UK: Polish community campaigns to save historic centre

Divine Mercy image

Divine Mercy image

A battle is taking place between the Polish community in Britain and the Marian Fathers, who are trying to sell the much-loved Fawley Court in Henley-on-Thames - which includes a church, where the Divine Mercy cult was inaugurated, a community centre and 50 acres of parkland.

Bought very cheaply in the 1950s, with donations from Polish ex-pats, the house,  designed by Wren has been a school, conference and retreat centre. A member of the Polish aristocracy, Prince Radziwill, and the centre's founder, Father Joseph Jarzbowski  are buried in the modern listed church - built to a tradition Polish mountain design.  For three generations, Fawley Court was seen as the centre of ex-pat Polish life in the UK.  The cult of the Divine Mercy was introduced to the UK from here and  hundreds of Poles from around the UK visit annually for pilgrimages, picnics and other celebrations.

For some years the Marian Fathers say they have been struggling to pay for the upkeep of the property. In 2007 they closed the museum, moving its contents to Poland. The decision to sell Fawley Court and use the proceeds to finance other activities abroad, was made around that time. The Polish Catholic Mission with the Polish government offered £8million for Fawley Court - but the Marian Father rejected this offer - opting instead to go on the open market. 

Campaigners say that a property developer has now put in a £20million bid for the site - although they say the deal has not been completed yet.

Marian Father Wojciech Jasinski is quoted in the Polish daily Dziennik Polski, repeating that the order was forced to sell Fawley Court because it was too expensive to run and, they said the number of Polish visitors had fallen. Campaigners argue that with the huge influx of young Poles to the UK, the centre could be developed and provide a much-needed centre for them.

The group Save Fawley Court, which includes historians, lawyers, architects, have now written to the  Charity Commission, to determine whether the Marian Fathers are legally entitled to sell Fawley Court.  They point out that  under the Law Charity Act 1993 a property cannot  be sold without taking into account the interests of donors.  They also question whether the Marian Fathers had the right to close the museum and take away its contents. Finally they are demanding to see the accounts of the Marian Fathers, to discover what happened  to more than £200,000 collected by the Order from their community about ten years ago for maintenance of the building. They have also expressed concern about the future of St Anne's Church and the  historic graves there.

The Marian Fathers will not give any further comments at this time.

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