The only record the parish has of this period is contained in the all-too-brief reminiscences of Daniel Holland (1854-1928), printed in the magazine St. Peter’s Chair in 1889. He recalled that the first priest to visit was Fr. Nedelec, who was a Breton by birth and a member of the Fathers of Charity. Among the houses where Mass was celebrated were those of James and Catherine Barry of Penmark; Jeremiah and Mary Daley of Penmark, and of Thomas Roberts from Fontygary. A small levy was agreed on – sixpence a quarter from each family – so as to defray the travelling expenses of the priest.
Fr.Stephen Bruno became the next priest to visit and celebrate Mass ‘for some years’ at Llanbethery, a hamlet almost exactly half-way between the two biggest Catholic groups, those of Penmark and Llancarfan. Fr. Bruno, who served at St. Peter’s in Roath, was deeply attached to his people and they in turn were touched by his zeal in visiting both the sick and the dying, even during wintertime, when only part of his journey could be done by train. Daniel Holland noted that the levy went up by a shilling a quarter for each family.
Among other priests who visited included Fr.Hayde, Fr.Clarke and Fr.Burge O.S.B., all three of whom were serving from Cardiff. The well-loved Fr.Hyland then visited next and people recalled his great kindliness and his custom of supplying them with books and papers of Catholic interest. In 1886, there arrived in Barry a young Catholic Irish doctor called P.J. O’Donnell, and it was to be his energy and leadership that would play a vital part in the foundation and future developments of the parish.
It was clear to Dr.O’Donnell that the needs of the ever-growing Catholic population in Barry could not for ever be served by priests travelling to and fro from Cardiff and Penarth. He managed to persuade the Bishop for permission for Mass to be celebrated at his house in Cadoxton until somewhere better could be found. Mass was first celebrated there on Low Sunday in 1887. Fr. Hyland soon after became the first visiting priest and it did not take long before he and Dr. O’Donnell drafted a letter of petition to Bishop Hedley, which gave reasons explaining why Catholics in Barry should have their own resident priest. This petition was supported by 450 signatures from around the Barry area and the result proved to be very gratifying. Bishop Hedley wrote back in October of the same year (1888) promising to install Fr.Hyland as Parish Priest as soon as possible. In the same letter, Bishop Hedley explained that the next task for Catholics in Barry would be to set up a Catholic school, this would be set up in a remarkably short period of time.
During this time, Dr. O’Donnell was looking around for a suitable house for Fr. Hyland, who arrived at the end of 1889, and proceeded to a residence in Beatrice Road. He went on to live in Holton Road and by 1892, was living in Guthrie Street. But there was still no Church, and it was left to the proprietor of the Wenvoe Arms Hotel, Mr.Henry Chappell, to solve this major problem. Mr.Chappell offered the use of an assembly room in the Hotel, which served on Mondays as a magistrates court and during the rest of the week as a dining room.
Bishop Hedley administered the Sacrament of Confirmation at the ‘Roman Catholic Mission Church, Cadoxton-Barry’ – which is how Barry Catholics described it, using the title “St. Mary’s” rather than “St. Helen’s” at the time. No fewer than 60 candidates were confirmed on 5th September 1890. During his homily, Bishop Hedley hoped that within a few months they would be in a position to erect a Catholic School and, if not a Church, certainly a Mission-Chapel in Cadoxton, so that the Bishop trusted that local funds for these purposes would be opened soon. The Bishop was voicing what all knew: that the time had certainly come for the parish to build.
Great efforts were made, and in less than two years, an acre of land where St. Helen’s Church and the Infant School stand today, was acquired and they built their “School-Chapel” here, intending later to build a Church. The dedication took place on 9th May 1892, presided by Bishop Hedley, who was greeted at the railway station by 150 schoolchildren, who formed a procession along Court Road and sang the anthem “Light gleams our Banner”. A packed congregation filled the chapel and music was provided by a choir from St. David’s in Cardiff. The Pontifical Mass commenced at 11am, and a luncheon was held following the celebration at the Witchill Hotel, where one of the guests of honour was Dr. O’Donnell. 114 children had, by this time, already enrolled themselves into the new School.
