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Parish History

Before May 2002, St. Luke's and Holy Cross parish comprised of 2 different parishes: Holy Cross parish and St. Luke's parish, each with their own history.

History of Holy Cross

Most of the following history of Holy Cross parish was from Kevin Casey, to whom we are all very grateful. It was written in 2002.

Before Holy Cross parish was established, in the surrounding area mass was celebrated in Perry Spring Community Centre in Potter Street. Priests used to cycle from Epping to tend to the spiritual needs of the catholic community in the area. These priests were members of the Canon Regular for the Immaculate Conception (CRIC) who eventually went on to found Our Lady of Fatima Church, Harlow. One of them was Fr. Francis E. Burgess C.R.I.C., born 20th May 1906, Ordained 27th July 1930, died 16 June 1997. The other one was Fr. Reginald Brown, C.R.I.C. At some stage the mass was conducted in Saxon Inn (now Moat House hotel).

Brays Grove area was being built at a very fast rate around 1955-1956. Young families were moving in and among them were catholic families. In 1957 a young priest named Fr. Brian Foley was transferred from Harold Hill to Harlow. His job was to find a green field and build:

  1. A community hall - built in 1958
  2. A presbytery - built in 1959
  3. A school - built in 1960
  4. A church - foundation stone laid in 1962

Fr. Foley was transferred before seeing the church finished (He came back many years later to see it). In February 1957 Fr. Foley rented a corporated house in Brays Grove. Later on that year he moved to Spencers Croft - the house is exactly opposite the present presbytery.

Fr. Foley was assisted by Fr. Brian Mc Williams. Between the two of them, they worked very hard to raise money, run functions, football pools, football teams organised by Mr. Bernard Ryan who is still an active member of Holy Cross. The community spirit among families is what built the parish as you see it today. Went to work, raised a family and still plenty of energy to build a parish. It is called Pioneering Spirit Caring People. The priests did all their travelling in Harlow on bicycles. Fr. Foley was then going on to form a new parish in Great Parndon. He was by this time Canon Foley. But the Bishop of Brentwood had other ideas (and the Vatican). On 30th April 1962 he was appointed Bishop of Lancaster. Bishop Brian Charles Foley was ordained priest on 25th July 1937 and consecrated bishop on 13th June 1962 in Lancaster Cathedral.

But there was still work to be done. So we had a new parish priest. His name is Fr. Frank Kerrigan, a very progressive young man. He saw the completion of the church: the Crucifix in the Sanctuary (unique to Holy Cross), the seating, stations of the cross, statue of Mary & Child (again unique to Holy Cross). Why unique? When the crucifixion and the Mary & Child were made, Fr. Kerrigan had the mould broken so that these could not be copied.

It was during Fr. Kerrigan's time that an extension was added to the parish hall. This was to accommodate a club room with licensed bar. This was opened in 8th December 1968. All this was to create a greater community spirit and to raise funds to clear the church debt. The assistant priest around now was Fr. Wilcox, as Fr. McWilliams had moved to another parish.

It was in 1970 that priests were getting scarce, so Fr. Kerrigan and Fr. Wilcox were moved to other parishes in Brentwood diocese. Our new priest was an Irishman named Fr. Donal Donegan. He was a good active man, kept very busy with the parish, Holy Cross school and St. Mark's school. He generated great devotions to the Rosary and Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. All these devotions were very well attended by all ages. Every priest that came to Holy Cross stamped his own identity on the parish. All these brought young and old to the sacraments.

Again we were to lose our parish priest, Fr. Donegan needed rest and through ill health went to a smaller parish. Unfortunately he died some years later. May he rest in peace.

Our next priest, Fr. Louis Heston, was an elderly man who came out of retirement to be our parish priest from 1983 to 1993. He died on 14th September 1993 R.I.P.

Changes were now coming, because of Vatican II from Rome.

  1. The altar had to be at the centre of the Sanctuary of the church, so that the priest could face the people when saying mass.
  2. The altar rails removed to make everything more open.
  3. Laity were more involved: readers, eucharistic ministers. Girls were allowed to serve on the altar.
  4. The tabernacle was moved to a side altar on its own, surrounded by part of the old altar rail.

All these changes were implemented while Fr. Heston was our priest. We lost a very learned man. A man dedicated to his vocation as a priest. May he rest in peace.

Since November 1997 our present parish priest is another young man Fr. Paul McNamara. Hard working man. Again through shortage of priests St. Luke's parish joined Holy Cross in May 2002. So Fr. Paul has got 2 parishes and 3 schools (2 primary, 1 secondary) to be responsible for.

So one can see how very important it is that our priests be given all the help they can. After all they are only human.

So now it is the year 2002, you can see what has been achieved from one green field and one man called Fr. Brian Foley RIP.

Fr. Francis E. Burgess

Fr. Francis E. Burgess RIP

Fr. Brian Foley

Fr. Brian Foley RIP

Fr. Frank Kerrigan

Fr. Frank Kerrigan

Fr. Louis Heston

Fr. Louis Heston



Fr. Paul McNamara

Fr. Paul McNamara


History of St. Luke's

source: Brentwood Diocesan Directory 2004

In June 1962 Father John O'Callaghan was appointed as the first parish priest of St. Luke's. At this time the building of the new town of Harlow was nearing completion. St. Luke's was one of the four new parishes which were established to cater for the pastoral needs of the new town and its people. This was a difficult and demanding appointment. The four new parish priests had to be pioneers in the true sense of literally building their parishes from nothing. Negotiations with the New Town Council provided John with a council house as the first presbytery and Mass was said in a small hall some distance away in Perry Road. The new parish was so stretched financially that former parishioners from Becontree joined the parishioners in Harlow in providing basic furniture requirements for the presbytery. John spent 10 years establishing the parish of St. Luke's. He had to build a new primary school for the Parish, a new presbytery nearer to the parish hall and he was involved with the setting up of St. Mark's Secondary school.

Added in October 2006:

On 24th September 2006 we said farewell to Father Paul who left the parish to embark on some study, have an extended retreat, and also have a bit of a rest. Holy Cross and St Luke’s Parish welcomed Father Bernard Soley as new Parish Priest. Fr Bernard has spent the last 10 years in Maldon Parish, which in recent times linked with Burnham on Crouch. He hopes to arrive in the Parish on Friday 29th September, ready for the Masses of the weekend of 30th/1st October.