Beneath thick layers of time, the hidden history of the Holy Name of Jesus

July 28, 2021

Hidden on a small wall in the Holy Souls Chantry Chapel, inside the Church of the Holy Name in Manchester, is a wall of roughly fifty memorial tiles.

These tiles bear the names of individuals who have some type of connection to the church, directly or indirectly. The range of death dates spans a large period of about seventy years, from 1864 to the 1920s. Very little is known about the history of these tiles. There are no documents or notices in the church’s archives that detail the origins, intentions, or plans for the tiles on the wall. All that we know for certain is that the wall contains the names and death dates of individuals who had some connection to the church.

The placement I undertook as part of my MA Heritage Studies programme at the University of Manchester had me assume the role of ‘memorial tiles researcher’ to discover more about the tiles, and some of the people whose names are memorialized in the church. The ultimate objective of this project was to learn more about these individuals, but to also attempt to establish a connection between the names on the wall and the church. Were these people parishioners? Did they get married or baptize children at the church? Additionally, establishing Jesuit connections from these names was a priority.

This project began by photographing all the tiles on the chapel wall. Many of the tiles are legible, however, some have lost most of the paint, and it is very difficult to identify any letters on them. Out of the tiles that I could read, I made a list of all names and dates of death. From this list, I chose about fifteen names with the intention of researching. I chose these individuals to be a mix of men and women, some with more ‘common’, and others with more ‘rare’ last names. I did this so I could research a large scope of people, not just concentrating on one type of potential parishioner. From this list, I did a quick search on online databases, mainly Ancestry, to see which names turned up enough records that information could be extracted from. Of those names, I narrowed it down to nine that had a decent amount of information so a biography could be written successfully for each individual, and adequate information would be available to establish a connection between these people to the church and Jesuits.

These nine names are: Miriam Atkinson, Peter Bolongaro, Elizabeth Healy, Peter and Rosa Nessi, Patrick Lambert, Mary and Johanna O’Hara, and John Pilkington. I chose Peter and Rosa, and Mary and Johanna hoping there would be a family connection. Luckily, I was able to determine they were a couple, and two sisters, respectively. As they were family connections they were researched together.

This placement project was an intriguing choice for me, as I have always had an interest in family and local history, but I did not have significant experience in genealogical research in Manchester. This project has allowed me to gain valuable experience about those who lived in Chorlton on Medlock in the late 1800s, and to feel more connected to the area. I used my previous knowledge of the Irish in industrial Manchester, along with my research experience and family history research knowledge to aid me in this project. I used online archive databases such as Ancestry, Forces War Records, Find a Grave, as well as the church’s own archives.

Finding a connection to the church, or more specifically, a Jesuit connection, was a difficult task, and took a significant amount of family tree building to establish these connections. However, once I pieced together information about descendants of the nine named individuals, I was able to make some strong connections that offered potential explanations as to why these individuals’ names were added to the church’s architecture. Of the nine people, I established strong Holy Name or Jesuit connections to Peter Bolongaro, Peter and Rosa Nessi, and John Pilkington.

Peter Bolongaro’s daughter, Lucy Mary Crean, was a devoted Catholic and benefactor of her local church - St. Werburgh’s, in Hough Green, Chester, where she was also the president of the women’s charity there. Later in her life, she lived in Alexandra Park, Manchester, in very close proximity to the Holy Name where she was likely a parishioner. Her son, Peter’s grandson, Theodore Crean, born around 1881, was educated at Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe - a Jesuit school. He then attended Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, before enlisting in a career of military service in 1900, including service as a Captain in World War One, until his passing in 1914. His sister Madeline Crean, who passed away in 1957, left her wealth to a Leonard William Geddes, a Jesuit. This was likely a kind of donation to go towards the Church. The repeated affiliation between Peter Bolongaro’s descendants and the church and Jesuits indicates they were devoted Catholics who had a closeness to the Society of Jesus.

Peter and Rosa Nessi’s son, Pascal, baptized four of his children (between 1886 and 1890) at the Holy Name Church, and their baptism registers are present in the church’s archives. Pascal may have also married his wife, Eliza Bailey at the newly built church in 1879, however, this cannot be confirmed. Pascal was able to earn a very comfortable salary as a leather and ‘fancy goods’ dealer, leaving behind a large sum of money. This indicates perhaps Pascal had his parents’ names commissioned for the Holy Souls Chapel.

John Pilkington’s name appears twice in the Holy Name Church. Once in the Holy Souls Chapel, but again in the Strada Chapel, on the benefactor’s plaque. These two appearances of his name indicate he was very likely a devoted parishioner and friend of the church, and perhaps even donated for other projects within the church.

Among the other individuals, there are additional connections I was able to infer based on historic records, however, those of Peter Bolongaro, Peter and Rosa Nessi and John Pilkington are the strongest and most evident to the Holy Name and the Jesuits.

Establishing connections to individuals who passed away over one hundred years ago is a difficult task, as government and institutional records rarely indicate any of the more personal elements of one’s life, but through these, if you read between the lines and piece together information, connections can be found.

Lauren Coté is an MA student at the University of Manchester. As part of her placement year, she was tasked with researching the stories behind names on a series of memorial tiles in the Holy Souls Chapel in the Holy Name of Jesus, a Jesuit church in the heart of Manchester.

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