Tilbury celebrates 100 years

Parishioners from Our Lady Star of the Sea, Dock Road, Tilbury gathered together in August to mark one hundred years since the amalgamation of their parish into the Diocese of Brentwood.   Mass was concelebrated by the Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Rev Alan Williams, and nine other priests, including former Tilbury parish priests.

Bishop Alan paid tribute to those who have served Tilbury over the years, particularly Canons O’Donnell and Byrne who each worked in the parish for 30 years, and to the Sisters of Mercy, whose vital roles included teaching, catechesis and visiting the sick and housebound. He said: “We must not underestimate the part that the Sisters of Mercy have contributed in the past and still do today.”

He praised the work done by parishioners, nuns and clergy in caring for the many visiting seafarers to the port of Tilbury and paid a special tribute to the work of staff and governors of St Mary’s School. “It has been an integral part of the community and has performed a crucial role in helping to spread the Gospel message in Tilbury and beyond.”

He commended the parish, which received a papal blessing from Pope Francis to mark its centenary, to the care of Mary, Star of the Sea.

After the Mass, everyone enjoyed a garden party in the grounds of the presbytery, where parish priest Fr Paul Dynan had organised music and refreshments including a hog roast.   On a blazing, hot afternoon, welcome shade was provided in a marquee and by the many trees.

Among the guests were the local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price, Mayor of Thurrock, Councillor Barbara Rice, and the National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea, Martin Foley.   “Our own Sisters of Mercy were joined by Sisters who had been at the Tilbury Convent in years gone by,” says Fr Paul.

A special cake was cut at the party jointly by Bishop Alan, Mayor Barbara Rice, Fr. Paul and Jackie Doyle-Price.  Modelled on the church which has served the Catholic community since the late nineteenth century, it was the work of bakery Ravens of Ingatestone.

The former parish priests attending the celebration were: Canon Brian O’Shea (Grays), Fr. Francis Abara (South Ockendon), Fr. Daniel Kelly (Basildon), Fr. Anthony Cho (Ingatestone), Fr Bob Hamill (East Ham) and Fr James McShane (Danbury with South Woodham Ferrers). Archivist Fr Stewart Foster and Fr. David Ssenkaayi, who visits the parish every year from Uganda, were also present.

On the following day the excitement continued, with a 70th birthday party for Fr Paul.   “For me, a highlight was the performance of a Zimbabwean choir and their drummers at the party,” he said. Some of the choir members were local parishioners, although others had travelled some distance to join in the fun.

Fr Paul paid tribute to those who helped organise the festivities. “The centenary party was the culmination of a year-long celebration and was a real team effort.  Another highlight was a parish trip to the Holy Land earlier in the year. It mirrored an earlier pilgrimage in 2013 for the anniversary of my Stanford-le-Hope parish,” he said (pictured below).

Centenary celebrations

A brief history of Tilbury parish by Kevin Redmond

The opening of the Docks in April 1886 effectively began the real history of Tilbury. Cardinal Manning saw the potential for development and bought a few acres of land as early as 1885, on which was to be build a school, a church, a presbytery and a convent. The Tilbury Mission was served from Grays but in 1887 Canon Keens was asked to take charge, to supervise the building programme and care for the Catholic people in Tilbury.

A school for 250 children was opened that year. Fr Joseph Upton became the first priest-in-charge in 1901, living initially in the school until the presbytery was built in 1902. His successor, Fr Van Meenan, organised the building of the parish church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, which opened on Ascension Day 1907. Meanwhile, in 1905 the Sisters of Mercy arrived and took over the teaching of the school, a task they carried out with distinction for most of the 20th century. Their convent was built in Malta Road in 1909 and it has been a haven for spiritual and social support ever since. Extreme poverty in the area meant that the new parish was barely viable. Although there were over 500 Catholics in the parish before the First World War, they were unable to make a significant financial contribution and the parish was laden with debt. On August 2 1918, just before the end of the First World War, Our Lady Star of the Sea became a parish in the newly formed Diocese of Brentwood.

From 1921 to 1982, there were just two parish priests in Tilbury: Fr Patrick O’Donnell and Fr John Byrne. Each was in post for over 30 years. Fr O’Donnell reorganised St Mary’s School, gaining permission directly from Rome, and was a major figure in the Apostleship of the Sea, where he was a beacon of light to the Goanese sailors who became a feature of parish life. He organised the parish’s Golden Jubilee in 1937 and gave calm reassurance during the troubled years of the Second World War. A few years later Fr O’Donnell assisted with the foundation of a secondary school on the same cramped site as the parish primary school, and was made an Honorary Canon of Brentwood Diocese.

Fr Byrne gave comfort to his parishioners during the floods of 1953, arranged for the consecration of the parish church by Bishop Beck a year later, and encouraged the development of the fledgling parish of St Joseph in Chadwell St Mary. He too was made an Honorary Canon.

From 1975 to 1983 part of the Tilbury parish became the independent parish of St Joseph, Chadwell St Mary. Its church hall became a focal point for Catholic spiritual and social life before, during and after the existence of the parish itself.

Since 1982 there have been nine parish priests with Fr Paul Dynan in post since 2010.

Drawn from The Parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Tilbury by Kevin Redmond, with a foreword by Father Paul Dynan (Dynan Publishing ISBN 978-0-9573479-1-5; pp. 365 paperback with colour/b & w illustrations; £7.99). The book provides a detailed account of the Catholic presence (parish, schools, convent, Apostleship of the Sea) in Tilbury and Chadwell St Mary. It has been meticulously researched, extensive use having been made of the Brentwood Diocesan Archives, and is very well illustrated. This is a companion volume to the same author’s earlier book on the Catholic Parish of Stanford-le-Hope where Fr Paul Dynan is also parish priest. Available from: Parish History, 96 Dock Road, Tilbury, Essex RM18 7BT; tilbury@dioceseofbrentwood.org