The history of the Catholic community in Maesteg pre-dates the present church of Our Lady & St. Patrick. With the influx of Irish immigrants during the potato famines of 1845/49 a new industrial landscape was carved out in the South Wales valleys. The immigrants wanted to practise their religion, which prompted the building of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bridgend in 1857. The Catholic community of Maesteg were served by Fr. Glassbrook OSB who travelled from Aberavon (Port Talbot) on horseback until 1870 to offer the Mass in a room of a long demolished public house known as ‘The Three Horseshoes’.
Eventually a Catholic church and school were built for Maesteg in 1872 on a site on Ewenny Road. Times were not easy for the immediate years following the building of the church. Troubles broke out between the local population and the Irish community, sicknesses arose, Irish navigators building the rail lines through the valley would terrorise those who had settled here. Yet through it all the local priests kept the peace and ministered to the people. The school log of 1887 records:
“There are forty children in this school, who are in absolutely desperate circumstances. Up to eight children, are actually so naked, I could not allow them to leave their houses to attend school”.
In 1902 Fr. James Kelly O.S.B. was appointed parish priest and he had plans for a new complex for the future of the parish. He enlisted the help of three men to materially assist him with his plans.
The first was Mr Moses Walsh, a building contractor for North’s Navigation Ltd., colliery proprietors. Mr Walsh built the forty-step, flour platform staircase leading up from Commercial Street to the presbytery door. He also prepared the church foundations and landscaped the complex. The Sanctuary lamp which hangs in the church to this day was also donated by him.
Next was Mr. John O’Brien a local, well-established, building contractor. He owned the land the church complex is built upon. The now presbytery pre-dates the church and was home to Mr. O’Brien. He sold the complex to the Church for £9,300, which was loaned to the parish by the Abbot of Douai Abbey. The official address of the church places it on Monica Street. Monica was John O’Brien’s daughter and a teacher in the local area.
The third gentleman to help Fr. Kelly was his great friend Mr. John Boyd-Harvey of Cornwall. Mr. Boyd-Harvey paid for the beautiful High Altar, which still stands in the church today despite various reorderings that have taken place over the past century. The stone altar is crowned with a finely balanced crown, which unfortunately was destroyed and needed reassembling, during major structural works in 2007/8. The Altar carries two statues that of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order that founded the parish, and St. David patron of Wales. The dedication of Our Lady and St. Patrick is represented with two specially built side Altars of the same stone and design of the High Altar.
This new church was officially consecrated and opened by Bishop John Cuthbert Hedley O.S.B. on 12th November 1907. The foundation stone for the new (present) school was laid in 1908 and opened in 1909 with accommodation for 260 pupils. Fr. Kelly was subsequently made a Canon for his hard work.
During the First World War, Canon Kelly was appointed Military Chaplain on the battlefields of the Western Front. He survived the war and was decorated for his bravery. He eventually went to his eternal reward aged 89.
Canon Kelly was succeeded as parish priest by Rt. Rev. Abbot Austin Taylor O.S.B. Abbot Taylor had completed his tenure as Abbot of Douai. He planned the gardens on the church complex and redecorated the church. Pastorally he made sure to visit every home in the parish – quite an undertaking. Following the First World War he had a memorial installed at the back of the church to the 31 men of the parish killed in action.
Abbot Taylor remained in the parish until 1929 in which time he laboured to improve church music, forming the first choir of the parish. He closely worked with Mr. James Lawler to establish a Conference of the St. Vincent De Paul Society (SVP) in the parish, which still does marvellous work for the needy of the area.
Abbot Taylor was succeeded by Rt. Rev. Abbot William David Hurley O.S.B. who carried the very strong and vibrant Catholic community into 1930 continuing Abbot Taylor’s work. He stayed for a year and was succeeded by his curate as parish priest.
Fr. Dominic Fennell O.S.B. was a formidable character. He ran the church and the presbytery on the lines of an Army Mess – strict on discipline and everything in its place! Mr Gerald McCormack author of a publication on the history of the parish recalls kicking his football into the church grounds as a boy:
“I was chased by Fr. Fennell who collared me around the neck with the handle of his outstretched umbrella and dragged me back to face him. His face was red, his eyes bulging and his language, well, rather agricultural! The McCormack and Whelan boys were not his favourite scholars”.
