Of near-death and resurrection for a great English church

Another great article appeared in the full print and full digital edition of the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald.  SUBSCRIBE.

This one is about near-death and resurrection.

I have long been interested in the near-death experiences of some parishes.  For example, back in the 80’s, St. John Cantius in Chicago was pretty much moribund.  A new pastor with a new/old vision brought it back to life.  In Manhattan, Holy Innocents has been struggling with demographic shifts.  The inclusion of the Extraordinary Form in their regular schedule has brought it new life and visibility.  My own home parish in St. Paul, MN, would surely have died had it gone the way of all other places in the area.  Instead, the pastor had a different vision: tradition and music and fidelity.  I helped to rebuild a church in Italy after it had been closed and dead since the war.  I used Latin and Gregorian chant.  Had I done what the other parishes nearby were doing nothing would have resulted.

In England, the great church looming over Merseyside across from Liverpool, the “Dome of Home”, was nearly dead.  It lives again because a new breed of English bishop, Most Reverend Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, handed it over to the Institute of Christ the King.

I’ll let The Catholic Herald take over the tale:

The Dome of Home is thriving thanks to locals’ kindness and priests’ hard work

The institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest was invited to take over the running of Ss Peter, Paul and Philomena’s church in New Brighton, Merseyside, by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury in October 2011. The bishop officially established the Shrine of Ss Peter, Paul and Philomena on March 24 2012, writes Anne Archer.
Everything that has been done so far at the shrine since the Institute arrived has been done with the generosity of local clergy and people. The Institute’s priests rely heavily on God’s providence and people have been inspired to give. They give quietly and often anonymously. They give time, money, statues and altars. Local parishes have been especially generous donating devotional items no longer used.
The church had been used for storage and closed for three years so there was much to do. The priest rolled up his sleeves, started work, and hardly stopped for breath. The people followed his example. The lady who cleaned the brasses of the door plates and altar rails for years returned with her tin of Brasso. A couple crept into the church when nobody was there, with their mop and bucket to clean the floor. Bit by bit, the church became more habitable.
Last winter there wasn’t any heating so the church was perishing. Calor gas heaters were provided to lift the temperature so that we could have Midnight Mass on the Lady Altar. The boilers were overhauled at significant expense. Remarkably, that same week, a donation of similar magnitude was received which covered the cost.
It is still cold in the church because the walls are so damp. The roof leaks, compounding the problem. To keep his finances afloat, Canon only fires the boilers for Sundays and the congregation crowds the cosy day chapel for daily Mass to keep warm.
A seminarian “tweaked” the grand pipe organ in the choir loft for the opening, but it needed serious attention.
As time wore on, its “not-so-dulcet” tones were becoming too much for the suffering congregation. Then, out of the blue, someone donated a brand- new electric organ and a raffle, organised by a hard-working parishioner-covered the cost of speakers.
The Dome of Home has a long history of generosity. The church was built in 1935 on generosity. The great monstrance, the biggest in Shrewsbury, encrusted with precious stones, was made from donations of rings and jewels from the people. It is so big that it has its own lift to elevate the Blessed Sacrament. The diocese has returned this treasure and it is given pride of place in the main church at 5.30pm every Sunday to house Our Lord at Benediction.
When it comes to quality, the young priests and seminarians at the church do give their absolute best. They have encouraged parishioners to do likewise and restore the best of what we have for our King. Carefully made, hand-embroidered vestments belonging to the original church were discovered and many have been lovingly restored. Nothing is too much trouble, but parishioners still have a long way to go.
Readers can follow the progress of the Dome of Home of New Brighton on the Institute’s blog at Institutechrist.blogspot.co.uk
or their new website, which will be coming soon at Domeofhome.org.

That, friends, is how it is done.

I have always said that a) Jesus didn’t found our parishes and b) if people want parishes they will pay the bills and c) market forces then take over.

The inner cities of many of our large metropolitan area have some beautiful churches.  Not long ago I was in Brooklyn and visited one that was amazing and pretty much just waiting for the coroner.

Perhaps, Fathers, Your Excellencies, it is time to try something new/old?

Give tradition a try.

You have nothing to lose – except perhaps some pride and some post-Conciliar illusions – and everything to gain.

I don’t necessarily recommend importing a specialized group, such as the Institute or the FSSP.  Let young diocesan priests do it.  Use your homeboys.  Give them pride of place in such and endeavor and let the specialized groups be of support.

The rebirth of and revitalization of our liturgical worship (and some parishes) won’t take off until diocesan clergy take the reins.

A member of the Institute of Christ the King stands on the roof of the Dome of Home in Merseyside Photo: Philip Chidell

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices, Year of Faith and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    That picture makes me dizzy.

    The Chicken

  2. Titus says:

    Excellent points that Father makes here.

    At the same time, people are living in different places than they used to live. Some places need more churches than they once did, other places need fewer.

    I am reminded of the story from a few years ago in which a parish or diocese in Georgia purchased a beautiful church building from a diocese up north: the whole building was disassembled, shipped across the country, and put back together for less than it would have cost to build a modernist box.

