St Joseph's Parish

The Presbytery, Mount Pleasant Road, Pudsey, LS28 7AZ

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History of the Parish


Fr. Paul Hurkmanns O.C.C. 1901 - 1907 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Dominic Laurence Verstylen 1908 - 1933 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Patrick Joseph Duane 1933 - 1953 (R.I.P.)
Rev. John Connolly 1953 - 1955 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Austin Hewitt 1955 - 1968 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Edward Horkin 1968 - 1997 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Michael O Reilly 1997 - 2009 (R.I.P.)
Rev. Solomon Bolus, Priest-in-charge 2009 - 2010  
Rev. Richard Carter 2010 - Present  


(This account was written in 1983, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the present church)

The early years

In medieval times the manor and township of Pudsey formed part of the ancient parish of Calverley. Some historians suggest that there was a church there from Saxon times and the dedication of the church to St. Wilfrid, a Saxon saint, would seem to confirm this view. The Calverley family had resided at the hall in the centre of the village since at least the twelfth century. It was this family which was to play an important role in the subsequent religious history of the district. Following the religious changes of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, they were to play a principal part in maintaining the Catholic Faith in the area. Sir Walter Calverley and his wife Lady Anne were before the courts for their Catholicity in the 1570s. Their youngest son Edmund, was ordained a priest at the English College, Rome in 1585 and the oldest son William, was imprisoned in York Castle for his Catholic Faith. In 1599 a Catholic named Robert Anson was captured on his way to France and, under examination by the Government authorities, admitted that he had attended Mass six months earlier at Calverley Hall.

Lady Anne Calverley was the daughter of Sir Christopher Danby of Farnley Hall some three or four miles from Pudsey; they too were Catholics who helped to keep the Faith alive in the district around the town. Lady Anne’s brother, Sir Thomas Danby, married Mary Neville, sister of the Earl of Westmoreland. He died in exile, after the Rising of the North in 1569 failed to re-establish the Catholic Faith. Another local family, the Hoptons of Armley Hall, and who had intermarried with the Danbys, were also suspected of Catholicism in the early 17th century. However, by the early decades of the 17th century, most of these families had conformed through pressure of persecution, moved out of the district, or died out. For over two hundred years there are scarcely any records of Catholics living in the Pudsey area. For a few years in the middle of the l8th century, a Dominican priest, Fr. Hatton, was chaplain to Nicholas Tempest at Tong Hall to the south of the town, who had been converted to Catholicism in 1736.

19th Century Developments

With the growth of Pudsey in the mid-nineteenth century, what Catholics there were had to travel to Leeds for Mass, where a church had been established in the town since 1786. However, it was from Bradford rather than Leeds that the establishment of a Catholic Church in Pudsey was to come. The first Catholic Church since the Reformation had been opened in Bradford in 1825. This was St. Mary's in Stott Hill, on the site of the present St. Mary's School. Canon John Motler, who was the parish priest at St. Mary's from 1865 to l88l, had taken an interest in the plight of the Catholics of Pudsey who were still having to travel to Leeds or Bradford to attend Mass, and had laid plans in the late 1870s to provide a chapel for the town. However, in l88l, Canon Motler left St. Mary's to take charge of the new parish of St. Joseph's in Bradford. He was succeeded at St. Mary's by his senior curate, Fr. Thomas Simpson, who now put into effect the plan to build a Catholic Church in Pudsey.

Fr. Simpson, later to become a Canon of the Diocese, was ordained a priest in 1867 and was appointed almost immediately to St. Mary's, where he was to remain until his death in 1913. He it was who, in 1883, obtained a room in Hammerton Field where Mass was said for the first time. Meanwhile he had obtained land in The Lanes and in that same year work was begun on a school chapel to serve the needs of some three hundred Catholics by now said to be resident in the town. The Foundation Stone was laid by Canon Motler and the following Spring, the work was completed. On 19th April l884 the new chapel was solemnly opened by Dr. Robert Cornthwaite, the Bishop of Leeds. The Mass on that occasion was celebrated coram episcopo by the founder of the church, Fr. Simpson, assisted by the priests and choir from St. Mary's. The cost of the first St. Joseph's was £1,200. When fully opened out, the chapel could hold 4OO but was able to be divided from the Sanctuary by screens and to provide two school rooms, one of which was specially set aside for the use of the infants.

