My aim in writing what follows has been not so much to write a scientific history—which might have been dull reading—as to produce a description of the First Catholic Charitable Society, which would tell the story of its life, be descriptive of its work, and, above all, should make its present members proud of the venerable institution to which they belong, and awaken the interest of prospective members and make them wish to join its ranks.
I have several times referred to the “History” of Fr. Splaine, S.J. I express my indebtedness here again. This book is not intended to supplant that. His should be kept in the archives of the Society. It remains the History of the first 120 years of the Society. But as it is now out of print, and not available to the ordinary member, I have included in this work some of its very interesting Appendices. Some I have endeavoured to amplify.
Fr. Splaine regrets the loss of old documents, old rule books, old minute books. “Probably they do exist,” he says, “knocking about in old drawers among old papers. May I appeal to gentlemen to find them for the good of the Society.” May I add my appeal to his?—B.F.P.
By HIS GRACE THE ARCHBISHOP OF LIVERPOOL.
“PROUD PRESTON has every reason to be proud of its FIRST CATHOLIC CHARITABLE SOCIETY. I have read Father Page’s sketch of its “transactions” with deep interest. Like the Broughton Society, so evidently akin to it, it reflects faithfully the sturdy character of the old Lancashire stock, who cherished the last flame of the true religion during the stormy night of persecution, and fed it constantly by their piety and good works. What sweet savour their apt and beautiful citations from the Inspired Word impart to their sensible and matter-of-fact regulations! And how infinitely precious in God’s sight must have been the most commonplace actions of such men, who habitually looked to His Law as “a guide to their feet, and a lamp to their paths!”
Preston has done well to keep such a Society in existence for two hundred years, and must make it a point of honour to maintain it, not only as an organisation for distributing spiritual and temporal benefits, but as a precious relic of our Catholic forefathers. To belong to such a Society is a privilege similar to the “freedom” which ancient cities, such as Preston, are accustomed to bestow on their most distinguished citizens. Let every Catholic Prestonian ambition such a distinction.
F. W., ARCHBISHOP OF LIVERPOOL
On Tuesday evening, the 10th April, 1894, there was a very large gathering of members of the First Catholic Charitable Society—the oldest Society of its kind in England—at their headquarters, Assembly Room, Bull Hotel, Preston, the object being to listen to a paper which the Rev. J. F. Splaine, S.J., formerly Rector for seven years of St. Wilfrid’s, Preston, and, by virtue of his rectorship, Chairman of the gatherings of the members, had prepared. The paper, which must have taken up a very great deal of the time of the Rev. Father in gathering the materials and information for its compilation, is of absorbing interest, and was listened to with rapt attention, broken at intervals by enthusiastic and continuous applause.—Catholic News, 14th April, 1894.
In the minutes of the Quarterly Meeting of the Society, dated July 10th, 1894, we read: “Mr. Booth asked if anything had been done by the Committee in the (matter of) printing in pamphlet form the paper read by Fr. Splaine at the last meeting. Mr. Myerscough replied that the matter had not been lost sight of.” But Fr. Splaine asked that the printing might be postponed until he had been able to make some additions and improvements. At the Quarterly Meeting of October 8th, 1895, the Chairman announced that Fr. Splaine’s ‘History of the Society’ was now on sale.”This was a pamphlet of 44 pages 8vo, bound in cloth and lettered in gold, printed by E. Buller & Son, of Preston, and entitled: “History of the First Catholic Charitable Society, by James F. Splaine, S.J., with notes by Joseph Gillow, Esq.” This is the book of which we read in the minutes of a Committee meeting of April 2nd, 1895: “Resolved that 500 copies be printed on thick paper, bound in cloth, and gold lettered.” It is so far as we know the only attempt that has been made to write a history of this venerable Society.
