Our History

Birchington

 

The first public Mass in Birchington was celebrated at The Institute Hall (a public hall in The Square where Brills hardware shop now stands) by Father Erkenwald Egan OSB on the Feast of the Assumption, 15th August, 1908. Just weeks later the Monks of Ramsgate purchased some land next to the Old Malthouse in Minnis Road and adapted the old wagon shed building on the site to become a church. The first Mass was held there on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December, 1908. A presbytery was built in front of the church and in May 1909 Fr John Percival Augustine Golding-Bird OSB became the first resident priest-in-charge of the Mission Church of Our Lady and St Benedict. During the war years 1939-46 the church, together with

St Peter's Westgate, ceased to function with Mass being said at Ss Austin and Gregory, Margate. Following the war years both churches reopened.

The mid-1950s saw the present parish church building take shape; the old church had become dilapidated and in 1954 the newly appoint priest, Fr Wilfred Emery OSB, was ordered by the Abbot of Ramsgate to "go and build a new church in Birchington". The first part of the new building was completed in 1957, a second phase of extending the nave and erecting a new porch and tower was begun and finally the church and its new altar were consecrated by Bishop Cyril Cowderoy on 14th July 1964. The present parish hall was built under Father Cyril Williams in 1974; the presbytery survived until 1986 when Father Denis Barry built a new presbytery to a much higher standard, detached from the church.  In 1996 the church's problematic flat roof was replaced by a tiled pitched roof. In the church, Canon Bill Clements added central heating and a new wooden floor and it was carpeted throughout; in 1996 the church's problematic flat roof was replaced by a tiled pitched roof. The last major construction was the re-ordering of the sanctuary in 2003: the high altar and temporary wooden altar were removed and a cubic altar made from stone quarried at Caen was installed. The same stone was used for the new ambo and plinth for the tabernacle. The tabernacle was dignified with a small alcove created by bringing the ritual-east panelling forward, making the consecration crosses invisible as they were left in situ. New lighting allows emphasis to be placed on the tabernacle or on the altar. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Michael Bowen on 17th April 2003; the relics of Saints Urbicus and Florentinus were cemented in the altar, watched by a sanctuary full of priests and a church full of people.

Westgate  

From 1904 the Cannonesses of St. Augustine were at Tower House (now St. Augustine's Conference Centre), the Catholics living in Westgate were allowed the privilege of attending Mass at the sisters beautiful chapel, instead of going to either the parish church of Ss Austin & Gregory in Margate or Our Lady & St Benedict in Birchington. By 1935 the numbers attending mass at the convent – swelled in summer months by the many visitors– was so great that it was clear, as Bishop Peter Amigo stated in his canonical visitations, that the people of Westgate needed their own church and parish.

In 1937 the new parish acquired Westgate House (aka Doon House) with its five acres of land, sited on the main Canterbury Road and in the centre of the parish. Work began on adapting the main house for use as a temporary church.  Seven rooms were made into one large open space giving a two-storey sanctuary, a transept, and two galleries, with seating for one hundred and fifty people. On Sunday, 14 July, the Right Reverend Adrian Taylor,

Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, opened the church with a celebration of Pontifical Mass.  At times there was over three hundred people using the church; adding to the problems caused by the deteriorating fabric of the building.  The parish priest was consulted and stated his requirements for a church in which the services and sacraments could be performed with reverence.  Special attention was to be paid to making the building weather-proof, especially regarding the problems of sea air oxidising metal surfaces and to the chill winds which can frustrate attempts to heat a large building.  The nave of the new church building was to be 90 ft long by 42 ft wide.  A Lady Chapel and sacristy rooms were sited either side of the nave with a baptistry and repository each side of the main entrance, above these was a gallery where the organ was located.  Construction of the new building began in February 1963.  On 7 July, 1963, the structure was advanced enough for Right Reverend David Parry, Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey to lay the Foundation Stone.  The Church of St. Peter was formally opened for worship on 11 May, 1964, by His Lordship Cyril Cowderoy, Bishop of Southwark.   The parish in 1964 was still served, like all the Thanet parishes, by Benedictine priests who, while living in the parish, were part of the Benedictine community of Ramsgate Abbey. Reverend Father L. Dunstan Prangell, OSB, was parish priest at the time the new church was opened.  He was still at St Peter's when the new presbytery was built in 1981.

The parish was handed over to the Diocese in 1984 and Fr. James Hurley succeeded Fr. Aidan McArdle OSB. On 1 January, 1988, Fr. Michael Chapman became Parish Priest and he retired in 1994. Fr. Joe Feeley followed during 1994 and was at St Peter's until 1996. Fr. John Slater was appointed to the parish and began his appointment on 1 October, 1996. Fr. John retired in August 2010. St Peter's ceased to function as a church following the final Sunday Mass on the 6th July 2014.