The new School was opened on Tuesday 10th May 1892, and it first headteacher was Mrs. Catherine Higgins, who was a Certified Teacher from Liverpool Training College, assisted by three ‘monitoresses’ – Mary McCarthy, Lily Driscoll and Agnes Richly. As for Fr. Hyland, who lived to see most of his hopes to be turned into a reality, he had been transferred to Neath in 1894, and his health had begun to decline steadily. He passed away at Nazareth House in July 1896. Fr. D’Hulst succeeded him and served from 1895 until 1897. He was succeeded by the memorable and, some would say, formidable Fr. James Byrne. Fr. Byrne stayed in Barry for 18 years, and during his time, the old Infants School building was set up.
St. Helen’s Church itself soon followed and one of the foundation stones was laid on 14th September 1906 by Edaliza Sheckell Leonard. Seven months later, the building was completed, at a cost of £1,150. The opening ceremony, presided by Bishop Hedley, took place on 28th April 1907. The Bishop presided over a Pontifical Mass in the presence of a very large congregation and a string band, led by Mr. Arthur Roberts, provided the music. This accompaniment was to be used for many years at 11 o’clock Sunday Mass and Evening Benedictions. The Church is, out of interest, 92 feet long and 42 feet wide. It looks larger inside because there are no pillars to obstruct the view of the altar. The High Altar which was used, was a product of the Antwerp firm of Beylen Brothers. It was carved entirely from oak and had a plain Gothic style with niches for six statues plus a crucifix in a central canopied niche flanked by statues of Our Lady and St. John. A year after the Church had been completed, Fr. Byrne had the presbytery built, and upon his request in 1913, Fr. Francis Vaughan arrived to be the first Curate of the Parish. Fr. Vaughan left briefly in 1914, intending to join the Catholic Missionary Society, but in 1915, he returned to succeed Canon Byrne as Rector.
In Canon Vaughan’s time as Rector, the debt which had been£1,678 at the time of his arrival in 1915, had been completely cleared by 1923. This was due to the first general meeting of the parishioners, with the aim of trying to reduce the debt and agreeing that every parishioner, if he or she could, would give £1 per annum in addition to the normal collections. By the early-1920’s, the seating had become quite inadequate and it was not uncommon for chairs to be placed the whole length of the side aisles on special occasions, even then scores of parishioners would be left standing or even unable to get in. Another general meeting of parishioners discussed this problem and in 1921, Fr. Vaughan suggested building a gallery which could accommodate up to 150 persons, with room for a choir and a organ. The gallery was completed by the next year (1922) at a cost of £482; this sum had been raised quickly by parish efforts. The same year, parishioners agreed for a suitable memorial to those who had died in the First World War, and as a result of a general parish meeting, a stone monument (still standing and currently undergoing refurbishment) was placed in the presbytery garden at a cost of £110. This was the first such memorial to be erected in Barry, and for many years it was the focus of Remembrance Day observances by priests and people of St. Helen’s. This practice was discontinued for a while, but has been recently revived.
The next project for the parish was to build a parish hall. It cost £1000 to build and furnish, of which £260 was paid for by the leasehold of the site in Maesycwm Street. The Catholic Young Men’s Society undertook the task of raising the money, this proved to be a heavy burden and as the records show, the debt had not been discharged by 1933. In 1925, another general parish meeting took place, at which it was decided that something ought to be done about the heating in the Church. In the past, it had been warmed by means of large iron stoves in alcoves along the side walls – the more observant members of the congregation may still detect the scars where these openings were filled in and plastered over. It cost £250 to remove these and replace them with radiators and hot water pipes connected to a central furnace (which are still in use today, much enhanced in their efficiency by the new oil-fired furnace installed in 1984 under the supervision of Canon Cresci).
In December 1926, the largest and most ambitious bazaar took place in the parish. The Rector’s suggestion at a general parish meeting in January that year that a bazaar should be held in support of a proposed Schools Extension Fund, was received with great enthusiasm and an organizing committee was quickly set up. The “Three-Day Bazaar” of 1926 was a huge success: the whole of the parish seemed to rise to the occasion and a total of £500 was raised. These included some donations from non-Catholics who were anxious to help both their children and teachers. The parish magazine observed with pride “A very satisfactory nucleus for a School Improvement and Extension Fund”.
