The History of the Parish of the Holy Ghost, Yeovil

June 18, 2014
When the Reformation took its full effect on England in the 16th century, the parish church of St John the Baptist in the centre of Yeovil was closed down and the furniture and decoration sold or covered up. The system of fines and punishments worked as intended, and within a few generations Yeovil had become Protestant.

A list of recusants compiled between 1592 and 1606 gives the names of just 7 people (five of them named Hawker) living in or near Yeovil. By 1887 there were six Catholic families in Yeovil. From time to time they had unsuccessfully petitioned Bishop Clifford to send them a priest, and if they wished to hear Mass or receive the Sacraments they had to travel to Marnhull, Wincanton, or Sherborne over in Dorset, which is of course in a different diocese.

During April 1887 the newly-appointed editor of the Western Chronicle came to live in the town. His name was Charles Gatty, and he was a convert to the Catholic faith who became a prominent Catholic spokesman in the political life of the time. Before long he had persuaded the Bishop to make it possible for Mass to be heard once more in the town; the Carmelite Fathers of Wincanton agreed to take on this task. This took place in Charles Gatty’s own drawing room at 137 Hendford Hill, which needed nearly six months to be transformed into a chapel.

The first Mass to be celebrated in Yeovil in the 350 years since the Reformation thus took place on Sunday, 13 November 1887 and was attended by a congregation of 16 people, 12 from Yeovil and the other 4 specially invited from the church in Sherborne. The celebrant was Fr Badger from the Carmelite mission at Wincanton, and the server was Edmund Talbot, later to become Viscount Adair of Derwent. By a great stroke of God’s timing, the Gospel for the day contained the parables of the mustard-seed and of the leaven, and the Bishop expressed in his address the hope “that the little seed planted that day would grow, in due time, into a large tree, and that the leaven of Divine Grace would gradually, in God’s own way, transform and sanctify that place.”

So great was the initial interest that within a year the expanding congregation had outgrown Mr Gatty’s drawing room, and 14 people had been converted to the Catholic faith. Mr Gatty solved this new problem by renting the Chantry, close to St John’s church in the middle of Yeovil. This pre-Reformation chapel had been converted into a school-house in 1573, and had then been moved from its original site close to the tower of St John’s to its current position in around 1854; in 1888 it ceased to be used as a school, and was left unused. Charles Gatty was given permission to rent the Chantry from 24 June of that year, and the Bishop of Clifton celebrated Mass there at 8.30am, on the feast of St John the Baptist: “The chapel and the altar had been decorated with exquisite flowers. In front of Our Lady’s statue was burning a small terracotta lamp found amongst Roman remains in the island of Cyprus, probably from an early Christian shrine, and not later in date than the second or third century. Behind this stood a small vase of dried flowers which had grown in the cave on the island of Patmos, fixed by tradition as the prison in which St John wrote the Book of the Apocalypse.”

This momentous event for the Catholic parish of Yeovil created quite a stir in the town. There was great interest in the Mass, with people being unable to attend because the chapel was too crowded. Most of these people were not Catholic, but in the first year that the Chantry was being used, another 12 people joined the Church. There was also, however, opposition, and on the first anniversary of the opening of the Chantry a “great and bitter” anti-Catholic demonstration took place at the Town Hall. This led to an increase of religious animosity, and the Carmelite Fathers were subjected to a great deal of unpleasantness; “the rough element considered itself encouraged and started breaking the windows of the Chantry”. After a year of debate through the local newspaper, Charles Gatty compiled a pamphlet in which he “explained what the Church really is and what she teaches; he answered some objections and concluded by appealing to the common sense and spirit of fair play of his fellow townsmen”; the fact that this pamphlet was some 50 pages long may have lessened its immediate effect on some readers! This was forcefully answered by his main opponents, but they then refused to take part in an open debate to be chaired by the Mayor, and after a while the hostility died down, helped by the tolerant attitude of influential local people.