During Fr. Fennell’s tenure there was social unrest in the area. Strikes were not uncommon and the mines would lock out miners. There was serious unemployment, political unrest, soup kitchens, debt and a cloud of depression over the valleys. Fr. Fennell was the voice of the workers firmly on the side of the trade unions, speaking publically and decrying the ‘Means Test’ that was killing families. He also strongly warned Irishmen not to work the coalmines due to the mine operators. The parish band was sent on tours of Southern Ireland to raise money for the Miners Distress Fund.
The situation started to improve in 1938 as preparations began for the Second World War. The building of a large munitions factory in Bridgend helped the employment situation. But once again War claimed young lives from the parish, and a second memorial was placed in the church.
Maesteg also had an extensive Italian population, most of whom came from the Bardi area in the North. It was not uncommon to have names like Belli, Spagna, Fulgoni, Gazzi, Bertorelli etc. on the parish records. During the Second World War in 1940 German and Italian nationals were interned and to be deported to Canada. On the night of 1st /2nd July 1940 the SS Arandora Starr was carrying interned German and Italian nationals to Canada when it was torpedoed off the Irish Coast. 805 men drowned that night, three of whom were from Maesteg – Antonio Belli, Giobanni Sidoli and Antonio Spagna.
The next major milestone in the life of the parish came in 1952 when the parish of Our Lady and St. Patrick, Maesteg ceased to be a Benedictine parish and was formally handed to the secular clergy and the Archdiocese of Cardiff.
The first secular parish priest of Maesteg was Fr. Cornelius Reidy. In his time in Maesteg he added new classrooms to the school, improved the parish hall facilities and installed the grotto in honour of Our Lady in the grounds. He also went on to found two Mass stations at Caerau and Cymmer (the former closed in the 1990s and the latter is now a church of the Diocese of Menevia. Fr. Reidy also worked to forge links with other Christians in the area. The parish still has strong Ecumenical ties and is a member of the Llynfi Valley Council of Churches.
Fr. Reidy left the parish due to illness and was succeeded by Fr. Thomas Donovan in 1970. Fr. Donovan had spent time in Africa on ‘the Missions’ and suffered a number of serious diseases before returning home. He was a kind man and is fondly remembered in the parish. During his time in Maesteg he had to rebuild the grotto to Our Lady as it had become structurally unsafe. In the rebuild process he managed to ‘acquire’ (no one knows how) stone from the Grotto in Lourdes where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette. This stone from the Grotto of Lourdes now stands in the Grotto of Maesteg.
In 1981 Fr. Donovan retired due to ill health and died 6 years later. He was succeeded by Fr. Felix Connolly (later Canon). ‘The Canon’ is very much in the hearts and minds of the parish to this day. He was an extremely hard worker and in addition to his parish duties he was Diocesan Chaplain to the Catholic Men’s Society, a director of APF Mill Hill and the St. Peter the Apostle Societies. He continued Fr. Reidy’s legacy of Ecumenism and was extensively involved in the Llynfi Valley Council of Churches. And to top it all …. for 25 years he was a Spiritual Director taking pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima, the Holy Land, Assisi and Turkey. And somehow he still managed to know every detail of what was going on in the parish.
Canon Connolly was a very sociable and charitable man. He gave advice and practical and material help to those who needed it. He served the parish for 19 years before having to retire due to health.
Since the Canon, the parish is on its fifth parish priest, currently served by Fr. Michael Doyle a son of Maesteg and former altar server of the parish. Fr. Michael is one of eight priests the parish has given to the Church. A ninth is due to be ordained in 2017. The parish has also provided nine vocations to the religious life.
Having come full circle we look to the future with hope, whilst giving thanks for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon our parish. We thank God for the priests and people who have served the parish over the past 110 years and we pray for abundant blessings in the future.