In the summer of 1926, now-Canon Vaughan was appointed as Bishop-Elect of the old Diocese of Menevia and he was consecrated at St. David’s Cathedral, Cardiff on 8th September, Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady. A large number of parishioners from Barry were present in the Cathedral and the following Sunday, when Bishop Vaughan presided at Solemn Pontifical Benediction which demonstrated the love and admiration for him. 700 gathered, the largest congregation that the parish had seen and an hour before the service, a queue had already formed all the way down Wyndham Street, and a few days later, parishioners held a reception for him and bid him farewell.
Fr. D.J. Quigley was appointed as the new Parish Priest and he took charge in October 1926. In February 1927, he presided at a large gathering for the official presentation to Bishop Vaughan at the Theatre Royal. Prior to taking over in Barry, Fr. Quigley had been Parish Priest at Cwmbran for 18 years, and he was sadly missed by those parishioners. Fr. Quigley proved himself to be a worthy successor to Bishop Vaughan. He was energetic, kindly, a notable preacher and with some reputation as a scholar, he made his mark as a spiritual leader of the parish. Fr. Quigley showed too that he was anxious to continue in the footsteps of the late Canon Byrne by extending and improving the parish buildings – school, Church and presbytery, though not in that order. For him, he felt that the presbytery was the most urgent need, so as to accommodate another curate. He placed his plans before a parochial meeting in January 1927. No mention was made of the scheme for extending the school: the Extension Fund now assumed a more general character, and was merged with the Mission Fund. The parishioners were invited to continue to work raising funds for the new projects bearing in mind that the 1926 strike and its attendant problems had severely curtailed the more recent attempts at money-raising by means of prize-drawings and similar activities.
Plans for work on the presbytery extension went ahead rapidly, as well as those planned for the Church itself. Work on the presbytery had commenced by November 1927 and were nearly complete by February 1928. But obtaining the funds, according to successive parish magazine editorials, proved more and more difficult. Times were bad, and the ordinary collections in church had, for some time, been falling considerably. Fr. Quigley, by April 1928, informed readers of the magazine that he had “had to embark on the perilous road of borrowing, as our available funds are exhausted”, and he urged the parish to perform even greater efforts at fund-raising.
The alterations to the church were well advanced by November 1928, and according to Fr. Quigley in the parish magazine, none too soon:
The High Altar was taken just in time. It is doubtful if it would have held up much longer and wonder is that no-one has met with a serious accident”
Work then proceeded quickly on the two side chapels, which up until then had been opened out by the removal of the low walls which previously enclosed them, and for a long time these formed an attractive feature of the church, one dedicated to the Sacred Heart and one dedicated to Our Lady. Christmas Day 1928 saw the first Mass celebrated in Our Lady’s Chapel and the Sacred Heart Chapel was put in use by June 1929. Statues of St. Joseph and St. Vincent de Paul were placed in niches either side of the Sanctuary.
The early-1930’s were a difficult period indeed for the parish finances, not at all a time when extra burdens could be undertaken lightly. By February 1934, collections had fallen by half since the arrival of Canon Quigley to Barry. However the Infants School project had to go forward, and by March 1934, the public notice had been posted; and although the Authority would have preferred a larger site, the presbytery garden was the best that the parish had to offer. In July, Canon Quigley called a general parish meeting so as to report on the whole matter, including the estimated cost (£4,000). Canon Quigley spoke of the need to raise funds: Archbishop Francis Mostyn had offered to advance the money on loan at 4 per cent generating an annual interest of £160. Sacrifices would have to be made “so that our little children will be taught and cared for under excellent conditions”.
Work on the new Infants School had started in August 1934, a firm from Manchester had been given the building contract at the request of the Archbishop of Cardiff. The school was almost ready by November 1934 and the Archbishop proposed taking over the whole debt on the parish (which was about £6,000 at this time) and having owed this to central Archdiocesan Funds. Meanwhile at a meeting in November, efforts were made to re-organize outdoor collections in the parish and these were met with considerable success.
The Archbishop of Cardiff formally opened the new Infants School on 10th January 1935. Canon Quigley, who unfortunately was unable to attend because he was indisposed, sent a message expressing his satisfaction. He noted with regret, however, that the Juniors would have to wait some time for better accommodation, with there being no immediate prospect of further building. Another 40 years were to elapse, in fact, before the new St. Helen’s Junior School was opened at Tynewydd Road.
