The Parish of the Good Shepherd was formed on the 19th May 2013, and its Pastoral inauguration was sanctified by a Mass celebrated on this day by Bishop Kieran Conry, Bishop of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The financial amalgamation of the two churches to the one Parish took place on the 1st January 2014.
The Parish was formed from two previously separate Parishes, both located in St. Leonards on Sea, East Sussex. The two Churches from the original Parishes retained their previous names and are St. Thomas of Canterbury & English Martyrs and The Holy Redeemer.
St. Thomas of Canterbury Church
The history of the Parish of St Thomas of Canterbury may be described as both chequered and eventful. The present structure was erected at the end of the nineteenth century, spanning the years 1888-1889. The construction of this Church started on March 31st 1888, and was officially opened on 6th July 1889. Prior to this time the parishioners had worshipped in three separate churches.
First, in 1849, they settled into All Souls chapel, that was housed in the grounds of the Holy Child Convent in Magdalen Road. It was never intended for this chapel to be a permanent place of worship and conflict between the then parish priest and Mother Connelly, the then Superior of the Convent, did not create a very amiable atmosphere. The Society of the Holy Child nuns departed (circa 1975), but the chapel remains.
In 1868 the parishioners were able to move into a purpose-built church. The then bishop of Southwark – (the County of Sussex came directly under the auspices of the Diocese of Southwark ) Bishop Grant graced the occasion by opening and consecrating the Church. The main features of the new Church were the sanctuary which was east-facing and a magnificent pieta, made of solid oak which stood to the left of the sanctuary. Sadly, on 3rd January 1887 flames swept through the church. Despite the valiant efforts of the local fire brigade the roof fell in and the damage was irretrievable
Immediate arrangements for worship had to be made for the parishioners. In the seven week period between the beginning of January and the end of February we have no record of where Sunday mass was held, but during this time the temporary iron church was erected beside the remains of the building destroyed by fire. What we have now is the ‘new’ church. Opened in 1889 and described as ‘bare as a Friars’ Church’. How do we account for the embellished interior that adorns the church today? Stained glass windows were added and over a three year period, from 1908, Nathaniel Westlake applied his artistic talents to the interior. Fifty years on this stunning decor was becoming faded and damaged. Strong wind-bearing rains were ravaging the walls and water was seeping though. Some repair work was carried out in the 1950’s but by 1981 some serious decisions had to be made. The then parish priest, Father Jim Martin, faced the parishioners with some stark alternatives: repaint the glorious, but fading interior with whitewash or spent a considerable amount of money on restoration. Powerful persuasion enabled the restoration work to go ahead and Charles Camm renovated the beauty of the original decor.
The Holy Redeemer Church
The Holy Redeemer Church was built in 1934/35, on an area of ground approximately 1¾ acres in extent that had been purchased in January 1933. The costs for building the Church were donated by Major Holman of The Briers in thanksgiving for the ordination of his son. The church was initially consecrated as a Chapel of Ease in October 1935, and Father H. Holman celebrated the first Mass in the Chapel of Ease in January 1935. The Church was served from St. Thomas’ with one Sunday Mass and occasional Benediction. There were about 60-70 parishioners.
In 1962 it became a parish in its own right, but at that time the Church was in a very sorry and dilapidated state. Many windows were broken, and, here and there, a rag or twist of paper served to stuff the gaping holes. The old coke-fired heating system had been out of order for years and the three radiators it served were hopelessly inadequate. A large area of damp-stain near the altar rails caught the eye and the walls bore the marks of explosions from frozen pipes. The nave of the church was filled with rows of chairs which had clearly proved a popular breeding place for wood-worm. The grounds were pathetically uncared for – paths consisting of coarse shingle thrown haphazardly on the grass and clay were a menace, while the steps were hidden beneath a riot of brambles, briars and other well-established weeds.
Gradual improvements were carried out to the Church, and the new Parish Priest, Father Patrick Cox, also purchased a new marble altar from Connemara shortly after his appointment, and it remains in the Church today. The grounds were transformed; and it was decided we needed a parish hall. The site was cleared by volunteers and the present Parish Hall was erected, and this has proved to be a valuable asset.
In 1986 the Church was enlarged to its present form at a cost of £250,000. Fund raising was carried out by the parishioners, but the building costs were mainly financed by way of an area of land in Harrow Lane, (later to become part of the Little Ridge Development,) that had been purchased by Father Patrick Cox; initially as land for a Catholic school. At a later date this same land was sold by Father William Bradley to finance the building works for the extension to the Church. The altar was moved to the east side. The stained glass window behind the altar was commissioned for the millennium and the two on either side are in memory of Father Michael McGlade. The extended Church was consecrated on the 23 June 1987.
In 2010 the UCM commissioned a window of the Mother and Child to celebrate their Golden Jubilee. The Holy Redeemer Church celebrated its golden jubilee in June 2012.