The history documented here is almost exclusively taken from “An Historical Scrapbook of St Joseph’s Church Darlaston” which was researched and produced for the Millennium celebrations by the late John Heeley. John produced a very lengthy book, unfortunately too much information to display here. Our history is extensive, the benefactors numerous and the workers of the parish unending, so my apologies to anyone who is not mentioned here, but to all a most sincere God Bless You & Thank You.
In the early days of Catholic emancipation a few missions were born in the area known as the “Black Country. These were: - Wolverhampton 1725 and Sedgley 1789.
Bishop John Milner was appointed Bishop to the midlands and resided in Wolverhampton. His visits to the Catholics of the area made on horseback. Bishop Milner did much to break the state strangle-hold on the church. The parishes expanded: - Bloxwich 1807, Stourbridge 1816, Walsall (St Mary’s) 1819.
After 23 years of god’s service Bishop Milner passed away. He was buried in the crypt at SS Peter and Paul’s Wolverhampton. 50 years later his tomb was opened and his body found to be whole and incorrupt. Bishop Walsh followed and more missions founded: - West Bromwich 1852, Bilston 1834, and Dudley 1835.
Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne was consecrated Bishop of Birmingham and still further missions were created: - Wednesbury 1852, Brierley Hill 1854, Wolverhampton (St Mary and John) 1855, Walsall (St Patrick) 1856, Willenhall 1860, Oldbury 1864.
A select band of men From Darlaston were deputised to approach Bishop Ullathorne and ash for a weekly mass in the town, promising a stipend to the priest. A reluctant bishop praised their efforts but requested patience and told the men to pray for the project. Darlaston Catholics do not give up easily! Undeterred these wonderful men collected monies From the Catholics of Darlaston and approached Father Lovi – the rector of St Mary’s (The Mount) Walsall offering his a weekly stipend to say a weekly mass and to attend sick calls in the area when they arose. Having hired the clubroom at a local public house – The Bulls Head in High Street – the men set up a temporary alter. Father Lovi generously supplied the Vestments and requisites needed and the first Post-reformation Mass was celebrated in Darlaston on December 17th 1865
Father Lovi retired and was replaced at the Mount by Father J.J. McCarten. Without the help of any curates Darlaston became somewhat neglected and our flock tended to return to St Mary’s Wednesbury and St Mary’s Willenhall for their masses and sick calls.
Father Stuart Bathurst was appointed parish priest at Wednesbury. For the next 4 years the situation in Darlaston remained the same. However Father Bathurst had been very busy and had built not only a new church but also 2 new schools at Wednesbury. He also found time to visit Darlaston on occasions to celebrate mass at The Bulls Head. Having re-energised Wednesbury, Father Bathurst now turned his attention to Darlaston. He brought an old disused Congregational Chapel in Church Street and turned it into a school and Chapel.
The first mass in our newly acquired school and mass centre was celebrated around Christmas time in 1874.
During lent Father Edmund McIntyre, a Passionist, held a mission in Darlaston and this event did much to re-gather our scattered flock and revitalise our fervour. At this point Bishop Ullathorne appointed Father Bathurst as Inspector of R.E. for the Birmingham diocese and moved him to a small mission near Stone. The people of Darlaston implored the bishop to reconsider the move but he would not be swayed and so Father Bathurst left our little town with our grateful thanks and prayers. 6 or 7 years later Father Bathurst was made a Canon and the people of Darlaston and Wednesbury made him a present of a chalice and paten, a set of white vestments and his canonical robes. By his efforts Father Bathurst left us without a parish debt of any kind. Following Father Bathurst as parish priest at St Mary’s Wednesbury was Father Stephen Johnson who ministered to our needs for the next 12 years. Father Johnson was accompanied everywhere by his black Labrador even on his parochial visits. The whole area of Darlaston and Wednesbury were familiar with the inseparable “Johnson and Jet”. Unfortunately on a Pilgrimage to Rome, Father Johnson Fractured a kneecap which greatly restricted his Freedom of movement. He was a greatly loved priest and well respected in the area my all denominations.
Bishop Ullathorne transferred the responsibility for Darlaston to St Mary’s Willenhall. The parish priest Father Timothy Burke was a well built Irishman with a very amiable disposition.
Father Burke was recalled to his native Ireland and was replaced by Father Villiers. It was he who extended the school buildings to the street boundary.