Just a few months before the new Infants School was opened, the parish suffered a blow with the untimely passing of Mr. Henry Wood. He died on 11th September 1934 and had been Headmaster for 36 years. The statue of St. Helen which stands in the church was purchased from the proceeds of a public collection and placed there in his memory. In September 1935, the Infants School, too, lost a revered Head Teacher through the retirement of Miss Grant after 33 years of loyal service. A presentation evening was held at the Dorothy Cafe on 3rd October, and this was followed by a public meeting in the Parish Hall at the end of the month at which Miss Grant received an illuminated address and other gifts from a grateful parish. Mr. Wood was succeeded by Mr. A.E. Dawes, senior member of the staff and Miss Grant was succeeded by her popular colleague, Miss. Tonge.
The last issue of the parish magazine was printed in mid-1937, after which it became more difficult to keep up with the course of parish affairs. After 1935, Canon Quigley devoted his remaining years entirely to the well-being of his flock, this he did despite frequent and serious bouts of ill-health. On 21st August 1947, Canon Quigley died suddenly, mourned by a people who loved and admired him. He was buried in the churchyard at St. Bede’s in Rotherham.
Fr. Thomas Conway, who had served in the African Missionary field and had been serving as Parish Priest at Our Lady of Lourdes, Mountain Ash, was appointed as the new Parish Priest. However, Fr. Conway’s period at St. Helen’s was rather uneventful, apart from some rather minor changes in the church. He made some alterations to the altar, placed a new carved pulpit, some strip-lighting and a votive altar in honour of St. Philomena. Little of these remains now, apart from some carved panels from the pulpit which were incorporated into the pulpit and tabernacle pedestal which were used until the re-ordering of the church in 2003. His health was far from good, and he was forced to retire from active priestly ministry and he died soon afterwards and is buried in Ireland.
He was succeeded by Fr. (later Canon) William Boulton, who had served as a Curate at St. Helen’s. He was born in East Dulwich in 1891, and grew up in the Archdiocese of Southwark. He received his education from Douai School and he went to study for the priesthood at the English College in Rome, where he was ordained in June 1917. He served as Curate for a year at St. David’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Cardiff. Fr. Boulton then served at St. Dyfrig’s in Treforest, and he served there for 23 years.
Canon Boulton served as Parish Priest from 1951 until his death in 1963. Two major building projects which had special significance for our parish were undertaken during his time here. They were the new church of St. Michael and All Angels, Colcot, and the opening of St. Cadoc’s Secondary (Comprehensive) School. Archbishop Murphy opened the new church of St. Michael’s on 28th September 1962, and until 2003 served as parish church for the separate Colcot community. However, Canon Boulton did not live to see the opening of St. Cadoc’s. He passed away in 1963 and the school did not open until the following year. One reminder of his stay at Barry is the ‘Cathos’ scheme of parish collections by means of envelopes, this system is, of course, still successfully operating.
Fr. Laurence Cresci succeeded the late Canon Boulton in 1963, and for the past 6 years had been serving at Townhill Parish in Swansea. He had grew up in South Wales and was educated at St. Illtyd’s College in Cardiff. He also knew the late Monsignor Quigley well and had served as one of his Curates at St. Helen’s. He was present at the opening of St. Cadoc’s School, presided by Archbishop Murphy. He celebrated the first Mass there on 16th October 1964.
Around this time, Archbishop Murphy advised Fr. Cresci to undertake some interesting and radical alterations to the church in anticipation of the liturgical changes that were to be made as a consequence of the Second Vatican Council. Under the supervision of Fr. Cresci and in consultation with the Archdiocesan architect, the walls and arches which had previously enclosed the two side chapels were swept away, which left the sanctuary open for the full width of the church. The wooden high altar was removed and a stone one was set up in order for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. The oak-plank floor which Monsignor Quigley had laid, was taken up and replaced with one which was based on concrete. A re-fashioned pulpit was installed, as well as new altar-rails, freestanding tabernacle and altar furniture, all of which gave the sanctuary an entirely new look and it provided ample scope for the new liturgy. Fr. Cresci (who was made an Honorary Canon in 1978) therefore became the first Parish Priest at St. Helen’s to celebrate Mass in English. A new Chapel dedicated to Our Lady was added to enshrine the beautiful statue which had been in the Church since 1907. A medieval altar-stone, excavated from the precincts of the ruined medieval church at Highlight, was presented and incorporated into the fabric of the Lady Chapel Altar.
