History

In 1857 the Catholic population of Market Drayton was 20.

The first Mass was said in a private house by the Rev James Kenny of Whitchurch. From 1858-64 the priest from Swynnerton Hall came occasionally. From 1864 it was served from Crewe for four years and then from Nantwich till 1884 when the Rev. Laurence Levett came as the first resident priest. For some years Mass was said in a furniture showroom until 1883, when a large room was fitted up as a temporary chapel in Cheshire Street, where re-development had taken place. It opened as ‘St Thomas Aquinas’.

Mr Egerton Harding, of Old Springs, made a partial endowment of £50. Later he gave a plot of land in Great Hales Street. His son had the church and presbytery built on this land, “entirely at his own expense in thanksgiving for his conversion”. The cost of church and presbytery was £1825. An additional £1175 was given as an endowment. The solemn opening took place on 7th November 1886.

The consecration of the new church was carried out by Bishop Knight on 17th August 1887. It was dedicated to ‘Saints Thomas Aquinas and Stephen Harding’. St Stephen Harding, who died in 1134, was an Englishman and was educated at the Abbey of Sherborne in Dorset. He was the co-founder of the Cistercian Order along with St Bernard.

The High Altar

In August 1896 the sanctuary was re-opened after extensive decorations. A new alabaster altar, with reredos of Caen stone, was erected; three stained glass windows were put in; and incidents in the lives of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Stephen Harding were depicted on the walls.

A Roman artist completed some panels in the reredos in the opening years of this century. He copied from the pictures of great masters in the Roman galleries. The two principal panels represent the Annunciation and the Nativity and the other six represent events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Solemn services were held to commemorate their completion on 21st July 1901.

In the late 1960′s, additional work was completed, in the form of the church entrance porch and a wooden Parish Hall was erected on the ground behind the church, during the years when Father John Marmion, was Parish Priest.

The parish not only covers the market town of Market Drayton, but many surrounding villages. Additionally, the army barracks at Tern Hill and the Young Offenders Institute at Stoke Heath come under the incumbent priest’s responsibilities. Stoke Heath Y.O.I. has a weekly Mass for the Catholic inmates and the Parish priest is helped in the pastoral care and visits to the prison by a Permanent Deacon from the Diocese of Shrewsbury: Rev Stephen McKenna. The parish covers 150 square miles and is co-terminus with the area of the Anglican deanery.

The Catholic population was 150 in 1951. Today it is over 400.

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