List of Parish Priests
Fr. Charles Wilfred Price O.S.B. (1872)
Fr. Michael Birgen (1873-1875)
Fr. John Bernard Davey O.S.B. (1875-1877)
Fr. James Edmund Tunney O.S.B. (1878)
Canon Robert Isidore Green O.S.B. (1878)
Fr. Philip Capron (1878-1884)
Fr. Edmund W. Volxsom O.S.B. (1884)
Fr. Edward Norbert Ward O.S.B. (1884-1885)
Fr. Leonard J. Davies O.S.B. (1885-1891)
Fr. Bernard R. Thomas O.S.B. (1891)
Fr. H. Elliot Perkins O.S.B. (1891-1892)
Fr. Bernard Saunders O.S.B. (1892-1893)
Fr. Benedict Scannell O.S.B. (1893-1895)
Fr. Bernard Saunders O.S.B. (1895-1896)
Fr. Romanus Bilsborrow O.S.B. (1896) – Later first Archbishop of Cardiff (1916)
Fr. Lawrence Larkin O.S.B. (1896-1897)
Fr. James Edmund Tunney O.S.B. (1897-1902)
Fr. James Maurus Kelly O.S.B. (1902-1913) – Made Canon in 1907 following opening of present church
Rt. Rev. Abbot Austin Taylor O.S.B. (1913-1929)
Rt. Rev. Abbot David Hurley O.S.B. (1929-1930)
Fr. Dominic Fennell O.S.B. (1930-1945)
Fr. J. Barrett-Davies (1945-47)
Fr. P. J. O’Reilly-Gibbons (1947-1951)
Fr. Leo J. Wolfe (1951-1956)
Fr. Andrew Gibbons O.S.B. (1956)
Fr. Cornelius P. Reidy (1956-1970)
Fr. Thomas Donovan (1970-1981)
Canon Felix F. Connolly (1981-2000)
Fr. David L. Smith (2000-2009)
Fr. John Meredith (2011-2014)
Fr. Gareth A. Jones (2014)
Fr. Timothy McGrath (2014-2016)
Fr. Michael Doyle (2016-present)
List of Assistant Priests
Fr. Michael Kelly O.S.B. (1906)
Fr. Austin Dawson O.S.B. (1922)
Fr. Cyril Connolly O.S.B. (1926)
Fr. Dominic Fennell O.S.B. (1929) – Later parish priest
Fr. Columba Merrick O.S.B. (1930)
Fr. Gerard Spencer O.S.B. (1931)
Fr. Andrew Gibbons O.S.B. (1931)
Fr. Bernard Driscoll (1931)
Fr. Michael O’Callaghan (1941)
Fr. William David Connolly (1945)
Fr. William O’Connor (1946)
Fr. Michael Kissane (1946)
Fr. Richard Wilson (1948)
Fr. John O’Flaherty (1948)
Fr. Gerald Hiscoe (1948)
Fr. Timothy Corkery (1948)
Fr. Trevor Driscol (1948)
Fr. Francis Murphy (1948)
Fr. Gerald Inglis (1948)
Fr. Donal J. Mullins (1948) – Later Bishop of Menevia
Fr. John Devaney (1948)
Fr. Morris Brew (1959)
Fr. Patrick Garan (1959)
Fr. Liam Kelly (1960)
Fr. John Devaney (1960)
Fr. Cornelius O’Donnell (1963)
Fr. Thomas Wiseman (1963)
Fr. Philip McAuliffe (1964-1965)
Fr. John Lloyd (1965-1968)
Fr. John O’Sullivan (1968)
Fr. Liam Gavin (1969-1972)
Fr. Robert Reardon (1972-1978) – Later Monsignor
Fr. Michael Flook (1974-1978)
Fr. Michael Flook (1980)
Fr. Clive Loosemore (1980)
Fr. Andrea Board (1981)
Fr. John Griffiths (1985)
Fr. Paul Gillett (1989)
Fr. Jeremy Thomas (1994)
Fr. Gareth A. Jones (1994) – Later interim parish priest
Fr. Mark J. Rowles (1994)
Parishioners killed in The Great War
Maurice Patrick Casey
Willam Joseph Cotter
Richard T. Melbourne
Hugh William Riley
Parishioners killed in the Second World War
Daniel Anthony Donoghue
Clifford James Sexton
William Maurice Hanlon
Thomas Martin Murphy
Thomas James Colston
Thomas Augustine Cuffe
A complete history of the church – ON SALE NOW – £5 + p&p – Limited Stock