Other improvements made under Canon Cresci’s supervision included the design and laying-out of the present surround to the war memorial, improved car-parking near the presbytery, and most recently of all (1983) the installation of a really modern gas burning furnace in order to heat the church through the existing pipes and radiators. Despite all of this, the church debt had fallen to an almost unprecedented level of £2000 by late-1984. The Parish was approaching its Centenary in good heart!
By 1984 Canon Cresci could look back on two decades of quiet and harmonious progress in his parish. As late as the summer of that year, the Canon was planning to have the present modest history of the parish put through the press, and was discussing a new design for the sanctuary which was put forward by Mr. E.J. Brook. Canon Cresci took pleasure in the fact that the parish debt had fallen almost to extinction, and that there were no immediate plans for any great expenditure. He particularly valued the long-standing connections that he had formed with the Church in Mexico, from where he invited every year, two or three priests to spend some weeks in Barry in order to perfect their English and helping with the usual pastoral duties. In return, Canon Cresci was regularly entertained as a guest of the Archbishop of Mexico City.
In September 1984, Canon Cresci visited Mexico once again. After having had a happy stay in Mexico he travelled north in order to visit some friends in the United States. Sometime during this journey, he collapsed and was rushed to a hospital in Washington D.C. On 6th October 1984, Very Reverend Canon Laurence Cresci passed away. At his bedside was Canon Bernard Cosulich, his longtime friend, and who had been sent out by the Archbishop of Cardiff. He accompanied Canon Cresci on his final journey back to Barry.
The Requiem Mass was held at St. Helen’s on 14th October and was celebrated by Archbishop John Aloysius Ward, O.F.M. Cap of Cardiff. Some 85 priests concelebrated and a huge congregation attended, with some community leaders in attendance. He was buried, as he had wished, at Barry Cemetery.
In December 1984, Archbishop Ward appointed Canon Edwin Regan, who had been serving as Administrator of St. David’s Cathedral, as the new Parish Priest and he took up his duties on 29th January 1985. A native of Port Talbot, he was assisted by Fr. Silvio Briffa, O.P. from Malta, and was to oversee a busy four years in the next chapter of the life of the Parish.
On the surface there were a number of physical changes and happenings which were very obvious to all. The original School building was demolished and the presbytery, which had developed structural difficulties, underwent considerable renovation and redecoration, for an equally considerable sum. This increased investment would be reflected in its greater use in the life of the parish. The change of name of St. Cadoc’s to St. Richard Gwyn Comprehensive School in 1987 may also appeared to have been a superficial one, but in fact reflected a dedication to more recent, rather than ancient, history of the Catholic community. The School, unfortunately, had been damaged by fire in October that year, which destroyed the gym and changing rooms. Archbishop Ward visited the site immediately and he renewed the commitment of the Archdiocese to the School. After successful repairs, the Archbishop reopened and blessed the much improved gym in November 1989.
On one Sunday not long before Christmas of 1989, the parishioners became painfully aware that the church organ was in its last throes. While Canon Regan had hoped that a new organ might be provided for the church during its centenary year, the prospect of Christmas without music proved unbearable. A new organ was purchased and installed in time for the traditional Christmas liturgies.
The condition of the roof at St. Helen’s had also been causing severe concern for some time, but again, replacement represented a significant financial outlay which the parish could ill afford. However, by the winter of 1988/89, water was beginning to leak persistently, onto the sanctuary and clergy celebrated Holy Mass while rain fell onto the altar itself. During a mercifully dry spell of weather in February 1989, the church was re-roofed at a cost of £9,000. These changes in both fabric and appearance were significant in their own right, but Canon Regan’s tenure as Parish Priest was also marked by changes in the religious practice.
One of the most profound developments was the formation of Eucharistic Ministers. On 27th March 1987, Archbishop Ward visited the parish and commissioned the first lay ministers of communion from the parish and from St. Mary’s in Dinas Powys, who were empowered to take Holy Communion to the sick and housebound of the Parish in order that they may not feel isolated from every day religious practice. During the first two years, Canon Regan also initiated the Veritas Course to prepare parents for the baptism of their children. Although the course was overseen by a member of the religious community, in its early days by Sr. Ailbe a much-loved Parish Sister, the bulk of the course was conducted by lay parented leaders. While the purpose of the course was to prepare parents for their child’s first welcome into the Christian life of the community, much of the course reflected the pressures of modern skill of parenting in a broader sense.
