Articles, records and resources relating to the history of the Lancashire town of Preston
The First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston – Chapter 11
XI. WORKS INITIATED AND DIRECTED BY THE FIRST CATHOLIC CHARITABLE SOCIETY
THE CEMETERY MASS
In the Churches of Preston at the beginning of each month a notice is read announcing a Mass to be said in the Catholic Chapel of the Preston Cemetery. The origin of this custom?—In the minutes of a Quarterly Meeting of the First Catholic Charitable Society, held some thirty-two years ago—on April 6th, 1891, to be exact—we find the following entry:
Mr. E. Pyke brought before the notice of the meeting the question of having a monthly Mass said at the Cemetery Church. He said the Burial Board had renovated and decorated the Church and made it fit for Mass to be celebrated in. If they could have a Mass once a month for the repose of the souls of those who were buried in the Cemetery, it would show a respect for the dead which, as Catholics, they could not show in any other way. It would be an encouragement to Catholics to go up and hear Mass, and altogether it was a most desirable thing if the necessary arrangements could be made.
Councillor Yates W. Booth heartily agreed with the proposal, and Father (afterwards Canon) Cosgrave promised to bring the matter before the Rectors of Preston. There then our present day custom originated.
It is a small matter. We place it on record to show that many a good work, many a pious custom, that we of the present day take for granted, must be put to the credit of the First Catholic Charitable Society.
BOYS’ HOMES, POOR LAW SCHOOL, &c
Preston possesses at the present day several very excellent Institutions for the training and upbringing and protection of boys of poor parents, or boys in need of care. The splendid St. Vincent’s School of the Sisters of Charity in the English Martyrs’ parish, and the St. Thomas’ Home, conducted by the Brothers at Tulketh Hall, Ashton, and the Home in Stephenson Terrace, spring at once to mind. These would no doubt have come in time; but the first thought of them must be put to the credit of the First Catholic Charitable Society.
At the Quarterly Meeting of April 8th, 1889, held in the Legs of Man Hotel, Mr. R. H. Smith read a paper on “Boys’ Homes,” and Mr. W. P. Meagher followed with one on “Rescue Work.” These were not the first thoughts on the subject at meetings of the Society, for, during the discussion which followed, Councillor (afterwards Alderman) R. Myerscough was able to announce what steps had already been taken for the purchase of the ground on Garstang Road. But these two papers did much to stir up the priests and people of Preston to renewed activity.
And this interest was sustained. At the annual dinner in 1891, in a speech to the toast of the Society, Fr. Fanning, S.J., spoke strongly of the Poor Law School question and the need there was for something to be done for Catholic children in the Workhouse.
We find the same subject referred to again in July, 1896, by Fr. O’Hare; and Canon Pyke introduced it once more in July, 1898. And always the subject is discussed, not merely as a matter of general interest, but as a matter in which the First Catholic Charitable Society was intimately concerned. Thus, in October, 1909, we find that “it was resolved that this Society pledges itself to support the Rev. Mother of St. Vincent’s in her forthcoming Bazaar.”
CATHOLIC REPRESENTATIVES, GUARDIANS, &c
Party politics as such have no place in the business of the First Catholic Charitable Society, and the introduction of such into speeches or papers at its meetings is rigorously barred. But the Society does take an interest, and rightly has for years taken an interest in a just Catholic representation in the different departments of the social life of the town. One of the great works of the Society is to discuss Catholic matters, and no matter is more vital to the Catholic body than the representation of Catholics in proportion to their population on the Bench of Magistrates, on the Board of Guardians, on the Town Council. We find all this urged at length in the report of a speech by Fr. Bond, S.J., at the Annual Dinner in 1889. He asked whether as members of the First Catholic Charitable Society they could be satisfied with things as they found them then. The First Catholic Charitable Society was a great lever and a great instrument by which they could work the question. Note the stress that is laid on the Society. And in the same strain spoke other members on that night.
This bore fruit, for next month the Committee suggested the formation of a small Sub-Committee that should consider any matters of public interest to Catholics, such as the election of Guardians, members of the Town Council and so on. At the October meeting such a Committee was appointed, and those elected were Mr. Yates W. Booth, Mr. W. P. Meagher, and Mr. J. Seed (Junr.).