Charles Gatty was born in 1851, the son of the Rev Dr Alfred Gatty, Vicar of Ecclesfield, and sub-Dean of York; his mother was the daughter of Nelson’s chaplain on the Victory. He was educated at Charterhouse and became a convert to Catholicism, a decision showing great faith and conviction, given his background. For 12 years he was Curator of the Liverpool Museum, and for two years private secretary to John, Lord Bute. In 1892, he stood as Home Rule candidate for West Dorset and 2 years later, in 1894, he was appointed 2nd Secretary to the Chief Ministerial Whip. “Mr Gatty was a very delightful example of the many cultured Englishmen who, since the Oxford Movement, have found their spiritual home as converts to Catholicism. He was the instrument chose by God to bring back the Catholic Faith in Yeovil; his name will always be held by the parish in grateful remembrance”. He died in London on 8 June 1928, aged 76, and was buried at Eccleston, near Chester.

In 1891 the head of the Carmelite Fathers told his members who had served the Mission in Yeovil that they had to return to their community and resume the normal life of their order. Fr Badger had been praying about this, as he did not want to leave his small but blossoming flock without a pastor so soon after being re-established , and he was inspired to mention the matter to his friend Fr Scoles, then serving the parish in Bridgwater. Fr Scoles in turn was led to offer himself to the Bishop for the fledgling parish in Yeovil, and the Bishop agreed thankfully. On 26 September 1891, “the little Yeovil Mission bade farewell to its first Pastor and welcomed its new Shepherd.” It was Fr Scoles, later Canon, who was to consolidate the initial growth of the Mission parish in Yeovil, and provide it with the premises, inspiration and leadership that enabled it to begin its development to what we know and love today.

Quotations taken from: “The Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost, Yeovil” (1928)by Fr Joseph Antonioz, MSFS, BA

The Witness of Blessed James Fenn

June 18, 2014

Why? Saints, Blesseds & Martyrs

Following the protestant so-called reformation, numerous Christians were persecuted for their faith in one way or another. Many Catholics who remained faithful to the authority of the Catholic Church refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy were eventually martyred in various ways.

The most famous of these are the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales (Ss. Cuthbert Mayne, Edward Campion, Margaret Clitherow number among these), formerly celebrated on 25th October. However, in the latest edition of the Roman Missal this feast has been removed in favour of  the two separate feasts of the English Martyrs (4th May) and the Welsh Martyrs (25th October).

One of the beatified martyrs of this time, and of note especially to the diocese of Clifton is Blessed James Fenn, who was born at Montacute and later arrested at Brympton before his execution in 1584. Owing to his local connections to this parish of the Holy Ghost, Yeovil with St. Michael’s, South Petherton, we propose to share the life of Blessed James with you and help establish him as a model of the Christian life and intercessor for this community in our current age.



An image found in the entry for Blessed James Fenn in Modern British Martyrology: Commencing with the Reformation by Richard Challoner

An account of

The Life and Death of Blessed James

James Fenn  (born circa 1540)  appears to have come from a respectable Catholic family, with his brothers John and Robert becoming priests in their lifetimes. Born in Montacute, James won admittance to study at New College, Oxford, through his impressive singing performance as a chorister.  He was noted for his gentleness and good humour.  Later he was made scholar and fellow of Corpus Christi College. At his graduation to receive his BA, removing  his hood he retorted that he would never be guilty of obtaining any temporal honour at the price of his eternal salvation.  During this turbulent period, the Privy Council had allowed Catholic candidates of Oxford University to receive their degrees without taking the Oath of Supremacy, but this local suspension of the Act of Succession was short lived[1]. Refusing to take the oath, Fenn was removed from office at Oxford University.  Continuing to privately tutor pupils after his dismissal at Gloucester Hall, James Fenn married, his wife given birth to two children (a boy and a girl). Spending some time in his village of birth, he was forced into hiding when the local vicar challenged him regarding his absence at the Anglican services. His wife died suddenly during this time, and after a couple of months he returned to Montacute, living in concealment through the help of a friend.

