Source: Diocese of Southwark
A significant celebration took place at the Pugin Church of St Peter the Apostle in Woolwich yesterday Sunday 28th October, when the parish celebrated the 175th anniversary of the opening of the church.
Leading the celebrations were Bishop Pat Lynch, Auxiliary Bishop of Southwark Diocese and Fr Michael Branch, Parish Priest of St Peter's. Guests included the Mayor of Greenwich, Matthew Pennycock MP, Len Duvall from the London Assembly and local councillors.
During the 11.45am Mass, which remembered the opening ceremony of 1843, Bidding Prayers were said in numerous languages, whilst seven candle bearers represented the Seven Continents in order to reflect the diverse nature of the parish. The Air Cadet Corps Band played before and after the Mass, representing the church's military connection.
The plot of land for this parish was granted by the Ordnance, who appointed Augustus Welby Pugin to design a parish church: now thought to be his first, although he had already built three Cathedrals by 1841. Marking the passing of this significant milestone in the life of the parish, Fr Michael Branch said: "Here at St Peter's, Woolwich we are all immensely proud to celebrate the Church's 175th anniversary. It's our history that helps us understand who we are today. Since it's inception, migrants from Ireland and other European countries found a safe spiritual home to Worship God and to put their faith in action. Today the Church provides a home to a multicultural world wide Catholic Community, as it continues to inspire priests and people to live faith in action for the common good.
"As we celebrate this significant anniversary, we remember in prayer and gratitude the many clergy and people who make up our history. As St Peter's present custodians our shared aim is to remember and build on the past, to live the present in reaching out to others in faith, and to plan to hand on to the next generation who will continue to create the history of St Peter's."'
After the service a shared meal of various cuisines was enjoyed by the parishioners and guests in Pugin Place: an old school building which now serves as a community centre.
The current church building retains a number of original features, including stained glass by John Harding, ceramics by Henry Minton as well as a set of Stations of the Cross originally donated by St George's Cathedral. It is also possible to see the doorway to a staircase which should have led to the still extant church spire! All are welcome to visit.
Although Woolwich was a poor area of South East London in the early 1840's, it was home to the Royal Dockyard (which was to become the Royal Arsenal) and Royal Artillery Barracks, with approximately 650 Catholic troops. A further 3,000 Catholics were also resident in the area at the time and worshippers had only a temporary chapel which was limited to a few hundred in capacity.
On 25th October 1843 a modest new Roman Catholic Church was opened by Father Cornelius Coles, (minus its hoped-for spire) who spent much of the remainder of his tenure and life campaigning for a school, which was eventually built by EW Pugin, son of the church's architect,
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