The First Catholic Charitable Society, it was realised, is not known, as it should be known, even in its own town of Preston. In the first minute book we read under the date, 1753:
This Charitable Society so piously instituted and so fervourously carry’d on for so many years in this town of Preston for ye benefit of ye poor & to ye increase & encouragement of Christian morality hath been obliged during ye late storms to lie under ye Bushel for so long a time that it has in a manner quite expired.
But there is no need in these our times for any Catholic Organisation “to lie under ye Bushel.” And it would indeed be deplorable, if such a splendid and venerable Society should now be allowed even “in a manner” to “quite expire.”
The Society is by no means at present even moribund. On the contrary, it is strong and active. But it is not as strong as it might be. It is inclined, perhaps, to be, at least it was in danger of becoming, somnolent. As we shall see later, we require the help of just such a Society, but one that is alive and attracting to its ranks the rising generation, the young, full-blooded, enthusiastic and energetic Catholics of the town.
Ask a young Catholic to join the “First Catholic Charitable Society,” and his reply will be: “What is it? “The Society does “Lie under ye Bushel.” It is not known, because it does not advertise. This was recognised, and so it was thought well to bring its history and its aims more into public light. But its only history brings us only to 1853. And so it was decided at a Committee meeting, and put to the vote of the general body of members on April 9th, 1923, that a history of the Society should be written. And the present writer was asked to undertake the task.
In his pamphlet above referred to, Fr. Splaine, S.J., wrote:
The sources from which we have to draw the history of this venerable Society are very limited. They consist mainly if not exclusively, of the two first account books, kept by the Treasurers of the Society for the time being, and used also by the Secretaries instead of a minute book. They have passed through many vicissitudes, and run many risks of being lost or destroyed. One was discovered among the old account books of St. Wilfrid’s. The other was, fortunately, rescued by the then Secretary of the Society from the sweepings of a newspaper of office, in the very process of being carted to the dust heap. Both are now safe. They are deposited with the Chairman of the Society at St. Wilfrid’s Presbytery, in a tin case specially made for them, open, of course, for inspection when necessary; but it is to be hoped that the Society will jealously watch over them, and not allow them to be carried about or lent, containing as they do the sole authentic record of its formal constitution and its early work. The first volume contains entries from the birth of the Society down to the month of June, 1813. The second volume runs down to 1853, and this paper does not deal with events subsequent to that date. The minutes of meetings, and various other notices, have been written in the midst of the entries of expenditure and receipts, on the fly-leaves, on the covers, in fact, anywhere that happened to be convenient, so that it has required both trouble and patience to arrange the facts in chronological order, and it may be that some mistakes have crept into our work.
Though this present work is by no means a reprint of Fr. Splaine’s book, as his is not likely to be republished in its original form, and as his observations and notes in regard to those first old account books are so carefully made, and his conclusions arrived at with such judgment, we shall not fear to make large extracts from time to time. To avoid a too frequent use of inverted commas, and the monotony of continual expression of our indebtedness, we now confess how much we owe to Fr. Splaine’s little History.
If Fr. Splaine had to regret the limited sources from which he had to draw the history of the Society, the present writer is no less handicapped. For the period before 1853, he has only those same old “two first account books.” They are still preserved in St. Wilfrid’s Presbytery in the tin case that Fr. Splaine had specially made for them. For the period after 1887 the writer has had recourse to the minute books of the Society. At times—it depended largely on the Secretary for the time being !—these minutes are very meagre. Great care was taken to record wholly uninteresting matter, e.g., names of all members present, the fact that such a member proposed and such another member seconded a resolution, which was unanimously adopted, that a hearty vote of thanks be accorded to the Reverend Chairman, who suitably responded. That such a thing happened might quite easily have been left to the imagination of subsequent generations. Nor would it have mattered much, if such a matter were forgotten. But matters of real lasting interest are so lightly touched on that, though the note is sufficient to awaken our interest, it is not enough really to quench our thirst for knowledge.
Of what happened between 1853 and 1887 we are almost entirely in the dark. Minute books relating to those years seem somehow to have been all lost.