20th Century

St. Joseph's continued to be served by the priests from St. Mary's until 1901, when the care of the parish was given to the Carmelite Fathers of the Dutch Province. It has not been possible to discover at present why this rather unusual decision was taken. In 1901 there were no Calced Carmelites working in England and it was to be another, twenty-five years before the Irish Province took charge of two parishes in Kent. No doubt Bishop Gordon, the Bishop of Leeds, found it difficult to provide sufficient priests to staff the growing number of new parishes that were needed. Moreover, there were already a number of priests from the Low Countries in the Diocese and it was perhaps through these connections that the Bishop invited the Carmelite Fathers to take charge of Pudsey. Father Paul Hurkmanns, O.C.C. and Father Vitalis Felix, O.C.C. took possession of the parish on 28th April 1901 and moved into a house in Pembroke Road, off Richardshaw Lane.

In his diary Father Hurkmanns records that the first marriage to be solemnised at St. Joseph's, was on 24th August 1901, between Michael Daley and Emma Rider. Before this, couples had to go to St. Mary's for the wedding. In the following July the Pudsey Mission was formally transferred to the Carmelite Fathers, yet despite this decision, their stay was to be short-lived. In September 1903, the Provincial of the Dutch Carmelites, Fr. Lambert Smeets, came on visitation to Pudsey and questioned the suitability of St. Joseph's as a place for the order. However, it was another three years before the Prior General of the Carmelites, Fr. Pius Mayer, came to the parish, "to see", as Fr. Hurkmanns wrote, "if Pudsey was a suitable place and if there were any prospects to establish a monastery". After his two days visit in August 1906, he decided against the venture and began arrangements for the Carmelites to return to Holland and by the end of the year they had withdrawn from the scene. Nevertheless, they had pioneered the establishment of an independent parish and had begun to see the results of that work.

For a number of months the care of the parish appears to have reverted to St. Mary's and it was over a year before the Bishop sent a new priest to St. Joseph's. By a strange coincidence the priest came from Belgium but this time was a priest of the Diocese. Fr. Dominic Laurence Verstylen was born in Turnhout in the archdiocese of Mechlin in l872. After his early education by the Jesuits in his home town, he had entered the seminary at Mechlin. Wishing to work in an English Diocese, he had come at first to the small diocesan seminary in Nottingham but in 1892 had transferred to St. Joseph's Seminary, Leeds, where he was ordained priest in July 1896. He was appointed as curate to the Cathedral and from there had often come to Pudsey to assist the priests, both before and after the Carmelites had left. He came to Pudsey as parish priest on 4th May 1908 and was to spend the rest of his life there.

The present Church building

He soon realised the need for a church building apart from the school and in March 1913, obtained from Belgium a timber framed temporary church, which was to serve the parish for the next twenty years. It was always Fr. Verstylen's ambition to provide a worthy church for the Catholics of Pudsey and on 17th September 1933 the Foundation Stone of a new church was blessed and laid by Bishop Cowgill. A year to the day, the new church was opened, on l7th September 1933- The church in rustic bricks and red-tiled roof, was built to the design of Charles Fox, a well known architect of Dewsbury, who had designed a number of churches in the Diocese, including St. Peter's, Bradford and St. Catherine's, Sheffield. The High Altar was cut from Bolton Wood stone and the cost of the whole building was over £3,500. The account of the opening states hopefully, "there is a substantial amount outstanding".

