The Catholic Parish of
Saint John Henry Newman

 Covering most of East Leeds

A History of St Theresa’s Church

Read 1282 Times
In 1930, because of the extensive development taking place in East Leeds, numbers of Catholics were moving from the inner city to the new houses in Seacroft, Whitkirk and Austhorpe. The Bishop of Leeds decided therefore to form a new parish based in Cross Gates. A plot of land was bought on Station Road and a school was built. The new parish was dedicated to a newly canonised Saint Theresa of Lisieux and the school chapel was to be used as the Parish Church.

For some years the building which is now the Newman Centre served as a church at weekends and during holidays. The school caretaker, Mr Frank Maguire, would clear the central classrooms of school paraphernalia and put out chairs and kneelers, rolling back the partitions which separated the classrooms; on Monday early he would reverse the whole process!
In January 1953 Bishop Heenan visited the parish and saw the large congregation crammed into the church-cum-school chapel and he insisted that a proper church be built, adding: "I want a church here for Christmas". So the present building was built in some haste.

Built on the Presbytery lawn, the building was obviously inadequate for a congregation that was still growing in numbers. It was a barn like structure, basic in design, with a curious arrangement of seating. There was no central aisle leading to the High Altar, only two side aisles which were difficult to access for those seated toward the middle of the bench. The benches were very long undulating strips of laminated wood, the edges of which soon split and ruined many a pair of nylons. The lower windows were small and contained stained amber and white frosted glass depictions of the Stations of the Cross. The High Altar was dominated by a very tall imitation canopy with plaster pillars, a painted backcloth and a life-sized statue of Saint Theresa, deemed by the Bishop when he saw it as totally unsuitable and quickly replace by a large Crucifix. In a short space of time the benches were modified and a narrow central aisle was created, making the configuration of seating more or less what it is today.

Over the years East Leeds continued to expand and two new parishes were founded from St. Theresa's - Our Lady of Good Counsel, Seacroft and St.Gregory the Great in Swarcliffe, the latter taking in the new council estate of Swarcliffe, Whinmoor and also the villages of Barwick-in-Elmet and Scholes.

In 1980, the year of the Golden Jubilee of St. Theresa's Parish, major refurbishments were made to the Church under the direction of the Parish Priest, Canon Denis Tangney. An extension was built along the Station Road frontage comprising a generous main entrance lobby with wide doors accessed from the street by steps and a ramp, a Meeting a room with wide windows to view the main church, a secondary entrance lobby and toilets for the use of the congregation. The floor of the church was levelled and heating and wiring replaced. The confessional boxes were removed and two ‘Confessional Rooms' provided in the space where the original main porch had been located. Completely new seating was installed. The sanctuary was completely redesigned with a new, stone altar and lectern and timber panelled reredos. The large crucifix with plaster figure was relocated next to the new confessionals and a new Crucifix with carved wooden figure of the resurrected Christ was sculpted by artist David John and suspended before the High Altar. Mr John also sculpted a new set of Stations of the Cross as the small windows had been replaced by larger ones, one of which was an abstract stained glass representation of the Creation of the World. In front of this window opposite to the main entrance is the Baptismal Font, now in a central position in the main church.

The side altars have remained more or less as in the original church, though the plaster statue of Saint Theresa was replaced by a wooden sculpture of the saint, sculpted by David John.

In 1990 the Church was finally consecrated and four plaques representing the four Evangelists were sculpted for the occasion by David John who also designed new triple candle standards for the High Altar.

There have been minor improvements since the turn of the century including replacing the organ, restyling the shrine to Saint Theresa and installing handrails. The suspended Cross with the carved figure of the Resurrected Christ has been removed and the large Crucifix with plaster relocated to the High Altar once more.

Over the years, despite its architectural shortcomings, St. Theresa's Church has been a vibrant place of worship, thanks to the ‘living stones' who care for it and bring their prayers and talents to embellish it.

With grateful thanks to Catherine Bergin

Published Mon 4th Jun 2018 01:43:29
Last Modified on Mon 4th Jun 2018 02:32:12

Share This Page