3: THE FIRST DECADE, 1958-1967

Because communication between priest and people is vital, in 1960 Fr William Mena launched a weekly Sunday Bulletin. Its format has varied over the years, but nowadays the weekly newsletter is taken for granted. Another of Fr Mena’s ideas, reported in a local newspaper, was to link a government-surplus aircraft transmitter between his car and the presbytery, so that he could visit his parishioners more speedily. Alas! Before this radical pre-mobile-phone plan (or spoof?) could be activated, in 1962 he was replaced as parish priest by Fr Francis Pyka.

1963 opened with a shock: in January, Bishop Bernard Wall announced his plan to divide the parish. St Edmund’s was to continue under the care of the Claretians, but St Thomas More’s with its debt finally paid off, was to be a separate diocesan parish incorporating Theydon Bois. The split left the older Parish of St Edmund of Canterbury reduced in size and numbers, with a heavy debt still outstanding on the new church, and without a social centre.

Fr Pyka set about planning a hall, but the final work fell to his successor. Fr Alphonse Knapp took over the parish in 1965, just as the closing of the Second Vatican Council forecast radical changes to Church and parish.

For the moment, however, the new social hall took priority. A loan of £20,000 was negotiated, and on the last day of 1966 Bishop Wall blessed the new hall. Next day, New Year’s Day 1967, it got off in grand style with a special charity concert led by Val Doonican and a gathering of well-known entertainers. With the coming of the hall, community activities thrived. A regular band of Social Club devotees swiftly established themselves, a popular Young Wives Group was founded, and the Saturday Morning Cinema ran for several years, until television tempted away its young audience.

In a significant reform to the liturgy, in 1967 the language of the Mass was changed from Latin to English. Other liturgical reforms since Vatican II made alterations necessary to the church building, including bringing forward the main altar. A new altar was also donated for the Lady Chapel.

In the Church at large, ecumenical developments were afoot. In one way or another, St Edmund’s had been ahead of these, involved with its fellow churches since the 1940s. It was a friendship encouraged by Fr Knapp, who promoted the shared Unity Week services each January. In July 1967, he became the first Roman Catholic priest to preach at the Anglican church of St John the Baptist, and St Edmund’s finally joined the Loughton Council of Churches.