name of Fr John Hall dominates the history of the Catholic
Church in these parts from the year 1821, the year of his
ordination. Born in Preston, he studied for the priesthood
at Ushaw College, Durham. Macclesfield was his first appointment.
He arrived there by coach on Maundy Thursday (such was the
bigotry of the times that he was stoned on his arrival) and
since there was no priest's residence, went into lodgings.
A late sick-call led to a reprimand from his landlady, who
didn't like her lodgers coming in late!
ministry was much in demand, not only in Macclesfield, where
a chapel already existed to which he added a residence, but
in the surrounding area too. During his first year he had
a call from Congleton, and soon he was travelling there regularly
by horse to say Mass, administer the Sacraments and give religious
the mid-twenties Catholics in Cheshire numbered about 3,000,
and these numbers were to double by 1828 mainly through the
influx of Irish people. A meeting of the Cheshire clergy in
1825 (six priests in all, of whom five attended ) asked all
Catholics to contribute one penny a week to a 'Cheshire Fund',
so as to help provide schools, churches and presbyteries for
the growing population. By 1826 Fr Hall had opened a new chapel
and school in Congleton on the style of his first permanent
establishment in Macclesfield.
to the 'Happy Valley'
1830 Fr Hall turned his attention to the 'Happy Valley' of
Bollington, coming by horse - how else? With help from the
'Cheshire Fund', he rented two cottages to serve as a chapel
cost: £5. 6s.0½d. £3 were also allowed for expenses.
chance to build a permanent church came in 1834: Mr Turner,
a non-Catholic, who had acquired the Shrigley estates from
the last of the Downes family and built a new Hall, gave land
for Anglican and Catholic churches - St John's and St Gregory's.
Finance came from the Cheshire Fund, helped by the generosity
of John, Earl of Shrewsbury , whose donation of £100 was allocated
to St Gregory's in 1835.
Hall ministered to the people of Bollington, travelling by
horse from Macclesfield. On one occasion, to the consternation
of all, the horse returned on its own - Fr Hall had been attacked
and thrown into a pond. This intrepid priest, who was to remain
in Macclesfield for 55 years, until his death, served the
people of Bollington for about ten years, though other priests
gradually came on the scene: Fr Roger Glassbrook , Fr Edward
Kenrick and Fr John Reah , this last-mentioned being the first
resident priest in 1845.
was in 1866 that the parish priest of the time, Fr Patrick
Mulligan, formed St Gregory's School out of a row of cottages
in Chapel Street. Older parishioners recall Fr Norbert Kelly-
the longest-serving parish priest (1913 to 1942) - a man of
simplicity and unassuming ways, who regularly went fishing
with the Vicar of Bollington. In his day the First Communicants
had their breakfast in the presbytery. He was succeeded by
Fr Owen McBennett, who proudly adorned the sanctuary of the
church. When he asked a young parishioner what she thought
of it, she replied 'It's very nice'. Nice!, exclaimed Fr McBennett,
'it's majestic!' He remained in the parish for eight years.
An entry in one of the notice books states: 'He is the only
one who knows how to run a parish'! There is even a mention
of 'busy bodies'. Imagine!
other priests followed, each staying for a brief spell - Fr
Michael Elcock , remembered for his zeal and for producing
a parish newsletter, and Fr John Gildea , who for many years
had been in a religious congregation of Brothers.
new broom - sweeping changes ...
saw the arrival in Bollington of Fr Thomas Osbyrne. He is
described as 'perhaps the most dynamic of all Bollington's
parish priests'. Notably, in 1957 he pulled down the old church
and presbytery and built the present fine buildings which
adorn the hillside on Wellington Road as the historian and
former parish priest Fr Maurice Abbott describes them. In
1962 he also replaced the old school, which reverted to cottages,
with a fine new building in Albert Road. Finally he placed
an old army hut behind the church to serve as a parish hall.
When he finally left the parish in 1963 he told the people:
'I have always been hard on you. My last act will be a hard
one, too: to attend Mass at 6.30 am the day I leave. Many
That hill ...
Peter Daly came next - a gentle, 'somewhat shy and unobtrusive
type of man' - and remained until his death in 1970.
Fr James McGinley supplied for a few months until the arrival
of Fr Patrick O'Brien a former army chaplain, who had also
done pioneering work in two other parishes. He quickly realised
that although the church was beautifully situated, it was
difficult of access for the elderly, so he constructed a flight
of steps which are still much appreciated. Though not always
in good health, he was always actively developing parish life:
he trained many altar servers, revived the branch of the CWL,
re-ordered the sanctuary, had the church consecrated in 1972,
put a new drive and new gates at the cemetery. Ill health,
and two leg injuries led to his retirement in 1981. He had
had some assistance briefly from Fr Martin Riley. Others who
followed him were Fr Sumner SJ, Fr Maurice Abbott and Fr Daniel
out! Salesians are coming ...
1981, at the request of the Diocese, the Salesians became
responsible for the parish. Fr John Corcoran , a calm, unflappable,
learned man, former lecturer in Philosophy, served the parish
for six years, assisted for a short while by the more flamboyant
Fr Michael O'Meara who later went to the mission in Liberia.
Fr George Robson came in 1987 - a man
of great energy, who showed a special care for young people.
He was joined by Fr Harry Butters, former missionary in India,
one-time head of the Salesian Press in Battersea and an experienced
parish priest. Fr Harry, with his down-to-earth humanity,
unquestioning availabilty and impish sense of humour quickly
captivated the hearts of all.
multiple change of Salesian parish priests in 1991 saw Fr
Robson leave for Huyton and Fr Robert Coupe arrive from Farnborough
to start a very happy partnership with Fr Harry.
On 7th December 1997 Fr Harry celebrated his Golden Jubilee
of Ordination. Sadly, his health declined soon afterwards
and he was forced to retire finally from parish work. In his
place the parish has welcomed Fr Austin Malloy, who comes
with a wealth of experience in schools, in the Liberian mission
and in parishes in the North-East.
30th 1997 saw the 25th anniversary of
the Consecration of the church.