Fr J Leo McGinnell (PP 1956-1964) and the building of Ss Peter & Paul's church

Joseph Leo McGinnell was born in 1908 in Leeds, the son of Sergeant Major James McGinnell, a career army man, and his mother, Margaret Mary. Leo was the youngest of the family. His older brother James, who was also destined to be a priest, had already effectively left home to board at St Bede's Manchester and he had two older sisters, Bridget and Margaret.

He was ordained in Leeds, 17 June 1934 and began his ministry as curate at St Patrick's Church, Huddersfield, in 1938 Fr McGinnell arrived in the Salford Diocese and was appointed curate at St Mary, Haslingden. In 1941 he volunteered for military service, remaining in the army until 1946. Upon being demobbed Fr McGinnell served at Royton as curate until 1948 then at St Marie, Bury until 1956.

In 1956, Fr  J Leo McGinnell was asked to go to the Pendleton / Eccles border to establish a new parish in the Ellesmere Park district of Salford. The population of Irlams o'th' Height and Salford generally continued to grow as did its Catholic population. When Fr O'Shaughnessy arrived at St Luke's there had been about 450 parishioners. The census of 1934 put the number of Catholics at nearly 600 which by 1937 had increased to 750. By 1949 this was 900 and in 1955, 1150. The Catholic population continued to rise and by 1961 there were 1550 Catholics in the area of The Height. In the first half of the 1950's, St Luke's church was packed every Sunday with some of the congregation standing at the back and on special days such as Christmas not everyone could fit in the church. Bishop Marshall's plan was that there should be a church within walking distance of every Catholic. A new parish was then to be formed - the parish of  Ss Peter & Paul.

There was much controversy over the new parish boundaries, there being objections from some of the surrounding parishes that were to 'lose' territory and parishioners to the newly established parish. The parish was comprised partly from St Luke's and partly from St Mary's Eccles. Fr McGinnell would liked to have included the small portion of land on the opposite side of Eccles Old Rd beside Hope Hospital but that was not agreed by the parish of All Souls.

Prior to Fr McGinnell's appointment, a committee was formed of individuals who would be the future parishioners. The committee together with the diocese acquired a good site, a plot of land on Park Rd in Ellesmere Park for £245. The land acquired was large enough for the temporary church and for the building of a more permanent church in the future. Muskers of Swinton were given the contact to build the new church, a temporary pre-fab church-hall and then a presbytery. 

Father Ginley offered two oak altars. The Our Lady altar had been a 1914-18 war memorial and had in the centre panel a carved image of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The Sacred Heart altar had a carved image of the Sacred Heart.

By October, Fr McGinnell had moved into the new house though that was beset with a number of snags. No hot water in the bathroom, problems with the drains because of the low-lying land. Insulation issues meant that visiting missions who snored were a major issue. £2000 was borrowed to furnish the church hall and presbytery. The final debt was £21,966, 13 shillings and sixpence.

Ss Peter and Paul's was opened by Bishop Beck on 23rd November 1956.

Joe Murphy remembered the prepararions and the rehearsals of the altarboys by Bob Prescott. He wrote  "I had been altarboy at St Mary's in Eccles under the watchful eye of Fr Drescher. I now know that at that time his eyesight was failing, but we altarboys were not aware of it. It was amazing how much his radar detected. I received a free transfer to SS Peter and Pauls' and Fr McGinnell, with his relaxed style and sense of humour, became an instant hit with the altarboys and parishioners. One of his sayings as we processed from the sacristy was, "O.K., let the dog see the rabbit."

The beginning of 1957 saw the start of many parish activities. The UCM was started up in January with Fr McGinnell appointing Mrs Mount as president, Mrs Whelan as secretary and Mrs McNamara as treasurer. On 30th January, the Legion of Mary held their first meeting. The girls of junior Legion of Mary had their first meeting the following month. In February the hall was granted Music and Dance licence. On 17th February the Perpetual Succour Novena was started by Fr Brereton CSSR.

Continuing the completion of the church, the statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady were delivered, made by Carrara of Liverpool; shortly followed the erecting of the Stations of the Cross by Fr Arthur Gugeon of Gorton. The parish debt was still rising and by now it was £23,602 18 shillings and 11 pence, not helped by an unexpected interest bill from the diocese.