Father Villiers left St Mary’s Willenhall and was replaced by Father Hanley – later Canon Hanley. During his pastorate great progress was made at Darlaston and many improvements were introduced. Father Hanley purchased a large area of land with some old cottages at the rear of the old school and built a new infants school with playground and boundary wall Fronting on to cramp hill. He later purchased the old police station adjacent to the school on Church St which later became the presbytery and still later the residence of the school caretakers. Father Hanley eventually left St Mary’s Willenhall To take charge of S.S. Mary and John Wolverhampton.
Father Wells became parish priest at Willenhall but for only one year.
Father Poulton takes charge. He was greatly loved by the parishioners at both Darlaston and Willenhall.
Father Ryan D.D. later Canon Ryan was appointed to replace Father Poulton and administered to both flocks for some eleven years. Father Ryan introduced electric lighting into the school to replace the old gas light.
It pleased the second Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend Dr McIntyre to establish Darlaston as an independent Parish of St Joseph on April 18th 1923 with its own resident priest Father Budgen. For the next seven years mass was held in the old school. At last, St Joseph’s parish in Darlaston was born!
Father Budgen was replaced by Father J. Craig.
St Joseph’s first church was built The foundation stone was laid on 4th July 1930 by Commander J.V.V. Magrane R.N. and opened by a parishioner, Miss A Bayley on Thursday 2nd October 1930 at 7pm. The following Sunday, 5th October, his Grace the Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend Thomas Leighton Williams blessed the church and stations of the cross and preached a sermon at the 11am mass. It was during the early 1930’s that in addition to the church grounds, Stanton Lodge a prestigious residence adjacent to the grounds was purchased by Father Craig to be eventually replaced by our present Presbytery.
Father Craig left and was replaced by Father Hugh Marron, an extremely shy and gentle priest who was greatly loved by his parishioners.
In February Father Marron’s successor arrived, Father Thomas Hogan. It was during Father Hogan’s pastorate that in 1938 the present presbytery was built on the site of the old Stanton Lodge and the old Police Station adjacent to the school was given over to the housing of the School Caretaker.
Father Hogan died of a stroke on 8th February 1942 and is buried at Oscott Cemetery close to the resting place of Father Walter Poulton.
Our priest for the next sixteen years was Father Patrick O’Reilly from County Cavan, Republic of Ireland. During Father O’Reilly’s pastorate, there was much activity in the parish. The U.C.M., the S.V.P. and the C.O.M. all thrived and the seeds were sown for the introduction of the K.S.C. The youth club and post war football teams were successful, as was the Amateur Dramatic Group. Weekly socials and whist drives were held in the old school with an annual dance at the Town Hall. Bazaars at Christmas brought in funds as did the weekly football tote. The social activities of the parish were never busier with coach trips to other parishes and places of interest. In the church the sanctuary was boarded round and painted in pastel shades. The Crucifixion Tableau at the rear of the church was broken up and the Crucifix from it was erected over the sanctuary above the alter rails. Both statues of Our Lady and St Joseph were tastefully repainted. These statues were of Italian origin and introduced into the church on its opening. Eventually Father O’Reilly lined out the whole church along similar lines to the sanctuary and also had the Stations of the Cross repainted. These stations eventually went to grace the church of Mary Immaculate at Bentley. Following Father O’Reilly’s efforts, The house of god at Darlaston changed its somewhat drab interior into a very much more colourful home for the Blessed Sacrament.
Father O’Reilly died on 1st October 1958 and is buried back home in Crosswater Virginia, County Cavan, Republic of Ireland. Many parishioners followed Father O’Reilly’s body to the railway station at Wolverhampton As parishioners said the Rosary we bade farewell to our shepherd of some 16 years.
Father O’Reilly was followed by Father Robert Kirby from Co Kerry, who did much to further beautify the altar with new curtain drapes at the rear of the altar and new carpet on the Sanctuary. The solidarities continued to flourish and the Knights of St Columba whose seeds of encouragement were sown during Father O’Reilly’s pastorate set up council 564 which was erected and chartered on 9th October 1961 with Father Kirby appointed as its first chaplain.
Father Kirby died on 15th January 1962 and is buried with his parents in a family grave in Manchester. The next priest of St Joseph’s was Father Patrick Cooney. Father Cooney was another Builder, during his time with us he built us a new school in Rough Hay Road and a Mass Centre – Mary Immaculate in Bentley. 1967 saw our first major pilgrimage to Rome as we joined with the priests and parishioners from Walsall, Willenhall, Wednesbury and Bilston. Sadly farther Cooney died on 17th August 1969 on a boat returning from a holiday in his native Ireland. He is buried in a plot at Oscott close to his predecessors Father Poulton and Father Hogan. The base of the cross that surmounts the plot reads “Till we meet merrily in heaven”
When the next priest came to St Joseph’s, it was as if “one of us” had returned. Father Antony Vincent Owen was born in Willenhall before his family moved to Bloxwich. Educated at Coton and Cambridge where he obtained his M.A. this scholarly man taught at Ampleforth and for 22 years at Coton College. Whilst at Cambridge he was awarded a Rugby Blue and rowed for the Christ’s eight boat crew. At Darlaston he was determined to make an impression, his greatest and most lasting achievement was to build our beautiful church of St Joseph with its unique design and containing the wood statues of the Risen Christ, St Margaret Clitherow, St Nicholas Owen and St Joseph. These original statues are unique and no other church has such a collection of distinguished works of wood sculptor by Denis Parsons.
