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!