In these times, particularly after the Reformation when faithful Catholics were often subject to persecution and harassment, the handful of Catholics in Billericay were served by priests attached to the missions at Ingatestone Hall, Thorndon Hall and Crondon Park, Stock.
In 1852, Mass began to be celebrated at Lilystone Hall, Stock, where a permanent chapel was opened in 1879. When Father (later Monsignor) William Cologan was appointed to Stock in 1877, he assumed responsibility for Billericay, which had hitherto been cared for by Canon Last from Ingatestone Hall. Father Cologan also visited Catholics in the Billericay Union Workhouse & Infirmary.
In 1884, the first recorded Mass in Billericay since the Reformation was celebrated by Father Cologan at 108 High Street (opposite the top of what is now St Edith's Lane), the home of Mr & Mrs Cole. From 1887 -1900, Father Cologan celebrated Mass from time to time at 108 High Street and at Burstead House Academy, High Street (subsequently the Temperance Hotel and later the site of Hensman's Garage and then Gateway), and the 'Blue Room', 72 High Street.
During these years, Mass was also celebrated in a hut in what became the Goods Yard at Billericay Station by priests coming from Romford and Stock for the benefit of 70 or so Irish labourers building the Shenfield to Southend railway line. Mass was also celebrated in the private chapel of Stockwell Hall (The Clock House), Little Burstead, which had been purchased by the Earl of Mexborough in the late nineteenth century. In the Church of The Most Holy Redeemer there is a memorial in the south aisle erected by John Henry Saville, 6th Earl (1868-1945), to his aunt Miss Anne Raphael (d.1890), a former owner of the house. During this time, there was a certain amount of 'no-Popery' agitation in the town.
Mass was celebrated periodically (monthly from 1905) by Father Cologan at 'Norsey View', the home of Dr Waldron situated at the High Street end of Western Road. In 1909, Billericay is first listed in The Catholic Directory. In September that year, a large house - 129 High Street, adjacent to the Temperance Hotel - was purchased from Mr Wells by the Gillow Trust, in the name of Monsignor Cologan, for £1,200. The Ursuline Sisters from Forest Gate were asked to establish a convent and school, but found that they were unable to do so. The following March, the Brentwood Ursulines agreed to lease the house for use as a convent and school, initially for one year and in June Monsignor Cologan celebrated the first Mass at 129 High Street, where the drawing room had been converted into a chapel.
On 13 September 1910, the Convent Chapel was officially opened by Bishop Fenton, Auxiliary of Westminster, before a congregation of 60 people. The chapel was open to the public on Sundays and about 30 people came to Mass. Later in the year, the first resident priest, Father William Livesay, was appointed. He lived in a cottage adjacent to the Convent, but he did not remain at Billericay for long. On 26 September, St Angela's High School opened with 11 pupils. The Visitation Returns for March 1911 recorded that there were 82 Catholics in Billericay. After the departure of Father Livesay, responsibility for Mass reverted to Stock but in August 1911 the Billericay Mission was formally established and in September Father William Donelan was appointed to take charge. In October 1912, Father Donelan was replaced by Father Martin Brassil, who unveiled plans to build a church further along the High Street, on the Laindon Road.
In June 1913, the Brentwood Ursulines relinquished the Convent and School, chiefly for financial reasons, especially after a serious fire at the Brentwood Convent in January of that year. The Forest Gate Ursulines expressed themselves willing to take over, initially using the house as a holiday home. They continued to use the convent until their departure in 1916.
In November 1913, Bishop Butt, Auxiliary of Westminster, laid the foundation stone of the new Church of The Most Holy Redeemer on a site given by Edmund Cole of Bell Hill Farm (d.1931), in whose parents' house at 108 High Street Mass had first been celebrated in 1884. William Dunn Esq. of Lilystone Hall contributed £750, i.e. half the cost of building the church, and lent the remainder interest-free. The architect was Edward Goldie, who designed the red and brown brick building in a small-basilica style reminiscent of the Lombardy Plain. Miss Agnes Cole of Bulsteads, Great Burstead, sister of Edmund Cole, gave the original High Altar and font. The original Lady Altar was from Lilystone Hall. Above the High Altar was placed a painting of the crucifixion (still in situ) copied from the central panel of a triptych by Perugino in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi, Florence. In March, 1914, the first part of the church was opened for use and on 8 September, after the outbreak of World War 1 on 4 August, Bishop Butt officially opened the church.