He was later employed by an "eminent Catholic Gentleman" (Sir Nicholas Poyntz) in Gloucester. It appears that Fenn was influential on the youths he tutored, and there is record of a least one coming to the Catholic Faith upon witnessing his martydom.[2] Sir Nicholas recalled that the manner in which Fenn carried out his daily duties made his whole life a perpetual sermon exhorting virtue and piety to all3.

In 1579, following the earlier death of his wife, and because of James' "excellent qualifications and rare virtues"[3], he was encouraged to consider the priestly ministry. Trained at Rheims, he was ordained relatively quickly as a priest in April 1580 and returned to his home county of Somerset to minister secretly here.

However, this stay was short. He was found a Catholic, and was arrested close to the Manor House of Brympton d'Evercy. Despite this, it is noted that he reconciled several persons of distinction to the Catholic Faith2 before his imprisonment. He was taken to Ilchester Prison. Held in the stocks on the market day, his ''invincible patience, modest countenance and tranquil soul''3 caused many to reflect more deeply into their own faith (rather than shaming Fenn as intended). The onlookers saw something worthy of admiration in James Fenn, and this reaction angered the authorities. By September 1581 he was in Marshalsea Prison in Southwark.

It appears that Fenn's priestly identity was unknown  to his prosecutors, and as such he was enabled to minister to his fellow prisoners for about 3 years. He utilised his time in prison well - spending it in prayer and other spiritual exercises as well as in leading pirates and other serious criminals back to God. Upon his priesthood being exposed, a demonstrably false charge of a plot against the Queen was generated  against Fenn and four other priests, which led to his being taken to the Tower of London.

Much ought to be said of the martyrdom itself. On the morning of the 12th February 1584, when he was already laid on the hurdle at Tower Gate, he looked up, and recognized his little daughter, Frances, standing in the crowd. She was weeping bitterly, but he kept  his habitual calm and peaceful expression, as, lifting his pinioned hands so far as possible, he gave her  both his parental and priestly blessing, and then was drawn away[4].  Fenn prayed at the gallows itself, though refused the consolation of a Protestant minister ("I am not to be taught my duty by you."). Questioned on the accused charge of  treason, he reiterated that he had never wished to harm the Queen by so much as a pin-prick and willingly gave all due obedience to her in worldly matters (but not in spiritual matters)[5]. Immediately  before being hanged, he commended himself and the Queen to God's mercy.

The nature of the hanging was such that Fenn (by now stripped stark naked) was forced by the rope  to stand upright, at which point he cried out to the wonder of all, 'my Lord and my God'. The boldness of Fenn and the other priests suffering the same fate is remarkable. The executioner would  cut open the bellies of the still alive men, drag out their intestines with his bloody hands, and cast them into a fire. Meanwhile, the men continued in their confession of Faith. A brutal and experimental means to extend the anguish was employed whereby the breast was cut open and in stages reached towards to heart[6]. His quarters were displayed above the four main gates of London, and his head was mounted on London Bridge.

Fenn was beatified 15thDecember 1929 by Pope Pius XI


Why do we need a 'parish martyr'?

We offer Bl. James Fenn to you as a model of someone who held fast to the teachings and disciplines of the Church even in times of trial. Perhaps a young person can take heart from his courage in stepping down from his studies at Oxford in favour of fidelity to God. Widowers can see the great calling and mission that Bl. James took up after the death of his wife and come to a deeper appreciation of their vocation in the future, whatever that may be. Those within our community who are married can look at Bl. James and see that he came from a strong family – we know his brother John and Robert were both faithful priests who made  great sacrifices for God too. He was clearly skilled in raising and instructing children, and seemed to devote much of his early life to this purpose. Our serving priests can look to the ministry and witness of Bl. James and seek boldness in their faith, as we are all invited to do. James Fenn mirrored Jesus in so many ways in life, and truly shared 'a death like his'[7].


The Church gives us these great men and women as role models, but also that we may seek their intercession. So, we implore you pray to Bl. James for a renewal of faithfulness to the Church in the lives of this community; pray that we may receive the same courage that he received through his co-operation with God’s grace. More information on Blessed James Fenn will be made available in the Parish Centre.