    It seems the USCCB should set up a committee to coordinate this sort of thing. Moving churches that have to be closed is the perfect solution: it allows the preservation of high-quality architecture, alleviates the host of problems associated with trying to sell church buildings (and makes the former sites substantially more marketable), and can save growing regions resources. It’s the sort of thing that cries out for a national committee!

  3. Lynne says:

    I so wish Cardinal O’Malley would allow a traditional order to come into Boston! Boston has begun clustering parishes…

  4. Phil_NL says:

    Dear Chicken,

    Not only that, but I sure hope father is standing on a concrete roof. If not, I’m mightily glad he isn’t falling through. Not all roofs are constructed to support an adult’s weight…

  5. wolfeken says:

    If only secular/diocesan priests would have the courage to do this. But it would likely mean the end of their “career” and a sure bet they won’t be made bishop.

    This is why I love the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and Institute of Christ the King so much — they could not give a flying fig about “promotions.” They just do the right thing, while hundreds of diocesan priests often merely say or write the right thing.

    Tradition takes courage — good for the Institute in this case.

    [Not many diocesan priests want to be bishops. And if you don’t think that priests of the FSSP and ICK aren’t careful – lest they get the heave ho from the diocese – you are naive. And I will close this rabbit hole now… before I become cross.]

  6. StWinefride says:

    In England, the great church looming over Merseyside across from Liverpool, the “Dome of Home”, was nearly dead”.

    I remember this story. It’s great the ICKSP were finally able to take over but there were a lot of shocked parishioners back in 2008:

    The policy of ‘looking beyond buildings’ has had some tragic results, says Andrew M Brown.

    Another fine Catholic church has closed its doors for good. More than 350 worshippers attended the final Mass at SS Peter and Paul, New Brighton on August 17. The Bishop of Shrewsbury, informing parishioners that they would now have to go to an Anglican church for Mass, serenely counselled them to “look beyond buildings to your becoming more fully that which they signify — namely, the living presence of the Church in this area”.


    Luckily there has been a happy ending for this beautiful Church.

  7. Pingback: Shakespeare and Distributism | Big Pulpit

  8. Deo Gratias!, I agree that until diocesean priests take the charge, things really won’t take off.

  9. Gratias says:

    Diocesan priests that offer our EF mass, and even Dominicans and Augustinians, get transferred to the boonies. Amazingly, we still find replacements. Bishops do not want the EF liturgy to take hold.

  10. Athelstan says:

    Hello StWinefride,

    Fortunately, the new Bishop of Shrewsbury has a finer ecclesiological sense than his predecessor did.

    Thanks and prayers for Bishop Davies – without him, this could not have happened. And a great church would be lost to the living Church.

  11. Athelstan says:

    “I so wish Cardinal O’Malley would allow a traditional order to come into Boston! Boston has begun clustering parishes…”

    There are a number of east coast archdioceses of whom the same thing could be said…but the interest in traditional orders is either nil, or subsumed by hostility. It is a great shame.

    But Fr. Z is right: In the larger picture, traditional orders can only do so much. There are only so many of them to go around. What they really do is to serve as beacons and footholds for the restoration of tradition – a project that will only really succeed once it takes root in diocesan parishes.

  12. Athelstan says:

    Hello Gratias,

    Diocesan priests that offer our EF mass, and even Dominicans and Augustinians, get transferred to the boonies.

    Sometimes, even worse things happen to them. As Fr. Z observed once, priests have the right to a Christian burial, and not much else.

    Amazingly, we still find replacements. Bishops do not want the EF liturgy to take hold.

    They don’t – but you can see which way the wind is blowing now among the youngest cohorts.

    I know quite a fair number of seminarians and recently ordained young priests. ALL of them – they’re either traditionalist (broadly understood) or open to tradition. They appreciate and want to celebrate the EF, even if not exclusively. Before long, these young men will be rectors, vocations directors, chancellors and, yes, bishops. And when that happens, we shall see a real change.

  13. StWinefride says:

    Hello Athelstan: Yes, prayers and thanks also to Bishop Mark Davies for conferring Confirmations in the Traditional Rite in that church back in June 2012. Brick by brick as Father Z says.

  14. JonPatrick says:

    There is a traditional order near Boston, although not in the Archdiocese, that would be the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded by the late Fr. Leonard Feeney who was tossed out of the archdiocese for too heavily emphasizing the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation. This order operates 2 thriving congregations in Still River (Harvard) Mass, plus one in southern New Hampshire, which have daily masses plus multiple standing room only masses on Sundays, all in the Extraordinary Form.

  15. Angie Mcs says:

    “Give tradition a try.” This article reminds me so much of the history of a church you mentioned here in Chicago, Father . We are blessed to have such a reverent and beautiful gift in St. John Cantius. Our pastor, Father Phillips, has slowly and surely done what is needed, inspired his priests, the community and his parish, to support this immense project of renovation. It couldn’t have been done without his vision and enthusiasm, which drew in so many others, as innumerable problems were and still are being tackled, step by step. There is much that remains to be done, yet there is definitely “pride of place” here.