All this discussion was not new in the Society, not unheard of at its meetings. Indeed it might almost be said to follow two papers read in 1888, one “The Importance of Catholics taking Part in Public Affairs,” by Mr. Booth; the other, “Catholic Organisation,” by Dr. A. P. Mooney.
And always the question of Catholic representation has been considered, and is considered one of the big interests of the Society. “Our representatives ” are toasted at every dinner as people who do honour to the Society and great good to their fellow Catholics of the town, deserving well of both.
This interest in Catholic representation has been shown in many ways. Mr. Hubberstey in July, 1893, urged that each Mission should do what it could to further the registration of Catholic voters. He was supported strongly by Dr. Byrne and Dean Pyke. In 1901, the business of the October meeting on the agenda paper was “to discuss (1) the advantages to be derived from the formation of a Catholic Registration Association and (2) the best means of forming such an Association. The discussion, however, was postponed. But in April, 1903, we find Councillor Hubberstey reporting very satisfactory progress.
Each year the Society at its annual meeting elects certain members of a Guardians Compact Committee. We find such a body first mentioned in 1892. Briefly this consists of an equal number of members nominated by Catholics, Church of England, and Nonconformists. The Catholics are nominated by the First Catholic Charitable Society. When elections for the Board of Guardians take place, this Committee sees to it that all three bodies are represented in proper proportion. They do not oppose, but in fact actively support one another’s candidates. On the whole, this system has worked very well for years now, though in consequence of various circumstances, into which it would be extraneous to our subject to enter, there is fear that a break down is in sight. The first election of Guardians after the formation of the “Compact” took place in 1895. Prominent among the members of the first “Compact Committee” were Dr. Mooney, Mr. James Bolton, J.P., and Mr. Bernard Butler.
OPPOSITION TO EDUCATION BILLS
In past years several Bills have been brought before Parliament, which, if they had been made into laws, would have dealt, if not the death blow, at least great and well nigh insupportable injustice to Catholic education in the country. Very naturally such measures were met with opposition of no equivocal kind by Catholic Organisations throughout the land. Very naturally also the First Catholic Charitable Society was in the vanguard of such opposition.
In 1896, Fr. O’Hare, as Chairman, appealed to the Society to be staunch in their support of the Bishop in opposition to the danger that then threatened. In October, 1906, a resolution was sent to the House of Lords to the effect that “This meeting of the First Catholic Charitable Society renews its protest against the Education Bill now before the House of Lords and repeats its request for the three essential conditions necessary for any just solution of the Education Question, viz.:—Catholic Schools, Catholic Teachers, Effective Catholic Oversight of all that pertains to Religious Teaching and Influence.” At a meeting in April of the following year (1907), a resolution was sent to Members of Parliament in the following terms: “We, the members of the First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston, wish to express our emphatic protest against and condemnation of the Education (Special Religious Instruction) Act of 1907 now before Parliament. We do so because it is based on injustice, because, it is for us a penal enactment, and because, if passed it may drive us, to our deep regret as law-abiding citizens, to resist the law. In this town alone we pay our share to the maintenance of all schools, and, in addition, through the provision and maintenance of our school buildings, we indirectly pay four-fifteenths of the salaries of our teachers, thereby relieving the rates and taxes to this amount. This money in strict justice should come from the rates and taxes, as we Catholics are ratepayers and taxpayers. Therefore, we are determined to resist the working of the Act, if passed, in every possible way,” And again in August there is a strongly worded “protest against the new Training College and Secondary Schools Regulations.”
One might speak of many other activities of the First Catholic Charitable Society. One might instance the Catholic Parents’ Education League, which was formed from it, and which subsequently became the Catholic League. The operations of these two Institutions, which owe their origin to this Society, would take us too far afield. We have written so much to show that every good work in Catholic interests during the last century in Preston owes its inception, its progress, its success to the zeal, the foresight, the energy, the prudence of the
FIRST CATHOLIC CHARITABLE SOCIETY.