The new Church was opened on Friday 15th December 1978 by His Grace the Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend George Patrick Dwyer
Being debt free the church was dedicated, the relics of St John Boscoe sealed and the altar anointed on the feast of S.S. Peter and Paul, June 29th 1983 by His Grace the Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend Maurice Couve de Murville.
Yearly pilgrimages to Lourdes were initiated and thanks to the fund raising efforts of the parishioners a number of the sick and less fortunate parishioners were sent to Lourdes free of charge.
Good Friday Stations of the Cross became the focus of an ecumenical service and the vicar and his parishioners of St Lawrence’s C of E church across the road took an active part in the service. Father Owen chose a number of mature parishioners to be Eucharistic Ministers who took the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and housebound after mass on Sunday.
Eventually Father Owen’s renowned fitness began to leave him. He suffered a very painful detached retina in the eye, which impaired his vision. Father Owen was diagnosed as having incurable cancer, and after a most painful illness that was borne with great patience and dignity he went to his reward in heaven on 24th July 1985 at 8.40am. He was buried as he requested, among his parishioners in James Bridge Cemetery – Darlaston. We were truly honoured by god in that we were the only parish to enjoy the service of this good and holy man.
Father Oliver Plunket Kemp followed, a charismatic priest who did much in his short time with us to lift the spirits of parishioners after the loss of Father Owen. Father Kemp moved the statue of the Risen Christ from above the altar to the 15th Station and replaced it with the crucifix which had been a feature of the old church. The Stations of the Cross which had been clustered on the wall of the 15th Station were removed and re-sited around the church in a more traditional fashion.
Father Kemp left and was replaced by Father Gerard Flahive. A large Irishman immediately threw himself into the thick of parish activities in particular taking the youth under his wing with various camps and trips out. Lourdes pilgrimages started again and the women of the parish and their fundraising activities became a force to be reckoned with.
Father Michael Ho-Huu-Nghia came to us and was welcomed with typical Darlaston warmth and affection. As a “boat person” from Vietnam he was the subject of much interest and curiosity by the press. Once settled in, Father Michael appointed additional Eucharistic Ministers to cope with the increasing burden of sick calls after Mass on Sunday. A new altar was installed at the Mass Centre – Mary Immaculate at Bentley (a gift from the Barry family in memory of their parents). Father Michael also improved the seating and carpeting at Bentley.
Father Michael left St Joseph’s in 1995 to complete a further 2 years study in Theology in Rome.
Father Joseph Vu-Duc-Yen also from Vietnam replaced Father Michael. Father Yen introduced the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour during Saturday morning mass, preceded by one hour’s adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The parish was pleased to see one of Darlaston’s own Reverend Mr Tony Bateman ordained as its first Permanent Deacon on 29th June 1997. Tony was educated at our old school in Blockhall, In July 1956 he married Mary Smith another parishioner and is still very attached to St Joseph’s and Mary.
Father Yen departed for Coventry and we had the pleasure of welcoming our new priest Rev Ronald Cosslett and his wife Kath. Father Cosslett was originally an Anglican priest and converted. He was ordained on 3rd July 2005 and the Archbishop thought the old flock at Darlaston needed a gentle shepherd. A fervent Welshman with many traditional values that will serve both him and the parish well as we move on together.
On 9th July 2008 after struggling with various life threatening illnesses over a number of years Deacon Tony sadly passed away. Fighting his ill-health to the end with dignity, faith & prayer, he always had a cheery voice & comforting smile for others. Finally leaving the parish where he had lived all his life. May God bless his soul.
October saw the departure of Fr Ron & Kath as they left for a less demanding role in Worcester. Their gentleness & warmth will be remembered throughout the parish. Due to a shortage of priests Fr Ron welcomed his successor Rev Fr Michael Amalados, who will serve us from St Mary's Willenhall. History repeating itself (1887 - 1923). We look forward to working with our new pastor.