By May of 1987, a working party on the formation of a Parish Council was set up and deliberating on desirable objectives. In June, it reported to a full parish meeting and nominations for the new Council were invited. By October, the Parish Council had been elected and was meeting to consider various issues which were facing the Parish. In September of the same year, Martin Wilson arrived as Deacon, as part of his preparation for ordination to the priesthood in the following June. He quickly settled into the life of the Parish and was very warmly received. Many parishioners had never before been exposed to this process and took a personal interest in his progress. This was reflected when, following his ordination in Cardiff, Fr. Martin celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Helen’s and a reception was held, in which most of the parish participated. It was a joyous and moving occasion, the like of which even the clergy had difficulty in recalling!
In March 1989, Canon Regan announced to an astonished parish that Archbishop Ward was transferring him to St. Mary’s parish in Bridgend. Canon Regan was only the second Parish Priest to be so moved in sixty years, the other having been on health grounds. The surprise was well reflected in the reaction of the non-Catholic community to whom Canon Regan had become well-known through his involvement in ecumenical activities and local community affairs.
Fr. John Meredith, who had been ordained the previous year, together with the help of Fr. David O’Donnell, a supply priest from Merthyr, took charge of the Parish until October 1989, when Fr. Pierce Maher arrived from St. Aloysius, in Gurnos, Merthyr. He arrived in time to usher in the next one hundred years of Catholic life in the community of Barry. These celebrations took place in 1990, and the plans which had been set in motion by Canon Regan, were organized by a committee which was formed in 1989.
An extremely successful Family Day, in which a Victorian Theme was the order of the day, was held in the Infants School and raised £1,000, this was followed by a dinner dance at the Memorial Hall. In October, Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Ward and concelebrated by Fr.Maher and many past priests who had served the parish, including Canon Regan. The monies raised was given to Fr. Maher for the Parish and he put it towards the repainting of the interior of the Church. In June 1992 the parish was honoured by the visit of the then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Barbarito, to St. Helen’s Infants School as part of his visit of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, this visit was to mark the 10th anniversary of the visit to Wales of Blessed Pope John Paul II. During this time, Fr. Maher was served by Fr. Francis Lynch from 1991 until 1995, and by the late Fr. Andrew Maggs from 1996 until 1997.
In September 1997, Fr. Maher was transferred to Llantwit Major and Cowbridge where he would serve until he sadly passed away in February 2011, and Fr. Maggs was sent to Penarth. Fr. Patrick O’Gorman, who had served at St. Anne’s in Malpas, Newport, became the 11th Parish Priest and he soon identified some of the practical difficulties within the Parish. For instance, the Parish Hall in Maes-y-Cwm Street was in very poor condition and in fact had been for some time. It was also situated some way from the Church itself which caused difficulties especially during Winter. Major refurbishments would be necessary in order to fulfil the needs of the Parish and to meet new health and safety regulations.
A Archdiocesan survey was carried out in 1998 and it was decided that the great expense needed to refurbish the hall could not be justified. Instead it was proposed that a new hall should be built attached to the church, the cost of which would be met in part by the sale of the land on which the old hall was sited. In April 1998, a decision was made to proceed with plans to build a new hall. A parish meeting was held on 5th July and a final report on the proposed project was made available to the parish. A fundraising committee was set up in order to raise some money towards the cost of the new Church Hall. As well as a ‘Buy a Brick’ weekly raffle, social events and coach outings were also arranged.
In March 1999, however, Fr. O’Gorman became seriously ill and he spent a period of time in hospital. He then returned home to Dublin in order to recuperate. During his absence various priests including Fr. Paul Millar from St. Michael’s and Dom.Wulstan Probert, O.S.B. from Belmont Abbey served the parish until in December 1999, Fr. David Hayman arrived from St. Teilo’s in Whitchurch to serve as Parish Administrator and to bring a degree of stability. Fundraising continued, but plans for the new Parish Hall were put on hold until Fr. Pat returned to St. Helen’s, fully recovered, in May 2000.