In 1917, the Diocese of Brentwood was erected, the geographical County of Essex having been separated from the Archdiocese of Westminster. Monsignor Bernard Ward was appointed as its first Bishop. On 2 April 1918, Father Aloysius Roche was appointed to Billericay 'for the time being': he remained for 48 years. During that time, as well as building up the parish, he became well known as an author and radio broadcaster. On 15 August 1918, the parish of Billericay was canonically erected by Bishop Ward, just before the Great War ended on 11 November. In the same year, Countess Moore leased 129 High Street as a holiday home for women from the East End of London, naming it 'St Edith's' in memory of her late daughter who had tried her vocation as a Daughter of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.
On 12 July 1919, Cardinal Bourne dedicated the crucifix in front of the church as a memorial to the fallen of World War I. During the years that followed, although numbers remained relatively small, The Most Holy Redeemer parish developed and thrived under Fr Roche's guidance and inspiration.
From 1919 until 1930, Laindon was served from Billericay: Father Roche celebrated Mass in a disused carriage stable until the first church was opened in 1925. Between 1930 and 1932 Laindon was briefly a separate parish; thereafter, it reverted to Billericay until it became a separate parish again in December 1950.
From 1932 until 1940, Billericay took responsibility for the celebration of Mass at the London County Council's Agricultural Colony at Dunton, thus necessitating the appointment of an assistant priest - Father John Hibbert, 1932-1933, and Father John Walsh, 1933-1938.
129 High Street, now known as St Edith's, was leased in 1920 by Mr & Mrs Coverdale, who were granted the privilege of a private chapel. Mr Coverdale died in 1929. The building was demolished in 1961. In 1926, the building of the church (the extension of the nave and building of the sacristy) was completed. The total cost of the project (1913-1926) had been just under £3,000, excluding furnishings. In 1932, Father Roche moved from the cottage adjacent to St Edith's to a new residence at 9 Lion Lane.
In May 1938, a Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was established in the parish, and has continued to serve the parish until the present day.
From its small beginnings in the 1920s and 1930s and through the hardships of the Second World War, Father Roche led the Catholic community in Billericay into the post-war period of great housing and social development and later the tremendous increase in numbers of parishioners, a period during which the spiritual and social life of the parish community was confirmed and reinforced.
In 1960, Father Roche was appointed as an Honorary Canon of Brentwood and in October 1962, in response to the unprecedented growth in housing and population in Billericay and the dramatic increase in the number of Catholics, Canon Roche opened a school building fund. In 1963, he published (anonymously as was his practice) a booklet on the history of Catholicism in Billericay.
In June 1968, Canon Roche retired as Parish Priest, a position he had filled with dedication and distinction for 48 years. He lived in retirement at 9 Wakefield Avenue; he died age 81 on 24 February 1968 and is buried in St Patrick's Cemetery, Leytonstone. Father Geoffrey Pye, who in 1965 had been appointed as Vicar Coadjutor with right of succession, succeeded Canon Roche. As the new Parish Priest, Father Pye gave added impetus to Canon Roche's plans for a parish primary school, and also initiated plans for a new presbytery and parish social centre. He started, in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, to involve the lay people more fully in the life of the parish and the Church.
On 30 January 1967, Father Pye moved from the house in Lion Lane into the new presbytery adjacent to the Church. In the same year, he asked the Brentwood Ursulines to assist the parish by taking responsibility for the preparation of the increasing number of children for First Holy Communion, a task they fulfilled admirably until 1981. The growth in numbers also made the need for an assistant priest more pressing.
In October, Fr John Lyons, a Holy Ghost Father, who had had to leave Biafra because of the troubles there, was appointed curate for "as long as possible". He left around Easter the following year but in September 1968, Father William Nix, a newly ordained priest from Ireland, came to assist Father Pye. Although Father Nix moved in 1972 to be assistant priest at St Peter and St Paul, Ilford, Billericay was fortunate in having an assistant priest for most of the period until 1987, favourable circumstances which have not occurred since.
In order to accommodate the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, a new altar was installed early in 1968, and the Blessed Sacrament was transferred to the former Lady Altar. Further alterations were made in 1985, when Father William Nix was Parish Priest, which raised the floor and installed a new altar, ambo, presidential chair and baptismal font.
