A historic church in Preston is to close down after 178 years as a place of worship.
St Ignatius, which has a spectacular interior designed by Augustus Pugin, has been earmarked for closure by the Diocese of Lancaster at the end of the month because of a shortage of priests.
One parishioner, Moira Cardwell, told the Lancaster Evening Post that she would chain herself to the church gate in protest at the “disgraceful” decision. Saying that many parishioners were too old to walk to the next available church, she told the local paper: “We are all stunned by the news. Many of us won’t be going to [nearby] English Martyrs. If this church has to close then that will be it.
“Some of the congregation are in their Nineties and were baptised here, went to school next door and have worshipped here all their lives. They have been in tears.”
Ms Cardwell has written to the Pope and also to Preston Council to intervene to ensure the Grade II* listed building is not allowed to fall into disrepair.
In a blogpost Bishop Michael Campbell wrote about the closure of churches in the diocese, which he said was necessary for restructuring.
He wrote: “Where the process is rolled-out to its completion there is, of course, an initial sense of grief and ‘dying’ for the people and the priests directly concerned – and I share in these emotions, too, as bishop.”
“Hopefully, however, with the right leadership on the ground a sense of ‘new life’ or resurrection can be created as well; a new identity in a newer, larger, active and stronger parish community.
“Some of our people will certainly be (and are) sad, upset, and often angry when their church or Mass centre is closed and their parish is merged with a neighbouring parish. This is most understandable. Loyal Catholic people love their parishes, and consider them their spiritual home containing many cherished memories. To see them changed or merged, even with neighbouring parishes, is a very difficult experience indeed.”
But he said that, with 92 parishes, there were simply too many churches in the dioceses and it did not have as many practicing Catholics as it once did.
“Simply put and sad to admit, our people aren’t coming in those numbers anymore! True, some of the shortage in older parishes is due to the fact that our people have moved to the suburbs. Others have ‘lapsed’. The people that do come are as committed as ever – but are nowhere near the numbers needed to support huge and beautiful church buildings often built at the high point of post-Emancipation Catholic restoration in this country.”
He added: “By merging parishes now, hopefully we will make better use of our human and financial resources – pooling together the gifts from baptism and confirmation we have received.”
Diane Vaughton, the council’s conservation officer, said: “It is a rare building and has historical associations, architectural quality and is an absolutely beautiful church.”