Blessed James Fenn, Pray for us.

[1] Lives of the English Martyrs (pollen) pg 51

[2] Lives of the English Martrys (Pollen) pg 55

[3] Memoirs of Missionary Priests (Challoner), pg 95

[4] Lives of the English Martyrs (Pollen) pg 68

[5] Memoirs of Missionary Priest (Challoner), pg 97

[6] Catholic Record Society, vol 58 pg 91

[7] Rom 6:5. Cf. Prayer for the dead, Eucharistic Prayer II


The Founding of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sal

June 18, 2014

The Lord works in mysterious ways! We were founded in 1838 by Father Peter Mary Mermier to mainly assist the diocesan clergy and for mission. By 1846 missionaries had been sent to India; this shows vision, courage and a willingness to carry out the mandate by the Lord, “Go, therefore, teach all nations, etc”. Almost 15 years later The Missionaries of St Francis de Sales came to England, not across the Channel, but from India.

It happened that a certain Captain Dewell, serving in the British Army, the Wiltshire Regiment, was in India and met Fr Larive in 1848 in a place called Kaniptee. Captain Dewell had recently been received into the Catholic Church at Rome while on a six months furlough in Italy. The more contact he had with Fr Larive the warmer grew his appreciation of the missionary’s zeal and goodness. Captain Dewell contacted the then Bishop of Clifton, Bishop Clifford, about opening a mission in Malmesbury, his birthplace. The Bishop wrote back expressing his joy and giving his consent.

Captain Dewell sacrificed his military career and resigned his commission. Father Larive was released from his work in India. Both set out for England and Wiltshire with the intention of bringing back to this Borough the faith of Maleduff, of Aldhelm, of Athelstan, of William the historian. Faith which the Reformation had banished.

The steamship ‘Delta’ reached Southampton in May 1861, but Captain Dewell through unforeseen circumstances could not obtain possession of his home - Cross Hayes House – till 1866. Contrary to his instructions it had been let on a five year lease.

In the meantime, on Bishop Clifford’s advice, Father Larive went to Chippenham. From there he opened a mission in Devizes. Captain Dewell, who had apparently left India with the intention of marrying a Catholic wife with whom he could dedicate his life to the re-building of Catholicism in his native town, gave up completely all idea of marriage. He entered the Jesuit novitiate and became a Jesuit lay-brother.

In July 1865 Fr Larive met Bro. Dewell in London who beseeched him not to forget his beloved Malmesbury. But in December of that same year the Bishop of Clifton told Fr Larive in a letter not to think of starting anything at Malmesbury, through lack of funds, for a least one year at the end of which “We shall see, whether it be more prudent to wait still longer”.At about the same time Fr Larive’s Superior wrote bidding him not to attempt starting any fresh mission, since he was short of personnel to send to England.

Six months later while on a visit to France, Fr Larive made a pilgrimage to La Salette where our Blessed Lady had recently appeared. There, he tells us in diary, “I begged God in fervent prayer to remove all difficulties from the immediate opening of the Malmesbury mission”.

And he goes on to relate: “I felt in my soul that God was asking of me my consent to the sacrifice of my health, of my reputation, of my spiritual consolations, of my life, in return for the immediate establishment of the Malmesbury mission. This consent I gladly gave”. He continues: “When a few days after I saw my Superior at Annecy and asked him what he thought now of the opening of the mission at Malmesbury, he replied: ‘Look, if you think it possible, go ahead.’ The following week on return to Devizes, he received a letter from Bishop Clifford saying he would raise no objection to the immediate opening of a mission at Malmesbury if he thought he could manage it and his Superior was willing.

Fr Larive left Devizes and took up residence at Rodbourne. One morning after Mass in Rodborough Chapel, he walked into Malmesbury and took possession of Cross Hayes House. In one of the rooms he placed a picture of the Sacred Heart, said a prayer in thanksgiving, locked up the house and walked back to Rodborough.