In 1968, the parish adopted Worth Abbey's mission in Peru as its special project. Father Pye was elected as Chairman of the Billericay Christian Council; he was re-elected for a second term in 1974.
Early in 1969, building of a primary school commenced on part of the Foots Farm site in Coxes Farm Road which had been bequeathed to the diocese by Miss Agnes Cole before World War II. On 1 June 1970, St Peter's Primary School opened with a roll of 87 pupils. The first Headteacher was Mr J.R. Powner. On 18 June 1971, St Peter's Primary School was officially blessed and opened by Monsignor Christopher Creede V.G. in the absence owing to illness of Bishop Patrick Casey.
During 1969, Sunday Mass started to be celebrated in St John the Divine Anglican Church, Outwood Common, for the convenience of Catholics living in that area of the parish. The Outwood Common Mass Centre remained in use until 1983.
On 12 November 1971, the Canon Roche Social Centre was officially blessed and opened; in the evening there was a parish social and dance. The new social centre was a much needed addition to the old hall (below left) later demolished, which had been the scene of so much parish social and community activity for many years. The Centre was extended in 1973, and again in 1976-77. In the 1990s, while Fr Patrick Sammon was Parish Priest, the Centre was radically restructured, a second floor added, the facilities significantly upgraded and parish meeting rooms added.
The parish's first Parish Council was elected in 1972. It replaced an appointed Parish Council set up by Canon Roche in the early 1960s and has remained in existence ever since assisting the Parish Priest with the running of the parish, with elections being held every three years or so.
In September 1972, the BBC World Service recorded a service in the Church. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1972 was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4.
In January 1977, Father Geoffrey Pye was transferred to Clacton where he stayed as Parish Priest until 1979, when he went to work as a missionary in Peru. He was succeeded as Billericay's Parish Priest by Father (now Monsignor) Arthur Barrow. In that year, at Father Barrow's instigation, the parish's first Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion were commissioned.
In October 1978, Father (now Monsignor) William Nix (below left in 1978) was appointed Parish Priest, bringing with him considerable and, for a parish with growing numbers of young people, useful experience of youth work, having been Diocesan Youth Director for the previous 6 years. In 1980, Father Nix was appointed Chairman of the Billericay Christian Council; in 1985 the first Catholic lay person became BCC Chairman. In 1981, Father Nix instigated a programme of expansion, renovation and re-ordering of the Church, involving the people of the parish fully in the planning and decision making. A new church porch was built in 1981 and a new external crucifix erected. Seating at the rear of the church was increased and, with the installation of an organ where the confessional had stood, the gallery also became available for seating. A new confessional room was subsequently built towards the rear of the north aisle, where the font had originally been placed. In the autumn of 1985, the sanctuary floor was raised, a new altar, ambo and celebrant's chair installed, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was refurbished, a new Lady Chapel was formed, and the font was placed adjacent to the sanctuary.
With these alterations completed, the parish joyfully celebrated its 75th anniversary, and on 29 November 1985 The Most Holy Redeemer Church was dedicated by Bishop Thomas McMahon.
In 1982, under Father Nix's guidance, the Parish launched a Programme of Pastoral Development with the aim of involving all parishioners in the building up of a witnessing, loving and prayerful community which would reach out to those Catholics who were lapsed as well as to other Christians in the town. In November, 1987 and April 1989 well attended Parish Assemblies were held to promote and extend the Parish's Programme of Pastoral Development. The pastoral development programme has continued to the present day with the support and encouragement of successive Parish Priests. A key part of the programme was building up the community through social activities - always a strong feature of parish life.
On 24 June 1984, for the first time since the Reformation, Mass was celebrated in St Mary Magdalene, Great Burstead as part of the Billericay Christian Council's Mission 84. The major event of Mission 84 was a pageant through the town depicting the life of Christ. A large number of Most Holy Redeemer parishioners took part in this pageant, as actors, in the crowd scenes and in its organisation. The role of Christ was taken by Father Vincent Sciortino O.Cist, the assistant priest at the time.
Throughout the years, the priests and people of the parish have had an enduring devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This has shown itself from the early days in the activities of the Children of Mary through to the present day with well attended Liturgies on Our Lady's feast days, devotion to the Rosary and participation in parish, diocesan and individual and smaller group pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje.
