Parish Beginnings

A question that probably never occurs to us to ask is: how do we come to have a Catholic parish in Herne Bay? We naturally take it for granted that each town will have its own church….but there is often some history behind it. This is certainly the case for Herne Bay and, thanks largely to the careful work of our parish historian, the late Deacon James Foley RIP, we can open a window on the very beginnings of our parish.

To trace the origins of the parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, we need to go back to a meeting in Brighton in the 1880’s between a Passionist from Highgate, London, Fr Martin CP and an Irish businessman, originally from Co Mayo, Mr Denis Broderick. Mr Broderick  and his wife Catherine had a great love for the Passionists and they wanted, as they said, to help establish a “colony of Passionists in Brighton.”  The Passionists were hoping to found a monastery south of the Thames but it was felt that Brighton was a bit too far from London. Several possible sites were considered and eventually both parties agreed on the small coastal town of Herne Bay. Mr Broderick bought a beautiful house, known then as Belmore Hall, and gave it to the Passionists as their monastery: this house is now known as The Retreat and it currently provides the living quarters of the Passionist Community serving the parish, as well as the parish office and meeting rooms. Possession of the house was taken in May 1888 and the first Mass offered in the house on 5 May.

A  group of young Passionist deacons from Mt Argus in Dublin formed the first community. They set about converting a stable block into a temporary church (on the site of the present Retreat Hall and Social Club). On June 11th 1889 the foundation stone was laid for the church: that very morning the deacons were ordained as priests. A busy day!! And barely a year later, on 25 June 1890 the church was completed. It was consecrated by the same Bishop of Southwark, Bishop Butt, who had laid the foundation stone the previous year. On the following day it opened for public worship.

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The name of the church is a little unusual: it reflects the fact that the Brodericks wanted a church dedicated to Our Lady, and the Passionists had in mind the title of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Both wishes were united and the happy combination of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart pleased both parties. You can find the names of the Brodericks on the plaque above the holy water stoop as you enter the church. Mr Broderick’s  first name , Denis, is given in the Latin form: Dionysius.

At this time there was a Catholic church in Margate and also one in Canterbury. Herne Bay was a relatively new town and it was difficult to know what the Catholic population might have been.The congregation was very small: the Easter of 1889 saw a congregation in the temporary church of six: “ a coastguard and his family, two wives of coastguards and a governess.” All but the governess were Irish and the governess herself was French – so the parish beginnings were quite international!

On the subject of our church’s name, it is interesting to note that, as of 2017, we now have a statue to “Our Lady of the Sacred Heart”. It came to us after the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury where it had been for several years. There is an inscription on the statue which states that devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was approved by Rome in 1875 so the choice of this name for the church was clearly influenced by recent events in Rome also.

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The foundation stone, visible on the right side of the church door reads:

IXP:  The passion of Jesus Christ.
To the glory of God and in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on 3 June 1989 the foundation stone of this church was laid by Rev J Butt, Bishop of Southwark, Leo XIII  being Pope and Victoria, Queen of England; Vincent Grogan being Passionist Provincial; the architectural work by A Vicars and ETJ Adams the builder. Denis Broderick provided the funds. On 6 July 1890 it was solemnly dedicated by Rev J Butt.