5: THE THIRD DECADE, 1978-1987
It took a year to arrange the Claretians’ departure. In the final month, Fr O’Byrne oversaw the formation of the Senior Citizens’ Club, a happy event during a sad period.
Finding clergy to serve St Edmund’s was a headache for the diocese, but rescue came from the Society of Jesus. On Sunday 14 May 1978, just over thirty years ago, Fr Anthony Doyle SJ became St Edmund’s first Jesuit parish priest. The following year, Fr Frederick Lane took over. Fr Lane, who celebrated his silver jubilee at St Edmund’s, was a strong supporter of the Lourdes Society, and led parish pilgrimages to Lourdes and other sites of Marian devotion.
When Pope John Paul visited Britain in 1982, a hundred of Loughton’s Catholics attended the Pope’s Mass at Wembley Stadium in July. An effort to involve St Edmund’s in the wider world was made, too, when the parish contrived to send lorries of medical supplies, clothing, and food to those suffering in the village of Grybow in Poland.
1n 1984 Fr Adrian Howell was appointed parish priest. By now, ecumenism was making great strides locally, most significantly at a Unity Service at St Edmund’s in January 1985, when the Covenant — a positive step towards “working and growing together”— was signed and witnessed by leaders of the churches, including the Bishops of Brentwood and Chelmsford. As a practical ecumenical gesture, the following year the Methodists used our hall (newly refurbished) for their Sunday services, while their new church was under construction in the High Road.
Later in 1985, two important initiatives reinforced the sense of our own parish community. St Edmund’s Review made a genuine attempt to bring together in its pages parish, diocese, the Jesuit order, schools, and local churches; while the parish barbecue proved such a success that it became an annual event. In October, three Jesuit priests took their final vows at St Edmund’s, including our own parish priest Fr Adrian. In June the following year, the first seven Eucharistic ministers of the parish were commissioned at Brentwood.
The death in 1986 of Fr Charles Hand, the parish priest of St Thomas More’s, was an opportunity to reunite the parishes of St Thomas More and St Edmund. St Thomas More’s would continue to be served from the diocese. One benefit was the forging of stronger links between the diocesan community and St Edmund’s, a parish served by a religious order. Canon James Hemming joined us as priest in residence at Debden, and in August 1987 over a hundred parishioners gathered around Fr Adrian in St Thomas More Church, as he dedicated plaques bearing the arms of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, in memory of Fr Hand.