Parish History

In response to Islington’s rapidly growing population, Canon Frederick Oakley opened the first mission chapel in Holloway in December 1854 at 5 Albany Place, just off Hornsey Road. From the start the chapel was too small, and after only a few months it was moved. Canon Oakeley took a lease on the building where Willow Court now stands. He intended the building to serve as a school during the week and as a chapel on Sundays, but again the building proved too small. Fortunately, the landlord was a builder as well as a convert, and he helped expand the mission. By April 1855 the capacity of the chapel had been increased from 100 to 250. A Mr J Meers presented a bell.

At the opening of the new mission chapel on 11 June 1855, angry Islington Protestants staged a hostile demonstration and Canon Oakeley, who was to preach, had to be provided with a strong Irish bodyguard. A full-scale riot developed and the chapel had to be closed temporarily, although the school continued to function.

St Mary of the Angels

Father J Dale arrived in autumn 1855 as the first resident priest. He lived in a couple of rooms on the first floor of 19 Cornwall Place. However, the strain of running the troubled little mission proved too much for him and he had to retire in 1856. Father John Berenili took temporary charge. Meanwhile Canon Oakeley was looking for a new home for a small community of enclosed Franciscan nuns in Islington and in July 1856 he transferred them up to Holloway. He acquired two more houses in Cornwall Place, one to serve as a convent, the other as a public chapel.

The site is believed to be where 15-19 Eden Grove now stands, just a few doors away from 19 Cornwall Place. Cardinal Wiseman conducted the opening of the nuns’ new chapel, named St Mary of the Angels, in January 1857. Soon afterwards a new resident priest arrived, Father Emeric Podolski, a Polish veteran of the recent Crimean War. He stayed in Holloway for over ten years and was immediately popular with his congregation.

Because of financial difficulties, the Franciscan left the diocese in 1858. They went to Ireland, eventually settling at Drumshanbo in County Leitrim. They are Poor Clares now and still pray for Holloway Parish every day.

Change of Name

In 1868 Father Podolski left to open a new Polish chapel and Father Cornelius Keens arrived to build a church. He had a remarkable facility for pioneering new projects and became known as the “Church Builder”, founding eight new ones in Westminster. By March 1869 he had bought, for £1,500, the present site at the top of Eden Grove as well as the site for schools. He was very unimpressed by the little mission chapel, calling it “the most wretched place of worship in Westminster Diocese”. He did not like the name of St Mary of the Angels and wanted it changed to “The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus”. This was agreed and Archbishop Manning laid the foundation stone of the new church on 5 August 1869.

Fr William Ignatius Dolan

Altogether, the building, designed by Frederick Hyde Pownall, cost £7,000. It opened on 18 August 1870 by Archbishop Manning amid great rejoicing. By now Cornwall Place had become part of Eden Grove, and enthusiastic crowds gathered all the way down to Holloway Road to see the opening. However, great debt had been incurred and it took almost 60 to pay it off. His project complete, Father Keens moved on, and Canon Oakeley’s curate at St John’s, Fr William Ignatius Dolan, was appointed as Holloway’s new parish priest in 1871.

In 1870 the sisters of Our Lady of Sion arrived in Holloway. They were a congregation of teaching nuns who would make a huge contribution to the life of the parish by teaching generations of Catholic children at the convent in Eden Grove.

Around 1886 the old wooden altar was replaced with a beautiful Gothic high altar stone, known affectionately by generations as the “wedding cake”. Father Dolan was parish priest for 30years and died in June 1900 on the eve of the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood. There is a plaque in his memory at the back of the church, near the gallery stairs. Electric light was installed in both church and presbytery in 1901 after the Vestry of St Mary, the predecessors of Islington Borough Council, built the Electric Lighting Station next door to the presbytery.

Father Thomas Carey

In 1901 Father Dolan was succeeded by Father (later Canon) Thomas Carey who established many traditions. It became the custom to hold processions down Eden Grove, up Holloway Road and back via Camden Road in honour of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. Sports clubs were founded and there were numerous sodalities. In 1910 the Stations of the Cross were set up around the church in honour of Canon Carey’s Silver Jubilee, and there is a plaque to this effect under the first station.

Fr David Browne and Fr Ian Dommerson

In 1921 Father Carey left and Father (later Canon) David Browne was appointed as parish priest. He would remain for 37 years. In the days of the General Strike and the Depression, Catholics were so resented that they were spat upon as they walked up Eden Grove to Mass, but the parish still flourished. A large debt delayed the church’s consecration but, thanks to truly heroic efforts by the people and priests, the consecration by Bishop Butt took place on 29 May 1928 and was a very great occasion. By a delightful coincidence the Sunday after the ceremony was the Silver Jubilee of Father Browne’s priesthood and the celebrations continued for days.

In 1934 Islington Council demolished the houses opposite the church in order to build Carey House. Father Browne badly wanted a church hall, so he bought the site of four of them himself and had plans drawn up for the new building. Money was raised but nothing was built until the present Community Centre was opened in 1973. In the meantime the site was used as a playground and, in the early 1950’s, a prefabricated hut was built for parish use.

The Second Vatican Council led to many changes in the Sixties. The first Parish Council was set up in 1967, and in the same year the parish lost the Sion Sisters after nearly 100 years. Their convent building was taken over by Mount Carmel Girls’ School. In the early Seventies the sanctuary was redesigned for the reformed liturgy using materials from the 1960s altar.

When Father Hinsley’s health deteriorated, Fr Ian Dommerson took over in 1971. The Parish Council became the Parish-in-Council that year and Father Dommerson introduced ecumenical and youth groups into the parish. Sunday Mass attendance at this time was around 1400. Eden Grove Community Centre was finally opened by Cardinal Heenan on 24 November 1973. The cost of the building was £40,000, £29,000 of which was raised by the parish over the years and the rest was from a government grant. A plaque in the centre acknowledged “the generosity of Canon Browne and past and present parishioners”.

Golden Jubilee

Father Hinsley died in 1976 and, two years later in May 1978, the church celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Bishop Victor Guazzelli conducted a special service attended by many of the priests associated with the church. Bishop Victor liked what he saw: a dynamic parish with many church-centered community activities. He used The Sacred Heart as a model for other parishes in the diocese and he called his experiment Challenge’79.

Father Dommerson would be the sole priest in the presbytery, with the Parish-in-Council and a pastoral assistant taking over the supporting duties previously done by the hard-working curates. At first all went well but Father Dommerson had a heart attack and had to leave in 1983. Following on from him were: Father Jim Kennedy (1983), Father Anthony Turbett (1984-6), and Father Peter Sharp (1986-90).

The Nineties and Now

In 1990 Father Edward Carroll took charge, soon becoming known to everybody as Father Teave. In February 1997 he was stabbed by a visitor to the presbytery and spent some time in hospital. He eventually made a good physical recovery.

Father David Irwin succeeded Father Teave as parish priest in 1999. He worked with great energy to refurbish the church and the presbytery, and overhauling the administration of the parish. His departure in October 2003 brought a new face to Holloway, Father Gideon Wagay, the current parish priest.