Saint Francis

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One of the “treasures” at St. Francis is a beautiful (but now just ever so slightly battered) manuscript book, illustrated with photographs and other drawings, which records the history up to 1948. It was lovingly prepared by Fr Michael Meakin and he signed his completed work on St. Francis Day 1948. That work is the principle (but not the only) source of what follows.
Service registers exist for a Church of St. Francis (as a Mission Church of S. John’s Boxmoor) in Glenview Road from St. Francis Day 1908. Nothing much of the story of how that Church came into being can be traced with certainty – but it is clear that a group of people had previously been meeting together for services (of some form) which took place under the supervision of a Church Army Captain at 7 Glenview Gardens, the home of a devout lady called Mrs Barnes. The building which formed that first Church is still in use today as the Church Hall. Nothing much of the records of how that Church came into being seems to have survived. The name of that Church Army Captain appears unrecorded, but records do indicate that from 1908 -1910 pastoral care was administered by E Romeril Le Ruez – described in the registers as “evangelist”. It would be a reasonable guess that he was not in priest’s orders as the records do note that on St. Francis’ day 1910 Fr Moray O’Beirne, then newly ordained into deacon’s orders, began his ministry at St. Francis, celebrating his First Mass on St. Francis Day 1911 – the historical notes go on to say that S. Francis then had its first Priest in Charge. It would also be a reasonable guess that priestly care from 1908 had been provided by the Vicar of St. John’s, Boxmoor. The records indicate that the first time a man was appointed to St. Francis who was already in priests orders was when Fr Power arrived in 1927. This would indicate that the post was a regarded as a training post, under the supervision of the Vicar of St John’s, for newly ordained clergy who were nevertheless styled “Priest in Charge”.
In due course plans were made to build a bigger Church. History records that the land on which the new Church was to stand was a gift, another anonymous donor underwrote the provision of seating, and most generously of all the greater part of the cost of the building was borne by Mrs Margaret Ada Carter (who lived in Park Hill House, now the site of Pinewood Gardens) and her sister, Mrs Reckett. The costs were just below £2000, and on the day of the Dedication of the building a debt of about £180 remained. Carter generosity still offers some support to t Francis today- following on from Margaret Ada Carter’s will (she died on 26th April 1938), her daughter created a Trust in 1947 which continues to underwrite the costs of a priest at St. Francis, on condition that the tradition continues in accordance with the principles of the Church Union.
The architect of the new Church was Mr Paul Waterhouse PRIBA, MA, FSA. His design for St. Francis is echoed in his later work (1921) for the Convent of the Incarnation in Oxford – both being inspired by the church of Sancta Maria del Angeli at Assisi in Italy – the birthplace of St. Francis. The site on which he had to work provided him with many challenges. The ground rises some 10’ from west to east within a distance of 70’. This explains why the Sanctuary of the present Church is set so high – standing at the Altar the celebrant’s feet are about the same level as his congregation’s eyes, assuming they too are standing up! The new Church was dedicated on 5th July 1914 at 3.30pm by the Bishop of S. Albans, the Rt. Revd. Edgar Jacob. The first and second Masses to be celebrated in the new building were said in the morning of the day of the Dedication at 7am and 8am by Fr O’Beirne and Fr Semple respectively (the latter being the priest in Charge at the time). At the 7am there were 46 communions and the collection was two pounds, six shillings and thruppence, and at 8am there were 24 communions with a collection of 5 shillings, tuppence halfpenny.
From the beginning the catholic faith was taught at St. Francis and that tradition has continued proudly and unbroken. Worship centred around the Mass; the importance of sacramental confession was taught; the Blessed Sacrament reserved. When the General Synod of the Church of England decided in November 1992 to set aside the apostolic tradition of only ordaining men, S Francis lost no time in declaring its views, passing a motion that they were unable to “….recognise the orders of women ordained as priests….” and to register as a Forward in Faith Church in July 1993. This was before the formal structures of resolutions A and B had been made available.