4: THE SECOND DECADE, 1968-1977

A desperate need for housing in the district had encouraged Fr Knapp to form, in 1967, a local branch of the Catholic Housing Aid Association. Now, a week before he left in June 1970, the branch dealt with its hundredth case — a couple with a small child, faced with eviction from a house overcrowded with sixteen people sharing a single toilet and a bathroom.

Soon after his appointment as parish priest, Fr Peter Wareing established the Parish Council. More innovations followed: the Folk Mass Choir, the installation of a sound-system in the church, and by 1973 the Liturgy Committee and the first Parish AGM. The St Edmund’s bus service to and from St John Fisher School had become uneconomic, so the coach was sold off and the school run contracted out.

Fr Wareing was succeeded in 1974 by Fr James Martin. That winter, the Youth Club instigated the Christmas dinner for older people. It was an immediate success, and today is organised by the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

The following year, Fr John O’Byrne joined us as parish priest. Within weeks, Fr Emil Rosendo, a curate with great devotion to Our Lady, formed the Lourdes Society, and set on foot the construction of the grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes. It was designed by a local artist, Billy Elliott, who is also remembered for his Stations of the Cross at St Thomas More’s.

A strong supporter of the Claretian missions, Fr O’Byrne founded “Project Guatemala”, organised in 1976 by Br Denis Casey and the Parish Family Group. With the recent introduction of the new rite of penance, the parish was encouraged to make a weekly offering from what was saved by fasting. The following February, the same group inaugurated the annual fund-raising Mardi Gras — its steel band, fancy dress and party atmosphere, soon gained a fan following.

1976 was the year of St Edmund’s Golden Jubilee, but first Fr Rosendo’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated in June. Then, fresh alterations were made to the structure of the church which was re-roofed, re-wired, and redecorated. The tabernacle was moved from beside the main altar to the side chapel. On 24 October, with the debt paid off, the church was consecrated by Bishop Casey of Brentwood on the occasion of St Edmund’s Jubilee.

These happy, community enriching, events were still fresh memories when in June 1977 the Claretians announced their departure from Loughton. To many it felt like the break-up of a family, but the reality was the opening out of the parish to new friendships and new opportunities.