The opening was a memorable occasion for the Catholics of the district. Solemn High Mass was celebrated by their beloved priest, who had done so much for the building of the church. In the absence of the Bishop, the church was blessed by Fr. Vermeire of St. Patrick's, Leeds and the sermon was preached by Canon Mitchell of the Cathedral. In the evening there was a special service, at which the preacher was Provost Russell of Keighley. Those who were present on this happy occasion could not but notice how frail the parish priest of Pudsey had become. His life work was now complete and only two weeks after the opening of the new church, Fr. Verstylen died, on 2nd October 1933, at the age of 61, having been parish priest of St. Joseph's for twenty-five years. His place was taken by the parish priest of St. Mary's, Carlton, Fr. Patrick Joseph Duane, a native of Ballyshera, in the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland. He too had been educated at St. Joseph's Seminary, Leeds and was ordained priest in 1913. During his time in the parish, the numbers of Catholics continued to increase. The school managers are reported to be approaching the L.E.A. with the request for extra teaching staff, because of the increased number of children attending St. Joseph's School.

The post war years

In 1946 plans were put in motion for the building of extra accommodation for the school. Indeed, in common with many parishes, the major concern of the Pudsey parish during these years was the provision of adequate Catholic education for their children. In January 1953 Fr. Duane was appointed by Bishop Heenan, to St. Mary's, Selby. (He died there in November I1960). Fr. John Connolly was sent to be parish priest at St. Joseph's. He was educated at Ushaw, where he was ordained priest in 1936. He was first curate at St. William's, Bradford and then from 1940-46, was chaplain to the Forces, serving with the army throughout the war years. After demobilisation, he served at Denaby, Dinnington and St. Thomas's, Goole, before coming to Pudsey. Sadly, he was to be there only two years. He died suddenly on 28th March 1955, at the early age of 45.

The new parish priest was Fr. Austin Hewitt. Born in 1905 at Rathnally, Co. Meath and after being educated at Blackrock College and Mount Melleray, he also came to the Leeds Seminary for his theological training and where he was ordained in 1933. Fr. Hewitt's stay in Pudsey from 1955 to 1968, saw the extension of the presbytery in 1960; it also coincided with the years of change in the life of the Church during the early years of the Second Vatican Council. It was indeed to the next parish priest, Fr. Edward Horkin, who succeeded Fr. Hewitt in October 1968, that the task fell of implementing these changes in the life of the parish.

The first undertaking was the re-ordering of the church in accordance with the new decree on the Liturgy. A new Blessed Sacrament chapel was added to the north side of the sanctuary and a new high altar in Sicilian marble was placed some 12 feet forward of the position of the old altar. The work was completed to the designs of J.B. Langtry-Langton Partners of Bradford and the new altar was consecrated by Bishop Gerald Moverley, the Auxiliary Bishop of Leeds, on l8th October 1970. Nor were the needs of the school overlooked, and in 1969, work was commenced on providing further new accommodation for the children, a four classroom block, to the designs of Mr. George Doyle, the Leeds architect.

Fifty years have passed since Fr. Verstylen opened the present church of St. Joseph, and it is a hundred years since Mass was said for the first time in Hammerton Field. Over the century, priests and people have worked together to build up the Church of God in the town. This short account recalls some of the events in those hundred years but in the end, much of the story is known only to God, to whose greater Honour and Glory the work was undertaken.

Mgr George Bradley. Leeds Diocesan Archivist. May 1983

Post 1983 Golden Jubilee:

Parish Groups:

The Parish has long had a branch of the UCM (Union of Catholic Mothers) Since the 1980s this in turn became an independent parish based group, open to the women of the parish, and although it is still known as ‘the Mothers,’ the group welcomes all women, regardless of marital status. The Mothers group organises parish fundraising events, social outings, catering and can be relied on to support the parish in a thousand different ways!

The Parish Drama Group is very well supported, and offers two productions each year. The group was in existence for the greater part of the twentieth century, but was re-launched very successfully in 1977 by Keith Harrison, at that time caretaker of the school, and already a well known actor in the local area. Freda Mortimer was co opted onto the committee to get things off the ground. During the 1990s further administrative changes took place and new initiatives were developed. The present musical director (2017) is Steve Mckay, and Janice Whitworth writes and directs pantomimes, while Alison Marsden directs the Summer Productions. Chris Foster donates her undoubted artistic talents in the realm of scenery and props.

