On 2 May1937 Fr Whiteside, the Spiritan Provincial, wrote to Archibishop Hinsley not only to accept the parish of New Barnet but to give some details about Fr Parkinson, whom he proposed as the new priest in charge. “Since his ordination in 1925 he has spent five years in Sierra Leone and the rest of the time in England. He is young and energetic and I am sure he will put his whole heart and soul into the new sphere of work before him.” He then went on to write, “I should like to point out that we deem it urgently necessary for the success of our ministry in New Barnet that the proposed church building be started immediately. The financial arrangements between the diocese and ourselves could perhaps be discussed before or when Father Parkinson takes over the parish.”
Henry Parkinson was just about 38 at the time of his appointment, having been born in Manchester on 22 July 1899. It is not clear where he did his primary school studies, but in 1914 he went to Castlehead, the Spiritan Junior Seminary, for six years. The following six years were spent in various formation houses in France, before being ordained in the Mother House, Paris on 28 October 1925. A year later he returned to his Alma Mater to teach, before going out to work as a missionary in Sierra Leone in 1927. After six years he returned to Castlehead and spent the next four years teaching before moving to New Barnet.
Father Parkinson only stayed in New Barnet a little over two years, before being moved back to Castlehead in September 1939. But he made his mark by visiting all his parishioners and by getting the church built, opened (but not paid for) in that relatively short time. Fortunately for him and the Spiritans, Fr Lynch, his diocesan predecessor, had already obtained, and with the generous aid of the parishioners, paid for the extensive area of land large enough for a church, presbytery and hall.
The Spiritan Archives give no indication of the number of meetings with the Diocesan Finance Board, the Local Council, the Architect and the Builders, but they do contain two newspaper cuttings referring to the official opening of the church. The more detailed one comes from the Barnet Press dated April 16th, 1938.
“The new Roman Catholic Church, dedicated to Mary Immaculate and St. Peter, at Somerset-road, New Barnet, was opened on Saturday (April 19th), when High Mass, at which Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, was present, was celebrated before a crowded congregation.
In November, Cardinal Hinsley, then Archbishop Hinsley, laid the foundation stone of the new church which has been built to take the place of the old temporary church which has been in existence for thirty years. The new building was designed in the Romanesque style by Mr. T. H. B. Scott, F.R.I.B.A. and seats three hundred. The cost was a little over £5,000. The exterior is of pleasing appearance, and the interior, while rather severe in general appearance, is impressive and well furnished.
At Saturday’s service Cardinal Hinsley was assisted by Monseignor Collins, Deacons at the throne were Canon Hookway (Rector of Barnet), Canon Browne, and Fr. H. Parkinson (Rector at New Barnet). The celebrant was Fr. Taylor, a former resident of New Barnet and now Rector of Our Lady of Lourdes, Harrow-road. Assisting him as deacon and sub-deacon were Fr. Grande and Fr. Nanzabedo, of the Spanish Fathers, Potters Bar.
The choir was led by Fr. Shaw and Fr. Feherenbach, and other clergy present included Canon Longstaff, Fr. C. Parsons (Finchley), Fr. McIerney (Whetstone), Fr Whiteside, Fr. Finan and Fr. McGarry (Holy Ghost Fathers).”
Some twenty years later in 1959 Fr Parkinson returned to New Barnet as parish priest. Again he only stayed two years or so because he was appointed Spiritan Provincial in 1961. But in this brief period he was deeply involved in the planning of the present parish hall.
Unfortunately, in his optimism, he imagined the hall like the church could be quickly and relatively cheaply constructed. Indeed he wrote in that vein on 8 December 1959. “Here all goes well, thank God. We are hoping to start on the badly needed Parish Hall. With the Football Pools and Bingo we should be able to manage it and meet the interest. I suppose the cost would be in the region of £10,000.” Little did he realize that there were new planning regulations and that to build a hall on the unstable soil of a steep hill would be technically difficult and therefore involve more expense than he anticipated.