In November 1990, Father Patrick Sammon was appointed as Parish Priest. Father Sammon, as Father William Nix before him, had been the Diocesan Youth Director. He also served for many years Director of the Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage. He gave full support to the Parish's Pastoral Development Programme and, as part of it, instigated the selection from among parishioners and formation through a diocesan training programme of 5 Pastoral Lay Assistants. The Pastoral Lay Assistants were appointed to help him with the pastoral development of the parish and to take a particular lead in the 5 Pastoral Areas which had earlier been established as a way of encouraging the building up at a more local level of prayerful and supportive communities within the overall framework of the parish.
Father Sammon also instigated, with the full involvement of the people of the parish, a radical restructuring of the parish social centre which added a two storey extension and upgraded it for the benefit of the parish community by providing additional social and meeting rooms and greatly improved facilities.
On 22 June 1991, Norman Wiseman, a much loved and respected parishioner, was ordained in the Church of The Most Holy Redeemer by Bishop Thomas McMahon, as Permanent Deacon for the Parish. The music for Deacon Norman's ordination was provided by the musicians and combined choirs of the 9am and 11am choirs under their directors Arthur Sparke and Bill Smith.
Deacon Norman gave dedicated and inspirational service to the parish in his short ministry. He died in 1993 after an illness bravely endured, having made a substantial contribution to parish life. He is sorely missed.
On 24 February 1994, Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, Archbishop of Westminster, gave a Lenten Talk in The Most Holy Redeemer Church. It was very well attended by parishioners and members of other Christian Churches in Billericay and very positively reported in the local press.
In 1995, the Billericay Catenian Circle was inaugurated. It has grown in numbers and charitable activities and flourishes to the present day.
During Father Sammon's time in Billericay, encouragement of young people and formation programmes for young people and other parishioners continued as a priority in parish life.
In October, Father Conrad Smith transferred from the Parish of Our Lady & St George, Walthamstow to succeed Father Sammon as Most Holy Redeemer's Parish Priest. Father Smith encouraged the development of the parish in many ways, working closely with the Pastoral Lay Assistants. He guided and supported the parish in all that it undertook spiritually as well as socially.
On 9 September 2000, the Ordination of Father Thomas Saunders by Bishop Thomas McMahon took place in the Church of The Most Holy Redeemer; the first priestly ordination in the Parish. Fr Saunders had been a Billericay parishioner for a few years and had undertaken a pastoral placement in the parish during his priestly formation.
In October 2003, Father John McGrath transferred from the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Joseph, Leigh-on-Sea to become Parish Priest of The Most Holy Redeemer, Billericay. Like his predecessors, he has encouraged and guided the Catholic people of Billericay in the strengthening and building of the parish community.
With the active involvement of the lay people of the parish, Father McGrath has overseen the planning of the Parish's centenary which will confirm and strengthen the faith of the community built up so lovingly over the last 100 years and more by the dedicated priests and faithful Catholic people of the area. A Parish Mission in 2010 will be a key part of the celebrations.
In 2010, our parish celebrated its centenary. Today there is much to be celebrated. From its earliest years, and particularly since the 1960s, our parish has been a thriving community blessed over the years with active parishioners who, under the guidance of successive Parish Priests, have taken a lead in organizing and contributing to all aspects of our community life. Today, we have more than 50 social, liturgical, spiritual, pastoral and ecumenical groups serving the parish and its people. Our celebrations of the Eucharist and all our liturgies are supported by a dedicated and enthusiastic band of Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Musicians and Altar Servers. We have several Prayer Groups, an active SVP Conference, which has been in continuous operation since 1938, and one of the largest Catenian Circles in the UK.
We reach out beyond our parish boundaries through our Justice & Peace group, our support for CAFOD and Christian Aid and our membership of Churches Together in Billericay. Parishioners in their hundreds give generously of their time and their talents to keep our community vibrant, open and welcoming. In recent years, we have bucked the trend with increased Mass attendance, helped no doubt by the support and encouragement we give to our many young families.
The Pastoral Centre provides an excellent venue for the annual Bazaar and Gift Day and for regular social activities. It is well used by parish groups and also by the wider local community, providing much need contributions to parish funds. Good communication in the parish is vital; we have an excellent website to keep parishioners up to date and our parish messengers handdeliver the regular Parish News to every Catholic household on our register.