A building committee was formed, and included Mr. Martin Brook who was able to advise on the design and costs and to oversee the progress of the project. In April of 2001, the former Parish Hall was put on the market and sold at auction in September that same year. Tenders were invited for the new Parish Hall to include the re-ordering of the Church, and in July 2001, the contract was awarded to Velosward Builders with the work to start in August. During the building of the Parish Hall and the re-ordering of the Church, weekday Mass would be celebrated in the Presbytery. The gallery was closed in January 2003 and so during February, Sunday Masses were celebrated at St. Helen’s Junior School, with Ash Wednesday Masses celebrated at the Infant School. Parishioners were invited to contribute towards the cost of a new altar and other church furnishings, while arrangements were made for the Stations of the Cross to be professionally cleaned and relined. There were major alterations to the Church. A screen was built across the back of the Church to provide an entrance to the Church and a way into the Hall. The altar was remodelled, the interior redecorated and new lights were installed. Improvements were also made externally. The former Junior School playground was converted into a car park and a disabled access was created at the entrance of the Church. The work was completed in June 2003.
In April 2003, it was confirmed that, on the advice of the Archdiocesan Strategy Board, the parishes of St. Michael and All Angels, Barry and St. Vincent de Paul in Rhoose would be closed and the parishes amalgamated with St. Helen’s. Both buildings would be eventually sold. This was a very difficult and sad time for the parishioners of the two churches and for their Parish Priest, Fr. Paul Millar. Archbishop Peter Smith, in writing to the parishioners, said: “I can understand the sadness, and even the hurt, that this closure will bring to those who have remained loyal members of the Parish over the years. On a positive note, the advantage will be that the combined resources of what have been two autonomous parishes can be combined for the greater benefit of the whole Catholic community in the Barry area. Combining the resources of both parishes will, I believe, lead to a more cohesive and stronger Catholic community in the area.”
A meeting was held on 29th April 2003 to discuss the matters arising from this decision, such as the impact on the community, Mass attendance etc. A series of Holy Hours was arranged at both St. Michael’s and St. Helen’s in order to pray for guidance and assistance for the way ahead. A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated by Archbishop Peter on Monday 16th June 2003 at which several priests who had previously served the parishes together with clergy from Cardiff West Deanery concelebrated, as well as Frs. Millar and O’Gorman. The following Sunday, 22nd June, the Archbishop presided the Closing Mass, together with Fr. Paul and Fr. Pat, at the end of which Fr. Paul thanked all the parishioners for their help to the parish through the years and the help and assistance they had given him personally. That evening, the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Oils, were taken in a procession from St. Michael’s to St. Helen’s. On Friday 27th June 2003, Archbishop Peter formally amalgamated the two parishes at a Mass of Rededication, during which the altar was blessed and the Parish Hall was officially opened and blessed. In the foreword to the Mass booklet on that occasion, Fr. Pat wrote:
“The altar that is being dedicated tonight is not just another piece of Church furnishings. It is the centrepiece of our parish community around which a new parish will take on a new being. Recently the parishes of St. Michael’s and St. Helen’s have been going through the process of amalgamation. Though the experience of pain may have been different, nevertheless in each case it has been real. Each has been asked to die so that out of death something new may come into being. In this, our new altar becomes very symbolic for us. It is at the altar we celebrate Christ’s death, and it is around the same altar that we celebrate the Eucharistic meal, at which we meet the risen Lord. Around this altar a new people of God is being formed. From the dying process of amalgamation, we are being called into a new community of witness, a community that witnesses to the power and presence of Christ through the unity it shares around the altar.
Tonight, we will emerge from this Church as the new Catholic community of St. Helen’s. We come forth with a new hope for a new future because he who has died and is risen accompanies us, as he accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He will enlighten our minds so that as we gather each week to celebrate Mass we will recognize him at the breaking of the bread. In this recognition we will find our encouragement and strength to rejoice for our past, celebrate our present, and move towards our future. Thank you to all who have come to join us and share this night with us.”
Fr. Paul remained in Barry, assisting Fr. Pat, until he was appointed as Parish Priest at Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Porthcawl, in September 2003. The amalgamation of the parishes also led to the setting up new parish groups. The Union of Catholic Mothers (St. Helen’s) joined with the Ladies Guild (St. Michael’s) and formed St. Helen’s Ladies Circle, and a parent and toddler group was also formed. The new Parish Hall was put to immediate use – Children’s Liturgy during the 10.30 a.m. Sunday Mass, and used later in the year for Confirmation and First Holy Communion classes, plus R.C.I.A. classes and meetings of the Youth Ministry, which was set up in May 2010.