The Parish Youth SVP was founded in 2001 when Freda Mortimer was approached by four of the Confirmandi, who were interested in forming a specifically youth focused parish group. St Joseph’s has the enviable reputation of being the first Youth SVP in the Diocese. Mary Abel, the Diocesan youth organiser gave great assistance during the initial phase of the group’s foundation.

In May 2000 the ‘Toddlers Group’ was founded by Freda Mortimer, upon her retirement from the parish primary school. A group of mothers had asked Freda if she could start such a group, and now each Thursday morning the parish hall resounds to the merry sounds of happy contented playful children! Freda is ably assisted by many volunteers and young mothers, and the group continues to go from strength to strength. There is also an opportunity for the young mums to meet each other and enjoy time together. There is also space for dads, grandparents and childminders. Over the years several of the mums have become classroom assistants at the parish school, and one mum has become a nursery nurse.

The Archconfraternity of Saint Stephen for Altar Servers was refounded by Fr Richard Carter and Peter Siney in September 2012 having been in abeyance for sometime. The original foundation dates from the 1940s. The servers take exams to qualify for their bronze and silver medals. There is a brilliant ‘esprit de corps’ among the servers, and the parish is rightly proud of their high standards and commitment.

M.O.P.S. Men Of the Parish! This was founded in the late 1990s to cater for the social needs of the men of the Parish. David Farmer, Daniel Walker, and many others ensure that great fun is had by all!

Parish Events, Building and Maintenance:

In September 1983 the Golden Jubilee of the present church was celebrated with due pomp, and the occasion was marked by the presentation of the Bene Merenti medal to four worthy recipients: Dr Murphy, Freda Mortimer, Maureen Bland, and Violet Lay. Fr Edward Horkin celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination in April 1996 prior to his retirement the following year. Fr Michael O’Reilly celebrated his ruby jubilee in June 2004 prior to his retirement in 2009. Both jubilees were occasions for much thanksgiving. Fr O’Reilly formed the Parish Council, and during his time as Parish Priest there was much emphasis on lay involvement – the re - formation of the SVP in 1997 being one of his first achievements. To mark the start of the new millennium the new porch was built and the outside bell and bell tower were refurbished. The porch acts as a children’s room during Mass, and is also home to various parish displays and meetings. During Fr O’Reilly’s time the daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was begun, and various embelishments were made to the Sanctuary. A new school hall was built in 1997. The church car park was enlarged.

Fr Richard Carter has greatly added to the ongoing improvement of the church and parish hall. The Undercroft below the church has been completely refurbished, and is now used by various groups from the church and school. The interior of the church has been redecorated and carpeted, and a new lighting system has been installed. The roof has been completely re tiled and gutterings and drains renewed. The church car park has been redesigned and tarmaced. The Parish Hall has been given a complete makeover, and is now used on many occasions by groups from within and outside of the parish. Coffee is served in ‘semi luxurious’ surroundings after the 9.30 Family Mass! In 2008 the parish celebrated the 75th anniversary of the church, and the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Parish.

Fr Carter has been ably assisted in the maintenance and updating by qualified and experienced parishioners including, Stefan Jastak, Terry Church and Laurence Hogan. A recent innovation (June 2017) has been to hold an exhibition of all the parish groups – including the recently formed CAFOD group, in the Hall after the weekend Masses. This proved to be very successful. You will see from the above history and information, that St Joseph’s is a very busy and lively Catholic parish. We pray for God’s continued blessing on our priest, our catechists, and on all of us who are proud to call ourselves twenty first century parishioners of St Joseph’s Pudsey.

(Updated by Peter Siney, with assistance from Freda Mortimer, 22/6/17)

Statue of St Joseph, in the church porchpicture of St Joseph's Churchpicture of the crucifix from St Joseph's, Pudsey

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