Your Holy Name Story

Amy and Fr William
Amy and Fr William

The Jesuits at the Holy Name Church in Manchester are seeking to uncover memories and stories from the church’s parish past, with the help of Heritage Lottery funding.

The Holy Name was built by the Jesuits in 1871, and operated as a very busy parish for a large community which included many Irish immigrants.  In the early 1960s much of the housing was cleared and communities moved to outlying districts.  Manchester University spread out along Oxford Road and the Holy Name became the church of the University chaplaincy, still served by the Jesuits.

“I think there was a real sense of loss at that time” reflects Fr William Pearsall SJ, chaplain in charge of the church, “both for the homes they had lost and the sense of community around the area and the parish which was very real. It is not too strong to say people were in mourning.”

The Jesuits retain comprehensive records such as parish bulletins, but there are very few photos of events in the church or of people, “it’s a very dry record with little anecdote or animation” observes Fr William. For this reason the Jesuits are working on a project to restore some of these personal stories, memories and images to the church’s history.

“It is a long time since the Holy Name was a parish, but there are still people now in their 80s and 90s who come to us regularly and embody the memory of the parish.  While they are still with us we want to reach out to them to find out more about the parish and want it meant to the generations who worshipped and served for over 100 years,” Fr William explains.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has agreed to support the cost of a part time project worker to help record these memories, as part of its grant award for the restoration of the north transept of the church where roofs are failing and water is damaging the tiled walls. 

Post graduate student Amy Wisenfeld is helping with the research: “I’ve interviewed five people who remember the parish from their youth and are now in their late 80 s and 90s. They all used to live in the surrounding houses and were forcibly moved to a different part of Manchester, mainly Withington, when their homes were demolished.  They spoke about the church community with real fondness. At the time there would be standing room only in the church on Sundays – and it was all the men standing at the back, ready for a quick escape at the end of mass!

“It has been fascinating trying to recreate a picture of how vibrant the community life was. There used to be many weddings and funerals - connections with life and death.  One lady recalled the Whit walks with the best-behaved girl being crowned May queen – she herself was never chosen though she once made it to be one of the maids of honour!  Much later she remembered the death of her husband and how the priests allowed his body to rest in the church in an open casket overnight before the funeral.  People had sense of sharing so although there was poverty there wasn’t need, because people shared what they had.”

If you have memories and photos of the Holy Name Church either as a parish or a chaplaincy church, we would love to hear from you.  Please email Amy.

First Communion 1929

Left: A contributor from New Zealand sent Amy this family photo - the boy on the right is wearing is first holy communion sash outside the Holy Name (dark from soot) in 1929