heather Priests’. Father James had made the acquaintance of Rev Aeneas Chisholm, then the College Rector, and the College became the main recipient of the Lennon family benefactions. The church of St Mary, attached to the College, as well as a church in Colwyn Bay, were funded by Father Lennon – who, in 1898, became Monsignor Lennon. He lies buried at Blairs College, to which ultimately he had donated some £12,000. The College closed in 1986, and part of it is now a museum for Scotland’s Catholic heritage. The church has a memorial plaque to Monsignor Lennon and stained-glass windows in his honour.
Monsignor James Lennon