In 2006, Sister Gertrude McSweeney, the last remaining parish sister, was taken ill and she returned to the mother house in London. She recovered slowly, but because of her age, she did not regain he full strength, and so she was sadly unable to resume her work in the Parish. Sister Gertrude returned to visit in January 2007, together with two fellow Sisters, for a Celebration Mass and a reception in the Parish Hall. She was also presented with a framed colour photograph of the re-ordered Church and a cheque. It was a very happy occasion when all the parishioners in Barry were able to express their gratitude and appreciation for the work of Sister Gertrude and her order over many years. Sister Gertrude’s return to the mother house marked the end of the presence of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Barry. Because of falling numbers in vocations, the Order could not provide a replacement.
In April 2005, Fr. Pat, Sister Gertrude and 36 fellow parishioners, including some from Newbridge and Blackwood, went on pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. This turned out to be a very eventful trip. Shortly before their departure, Pope John Paul II died and Pope Benedict XVI was elected. The parishioners were privileged to be in attendance at Pope Benedict’s Installation Mass in St. Peter’s Square, and at his First General Audience as Pope in the same Square. In 2005, two altar servers, Sebastian Hobot and William Callaghan, represented the Parish as part of a group of young people from the Archdiocese of Cardiff who were present at the World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.
Other changes in the parish have included a memorial book which contains all the names of those parishioners who have died. This is now kept in the Lady Chapel, and the list of the anniversaries of the deceased is no longer published in the Parish Bulletin. An Icon of St. Helen was commissioned in memory of Claire Reynolds by her family and friends, this also is hung in the Lady Chapel.
In January 2002, Perpetual Adoration of the Holy Eucharist begun. The Church is open every Tuesday from 9am until 9pm. A rota of parishioners was established to ensure that the Church is never left unattended.
In 1996, a School Chapel at St. Richard Gwyn School was opened and blessed by Archbishop John Ward. The chapel was created from an inner courtyard which was covered and opened into the main hall. Several items from the re-ordering of St. Helen’s were donated to the Chapel, including benches from St. Helen’s, the figure of the risen Christ, a Paschal Candlestick and various items of church linen from St. Michael’s. In 2004, Archbishop Peter Smith officially opened a new block giving the school more classrooms, a new library and laboratory space. The School also put in place a garden dedicated to the memory of the Mochrie family.
St. Helen’s Junior, Infants and Nursery Schools continued to provide a high standard of education, which was confirmed by successful inspections.
In June 2008 the parish was visited by Fr. Felix and Fr. Anthony from Nigeria. Both priest had helped the parish out in recent summers. They were on their way to Rome, where Fr. Felix was to receive his appointment as Coadjutor Bishop of Ekiti. He has since become Bishop, and in August 2010, both Bishop Felix and Fr. Anthony were welcomed back warmly for the Feast of the Assumption. Three other priest who have served at St. Helen’s have since gone on to become Bishops: Francis Vaughan, Daniel Joseph Mullins and Edwin Regan.
2007 marked the Centenary of the opening of St. Helen’s Church. On 28th April 1907, Bishop Hedley had presided over the opening ceremony and a Pontifical Mass. On 27th April 2007, Archbishop Peter Smith, while celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, opened the Centenary Year with a prayer. On 14th September 2007, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Pat and Fr. Kelvin, who was visiting from Nigeria, in honour of St.Helen. This was followed by a reception in the Parish Hall. A new stained glass window was commissioned for the west window, at the rear of the Church and was installed in April 2008.
The Centenary Year came to a close with a Mass of Thanksgiving, held on Monday 28th April 2008. Archbishop Peter Smith was the principal Celebrant, and he was joined by Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham (a former Parish Priest), who delivered the homily and by priests who had previously served at St. Helen’s and by priests from the Deanery. At the conclusion of Mass, the Archbishop, together with Fr. Pat and altar servers, processed to the gallery, where he blessed and dedicated the Resurrection Window. A buffet reception was enjoyed by all after the Mass, and the whole evening was very enjoyable.
A few weeks later, Archbishop Peter appointed Fr. Pat as a Canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral Chapter. It was a fitting end to the Centenary Jubilee Year.