St. Margaret Mary Community
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. MARGARET MARY’S COMMUNITY
In 1965 the site that we now share with the Polish Community was purchased and a church hall (which would also serve as a church) erected to provide for the pastoral needs of the parishioners on the eastern outskirts of Sacred Heart Parish. It was dedicated to St. Margaret Mary, since the focus of her life was spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The hall was used to celebrate masses on Sundays and holy days and for parish social events. Attendance was good and soon the centre almost became a mini parish on its own.
Over time the site and building began to deteriorate and the need for a programme of ongoing maintenance became obvious.
It was also becoming apparent that Sacred Heart on Mere Road required Canon Murdoch’s, (Sacred Heart parish priest at the time) full time attention, and he agreed that a St. Margaret’s group of parishioners be formed and take over the day to day running of the church/hall. They would raise funds for minor repairs and refer to him for approval of any major work.
This worked very well for many years with many of the community becoming involved in the upkeep of the grounds and hall and helping to raise funds.
In 1990, St. Margarets celebrated its Silver Jubilee. By then Fr. John Lally had been appointed as the new parish priest. The day was ‘marked by a wonderful mass with a packed church, attended by representatives of Leicester City Council, the local MP and many priests of the Deanery. That year also saw the first Parish Summer Fayre, which became an annual event.
However, nothing stays the same forever and in time the Bishop began to look at his ageing priests, the decline in vocations and reduced numbers of attendees at mass and decided to reduce the number of masses.
Also, another branch of our neighbourhood was considering improving their situation. In the early 1960’s the Polish Catholic Community numbered over four thousand (see further down for the full history of the Polish Community). Their fundraising had allowed them to buy the Methodist church on Melbourne Road/Dale Street, within Sacred Heart parish, but the site did not prove to be ideal in the long run.
In 1997 an approach was made to Father John Lally regarding the possible re-location of St Paul’s Polish Church to the St. Margaret Mary’s site in Ethel Rd.
With the proviso that St. Margaret’s community would still be able to worship and socialise at the new church and centre, St Margaret’s acre was sold and the hall became transformed into the dream the Polish Community had always cherished.
The last mass at St. Margaret’s was on the 17th November 2002 and the first mass at Mayflower Methodist Church, where we would worship until the re-build was complete, was the following Sunday.
In November 2003 St Paul’s Church and Community Centre transferred from Melbourne Rd/Dale St to Wakerley Rd. where the official opening took place on 6th June 2004.
The Polish Community has in recent years received a whole new wave of young families keen to celebrate their traditions and culture. There are now plans to extend the centre in the near future.
St. Margarets is now a thriving, multicultural, friendly community enjoying a special relationship with the Polish Community.
The centre and church have become our ‘new’ home and we are still making new friends every week and even exchanging a few words of Polish in greeting whilst maintaining our long-standing attachment to Sacred Heart.
Extracts taken from ‘Faith built on Love’. A history of Sacred Heart Parish, Leicester, 1883-2008. With kind permission Kate Myers, Author.
THE POLISH COMMUNITY & THE CHURCH OF ST MARGARET MARY
A brief history:
Not long after the start of the Second World War, Poland was divided by two invaders. Almost immediately mass deportations of Poles began to labour camps in Germany and various parts of Russia, including the very inhospitable Siberia. People were herded into and transported in cattle trucks, just like those in the film ‘Dr Zhivago. Nearly two million people were transported to Russia alone.
In 1941 a pact was signed between the Polish government in exile and the Soviets which allowed for the release of Polish deportees, particularly Polish soldiers and volunteers, with a view to forming a new Polish army to fight alongside the allies.
The embryonic Polish army was evacuated to the Middle East so that they could undergo health rehabilitation following their ordeal in the Soviet camps and then started intensive training in preparation to fight on the many fronts. The women and children were evacuated and transferred to Africa and India.
The deportees lived out the war years scattered over the globe setting up little Polish communities, with schools trying to keep their Polish traditions alive.
After the war the demobilised Polish forces, which fought under the allied command, could not return home to Poland as their country did not enjoy the freedom and independence they had fought so hard to achieve. Moreover, one third of eastern Poland no longer existed so there was no home to go back to.
They were essentially stateless, political refugees. Some came to Britain where their families from Africa and India later joined them.
Some 100,000 orphans who had no family to go to were sent in shiploads to Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and the USA and were, in many cases adopted by their hosts.
About a thousand Polish soldiers with their families settled in demobilisation camps in and around Leicester, a city of many trades and in need of workers. In keeping with Polish traditions these families rapidly organised themselves into an active community.
A Polish army chaplain, Fr.Frackowiak, made contact with the Dominican Fathers at Holy Cross Church. As luck would have it, the Friar was of Polish extraction and gave permission for the Poles to use his church to celebrate Mass.
In the early years the ex-combatants raised funds through personal contributions and donations and purchased a house on University Road for use as a community base.
However, in the early sixties, the Polish community numbered nearly four thousand and although very grateful to the Dominican Friars for their hospitality, felt it was high time that they had their own church and a bigger community centre.
Fund raising began in earnest and before long enough money had been raised to purchase St Paul’s, a Methodist church on Melbourne Road / Dale Street.
There we stayed for nearly forty years!
However, the passage of time had seen the number of parishioners diminish significantly.
The number of young men and women who originally settled in Leicester became old and infirm and many have inevitably died. The community centre on Dale Street, was becoming increasingly inaccessible to the frail and elderly. The building itself was in need of major restoration, and we were experiencing the problems of many deprived city areas.
It was time to move again
A speculative letter was written to Father John Lally about the possibility of purchasing St Margaret’s site with a view to a joint collaboration and the rest, as they say is, history. The plot was bought and redeveloped to include the church and small social centre. Several important items from the Melbourne Road church such as the marble altar, a wooden altar, pulpit and the font were adapted for use in the new church.
In June 2003, two months before completion of building works we were honoured by a visit from President Lech Wałęsa who unveiled an inauguration plaque.
In May 2004 Poland acceded to the European Union. Our new church and centre built for a shrinking community suddenly became very tight. The number of parishioners increased at least three-fold. We had to install screens in various breakout rooms and incorporated an additional mass to accommodate the new worshippers. Needless to say, we are now planning to extend the Centre.
Seventy years on, the Polish community is still alive and well here in its new home on Wakerley Road. We have a very active community including a Polish School, a luncheon club, keep fit for senior citizens, two dance groups (Adults and Children’s), a choir, a small church singing group, the rosary circle, the senior citizen association and a troupe of guides and scouts.
God willing, the Polish community will continue praying here with its newfound friends of St Margaret Mary’s congregation for many years to come