His frustration shows in some of his correspondence. On 9 February 1960 he wrote “We are no further ahead with the Hall, the architect – Mr Moss … seems to be very slow. A year later on 16 March 1961 he wrote, “At long last Mr. Moss seems to be more active. He was down here on Monday afternoon. I had asked him to come. The proposed hall has been passed by the Town and Country planning. Tenders should go out soon, but I suppose it will be towards the end of May before the building can commence.
A month later on 15th April he seemed to be slightly more positive, “At long last we seem to be getting somewhere with the Parish Hall. It will cost about £15,000. We will have to borrow it from the Diocese. The Financial Secretary suggested that I should approach the Congregation for a loan, but, of course, I told him I could not possibly do so.”
In fact there were further complications and delays so it was only on 2 May 1961 he wrote, “the proposed Parish Hall has just gone out to tender, or at least to the Quantity Surveyor. I suppose it will be about another six weeks before the actual building will start. I hope we can get the roof on before the winter.”
His hopes proved to be baseless. It is not clear now when construction actually started, but Fr Parkinson had left the parish before the foundation stone was even laid. That said, he did return to do the blessing as a newspaper cutting reveals. “An important stride forward in the life of New Barnet Roman Catholic church was taken on Saturday 3 November 1962, when the foundation stone of the new Church Hall, which is costing between £21,000 and £22,000, was laid by the former Parish Priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Henry Parkinson, now Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers…Among the crowd who gathered at the Lyonsdown Rd. frontage of the new hall to watch the stone laying ceremony were Councillor Arthur Cutts-Watson, Chairman of the East Barnet Council and Mrs. Cutts-Watson.”
Unbelievably, further complications delayed the handover of the building, which led to the new Parish Priest Fr. P.J. Devins (formerly parish curate from 1954) expressing his frustration in a letter dated 23 April 1963: “The progress on the Hall is tantalizingly slow and now a new snag has arisen from the licensing authorities. They demand a change in two of the exits and an extra door at the top of the stairs. The work on the car park is now going satisfactorily. I’ll let you know as soon as there is anything definite about the date of completion.”
Fortunately the necessary changes were made relatively quickly and on 3 July 1963 Fr. Parkinson returned once again and officially opened and blessed St Peter’s Hall. Of course there were many speeches. Fr Parkinson waxed lyrical on the fact “that the Hall is not a money-spinner…The aim is to is to achieve a balance between the social and spiritual elements of Catholic life and to enable all parishioners to enjoy life to the full.” He also expatiated on the numerous obstacles that had needed to be overcome before the original plans could be realized. Above all he stressed that “these difficulties and frustrations had been surmounted only by the loyal support of parishioners who had never doubted that one day the hall would be built.”
It was one thing to build a church and a parish centre, it was another to pay off the bank loans, especially when the cost of the hall ran over budget and rose to £24,597 14s 0d once the last bill was paid in November 1964. Once again a newspaper cutting headed “Church consecrated 35 years after it was built” tells the story. “Over 250 parishioners and 20 priests from throughout the Borough of Barnet packed New Barnet Roman Catholic Church in Somerset Road on Wednesday of last week when Bishop Gerald Mahon, the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster conducted the consecration service of the church.
The consecration of the church which was built in 1938, also provided the opportunity for the second time within a week for a visit to this area by Cardinal Heenan, the primate of the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales, who conducted concelebrated mass. Cardinal Heenan also explained to the congregation the meaning of a church being consecrated – in that it can only be consecrated when all the debts of the cost of the church have been paid. He also added that the consecration not only applied to the church but the parish it serves.
Fr William O’Neill who took over as parish priest at the church a year ago, said it had been a great day for the church and its generous parishioners. He paid special tribute to the work of the late Father M. Lynch who from 1913 to 1937 was one of the leaders of the campaign to get a Catholic church in Somerset Road.”