After weeks of preparation, on Palm Sunday, 14th April, 1867, in the large parlour of Cross Hayes House, Fr Larive – in the presence of 22 people from Devizes, Chippenham, Rodborough and Brinkworth – said the first public Mass since the Reformation 300 years before.

I have written this to show that the Church spreads and grows through the cooperation of clergy, religious and laity. Captain Dewell wanted to bring Catholicism back to Malmesbury and he succeeded through the help of God. Let us continue working together for the spread of the Kingdom because the Lord works in mysterious ways!


St Michael's Church, South Petherton

June 18, 2014

In October 1961 Bishop Joseph Rudderham, Bishop of Clifton, blessed the new church of St Michael’s in South Petherton. The building of the church was the culmination of many years of fund raising under the direction of Mr Harold Strange. This year we celebrate our Golden Jubilee. However, Mass had been celebrated in the district for many years. In the autumn of 1934 a Mass centre was opened in South Petherton in Knapp House, the home of Miss E d’Gana who was an American. Mass was said here once a month. Subsequently Mass was said on alternate Sundays, either in the British Legion Hall which was situated on what is now the St James Street car park, or in the home of Commander Fletcher at Stoke Sub Hamdon.

The site for the new church was made possible by the generosity of Miss d’Gana. She also donated Knapp House to be a home for ‘Gentle Senior Ladies’! It then became St. Elisabeth’s House, owned by a new Order of Nuns, The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion, founded by Mary Garson, a convert who died in 2007. During this time they had a lovely chapel and a resident retired priest, Fr Walsh.

The internal decoration of St Michael’s deteriorated over the years and in 2001, helped by fundraising, the church was totally redecorated in time for our 40th Anniversary. For many years the need for a hall was keenly felt and a programme of fund raising (the "Brick Fund") was initiated some 30 years ago. However, the money needed would have been more than the potential sum we could possibly raise. The solution was to sell part of the church land that far exceeded our requirements. Diocesan approval for this was granted and after the somewhat protracted but successful sale of the designated area, construction of our new hall commenced in October 2008. In parallel with this the church was completely refurbished. The exterior walls were re-clad over much needed cavity insulation. Gas central heating was installed and the very large and leaky rear window replaced by a wall with exterior facing of Ham Stone.

Resplendent in this wall is the circular stained glass window designed by John Reyntiens . Also on this wall we are very privileged to have a magnificent carving depicting St Michael. This is the work of master carver Jozef Mesar from Slovakia. More recently two carved shelves have been added, again the skilful work of Jozef.

The hall was officially opened and blessed by Bishop Declan on the 6th November 2009. We consider ourselves blessed to have a lovely new hall, and a refurbished church and car park. Unsurprisingly, the hall is fulfilling all our hopes providing a focal point after Mass for refreshments and fellowship. We are very proud of our church, and visitors are always most welcome. Sunday Mass is at 8:30am and parking is easy, should the ‘Yeovil End ‘ of the parish consider making the trek. 


Our Parish Banner

June 18, 2014
If you have been to Mass at Holy Ghost church during the past few weeks, you couldn't fail to notice the banner standing against the wall at the back of the pulpit.

Admittedly, we did already have a Marian banner, which had traditionally been carried on pilgrimages to Lourdes, but it was felt by our then Parish priest, Fr. Martin, and members of the Parish Pastoral Council, that we needed one that would symbolise the Paraclete, as the guiding spirit of our church.

A new banner was, therefore, duly commissioned, and an initial working drawing shown to the late Fr. Alan Blackford, a keen and accomplished artist, for his comments, and his reaction? ‘I can do much better than that,’ he snorted, and within a few days Fr. Blackford had produced the simple but beautiful design that you see today. A similar motif, depicting the Holy Spirit, also the work of Fr. Blackford, can be found on the top left-hand corner of the weekly bulletin.

The banner, which was created by a local teacher of arts and crafts, was completed in time to be carried with pride on the recent pilgrimage to Glastonbury.