    As each column is repainted and beams are repaired, we have also been given the gift of the beautiful Latin Masses, the EF, the TLM, so that the physical beauty of the church is accompanied by these liturgical offerings, all blending into one organic whole.

    As I give what I can, I realize it is such a small part of what has been given over the decades, to make Father’s Phillips’ dream come alive, one that has now become the dream of thousands of people who hAve come through its doors. I am very grateful to him and all those who came before me, and I feel that upcoming generations know it is their time to pick up the gauntlet.

    Likewise, I will follow the story of the Dome of Home and wish them the very best. ( amazing photo from the roof there!)

  16. Simon_GNR says:

    Bishop Davies is “Right Reverend”, not “Most Reverend”. In England, only archbishops are Most Reverend.

    Fr. Z.: I have made this point before, on a recent post which mentioned Bishop Egan of Portsmouth: please try to get ecclesiastical titles and forms of address right.

    BTW, here in the Diocese of Hallam [based in Sheffield] we’re due a new bishop later this year. I do hope we get one of the “new breed” like Bishops Egan or Davies.

  17. Dave N. says:

    “…someone donated a brand- new electric organ.” It makes me sad to think that such funds couldn’t have instead been applied to repairing the existing pipe organ. But I guess choices must be made.

  18. momoften says:

    Father,you are right on the target. In our case, a rather newly ordained priest took the reins
    of a parish that was out of the way. The parish had not had a full time pastor in a LONG time.
    He drew people in with his solid orthodoxy, and the EF Mass. He has in his short time raised
    a huge amount of money to reroof the church, and clean up and do some serious maintenance issues
    that lapsed and had to be addressed. The congregation has and still is growing. He has opened up
    a perpetual adoration chapel- people have dug down deep (and this is a poor community) to volunteer with their talent, or share money they have. Many great things are happening in this
    Parish, because simply put, he inspires us, and pushes us to aspire for more spiritual things. I
    know he is an inspiration to our youth as well, when I hear one of my son saying that Father has the best job in the world, who wouldn’t want it?

  19. This may be a good place for a public lament of the closure of St. Vincent de Paul in Manhattan this week; unlike many inner-city parishes, it really isn’t that close to other churches. Maybe a good group of traditionalists could have saved it (though in fairness I believe the last pastor was fairly traditional himself). Of course, the Church is still trying to get past the stage that the general public endured in the 60’s and ’70s that resulted in the destruction of Penn Station; we Catholics unfortunately are still in the destructive phase, not only architecturally, but spriritually as well (they do go together).

  20. jlmorrell says:

    There is one primary reason why diocesan priests will have such a hard time with this kind of restoration: the Novus Ordo Missae.

    Trying to introduce the Traditional Mass, traditional practices and the rest do not find a natural home in a Novus Ordo parish. I’ve seen it time and time again. There are a thousand battles to be won and there is no peace in the parish. And the young diocesan priest is almost never backed up by his bishop.

    In traditional parishes, there is peace and uniformity of vision regarding what is to be accomplished. Sure, there are different personalities and certain difficulties that commonly arise, but these are of a different kind compared to the problems resulting from the liberal/protestant Catholicism that dominates the vast majority of Catholic parishes.

  21. StWinefride says:

    Andrew Saucci says: we Catholics unfortunately are still in the destructive phase, not only architecturally, but spriritually as well (they do go together).

    When, after the recent wreckovation of a beautiful, but obviously far too Catholic Church, one discovers that a marble pyramid has been installed beneath the big slab of marble that is supposed to be an altar, and one has to search high and low for the Tabernacle, one just can’t help but think there’s an agenda…

    Seen in St Matthias’ Abbey in Trier, Germany, where the relics of St Matthias were rediscovered in the 12th Century.

    St Matthias, the one chosen to replace Judas, and Judas, the one who betrayed Our Lord.

    It’s happening all over again. Praying for Pope Benedict XVI.

  22. NoraLee9 says:

    Oh Andrew, I am severely grieved to hear of the closing of St. Vincent de Paul on West 23rd Street. Originally built for the French in NYC, the church was among the most beautiful. The high altar and marble altar rails were still there. This is a terrible blow.

  23. redcargirl says:

    Dave N says “It makes me sad to think that such funds couldn’t have instead been applied to repairing the existing pipe organ. But I guess choices must be made.”
    We still have the great ‘Rolls Royce’ of an organ waiting for substantial funds to restore it (and the price of an electric organ is definitely not substantial enough!). However, the ‘organdonor’ has saved the ears of the congregation. Dave N is right, the first priority will be making the building watertight! As with many churches, we have so much to be done and all help and helpers are gratefully received. If you live not far away, please come and visit. I know some people are planning their holidays nearby.
    Among many other things, we need more singers to sing the plain chant and polyphony, even if they cannot commit to practising every week or every Sunday. However, being part of venture has made me realise that He will provide, as long as the prayer and worship of Him comes first.
    However, please StWinefride, this is NOT a happy ending YET! It is only the beginning. We’ve all got so much to do.

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