Monday, 26 February 2018

Salesian presence in Cowley, Oxford

While at Cowley, near Oxford, we visited our Salesian parish of Our Lady of Help of Christians. Fr Peter was ill and hence could not meet him.  Fr Graham was kind enough to show me around the Parish church and describe its history to me.  He is almost doing a PhD on the historical origin and growth of the Church.  Listening to him, and his enthusiasm of constructing the past from all the bits and pieces of correspondence and plaques and local news and oral memory of Salesians and the local population, was almost like viewing the whole past on a screen before the eyes.  More of its history is here.

A couple of facts that still linger in my mind:
  • Cowley housed the Provincial house and the post-novitiate of the GBR province for several years.  That was mainly because it was in Oxford and students could study at the famous college.  Though the original building, with all its structures, is no more - what remains is the Parish church, which came to be much after the other structures were closed - the influence of Salesians in the locality is still strong.  Add to that the fact that the Salesian Sisters ran the primary school just down the road from the present location of the Parish, meant a very strong Salesian presence.  
  • Perhaps the social context of the place too played a major role in the dynamic growth of the Salesians: the mini-cooper car factory was a great attraction for workers.  I learnt that there were many who came from Ireland to work in the car factory.  These fervent Irish catholics found in the Salesians a great support and vice-versa. 
  • Much was said about Fr Thomas McKenna, the second Salesian parish priest, and the astute administrator of funds and manager of people who almost single-handedly built the Parish and the existing structures. 
  • Interesting to note was that the Parish is today existing not because of the existence and functioning of the Provincial house but mainly because of the Dominic Savio club that was started close to the present location of the parish.  The club was for years the centre of life and activity of the local Catholic population.  


A few pics of the Church interior...
This plaque is all that is to commemorate the memory of Fr McKenna. 
Most beautiful aspect of this: it was planned and placed by the Parishoners. 
 I'm thinking of the numerous plaques and inauguration slabs all over the Province that are ordered and placed by the Salesians, inserting our own names on it!! It speaks of how frightened we are of being forgotten in time.  But if we genuinely do good, we continue to live in the hearts and minds of people and in their goodness, on a small plaque like this.  No self-decoration!



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