In April, a telephone was installed with the number ECC 4555

The new presbytery was often used as a place to stay by other priests, especially chaplains of Hope Hospital - sometimes temporarily, other times longer. In April Fr Bernard Begley came to stay. He had just been appointed chaplain at the hospital and he stayed until his own residence at 15 Wilton Rd was ready. Sadly, Fr Begley was another priest who died young in January 1958 at the age of 47 just 3 months after moving into his own house. " a loss very deeply felt by this parish to whom he had been so good a friend". Fr McGinnell had also taken over his work at the hospitals during his illness.

By October 1957, the church was allowed to be used for weddings and the first wedding took place with a Nuptial mass on 16th November - unfortunately the names of the happy couple are not given in the log.

Early 1958 saw more work to the church building: A crucifix was erected on the front wall of the church and the Baptismal font that had been on order for over a year was finally installed by Carrara - but the rails were still to follow. An old oak sideboard that had been used as an altar by Fr Bernard Begley in the last few months of his life was given to the church by his brother and Fr McGinnell planned to use this as a Lady altar. (Permission to place a design on this was applied for to the S.A.C.). In June, the UCM provided the oak lectern and the concave branch candle stands. The UCM also provided the new crucifix for the sanctuary in the following year.

In August 1958, there had been some major changes in local Catholic schools: St Mary's ceased being an all age school with the opening of St Patrick's as a senior school. In September 1959 a school bus was obtained to carry the children to and from St Mary's Eccles. "The bus station in Eccles was no place for juniors and infants to alight from buses".  During 1959 plans were already being looked at for a school for the new parish. The children were distributed amongst various schools: St Mary's Eccles, St Luke's, All Saints Barton, All Souls Weaste, St John's Cathedral and St Gilbert's. In addition, there were 55 children attending "non-primary" schools, ie Monton House and De La Salle which seemed to make the chances of a school remote, however at Fr McGinnell's suggestion, the diocese emergency fund bought 254 Eccles Old Rd with a view to a possible school, however in July 1960, the local authority turned down the planning application. St Lawrence's School officially opened in May 1960.

A youth centre was started together with St Mary's Eccles and the church hall was used. After some months Fr McGinnell decided that somewhere else had to be found as the hall was "nigh impossible to hold services after the Youths has used the hall. 254 Eccles Old Rd was suggested as a possible alternative and planning permission was applied for, however Fr Dalston offered the old St Gilbert's church.

The building at 254 Eccles Old Rd was taken over by the nuns of Daughters of our Lady of Good Counsel who rented it from the diocese. The order has the purpose of fostering vocations and intended have a community of just 3 or 4. After a lot of hard work to make the house habitable, the nuns took up residence on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The convent was officially opened on 15th September by VG A McNulty who sang the first mass.

By 1960, paths were still unfinished and so these were now "tarmacked" and roof above the front door had not been finished until now. In the April the altar was raised to three steps instead of one. This was because the congregation found it difficult to see from the back of the church. An electronic organ was purchased from the proceeds of a summer lottery. The Parish debt rose again to £28000 but again through efforts of the parish, this was reduced to £23600. At this time there were 3 Sunday masses: 8.30am, 10.30am and 6.30pm with a typical total attendance of about 725.

There was still much to be done and money to be raised. In 1962, a new way of collecting money was introduced. There was a dinner at Belle Vue attended by 338 parishioners where the system was explained. Previously the weekly collection was £30 to £40 a week. The new system guaranteed £100 a week. By 1964 the debt was down to £19000.

In 1962, the presbytery had yet another lodger, Fr J.P. O'Connell who had been appointed to the De La Salle chaplaincy. He stayed just 18 days - the parish log seems to explain "Feb 11: Fr O'Connell left here. He was a diabetic"

Later on that year another priest was helping out. Fr T Murray, who had been appointed chaplain at St Lawrence's was saying the Sunday evening mass at Ss Peter & Paul as well as 2 morning masses at St Luke's.

On 23rd July 1964, Fr McGinnell was found dead by Miss Moran, his housekeeper. Fr McMullen, the chaplain from Hope Hospital, anointed him. He had never complained but had clearly been tired by all his efforts. His death notice reads as follows: "Last seen alive 22 July, dead body found 23 July". He was just 56 years old. His brother, Fr James McGinnell said his requiem mass on Monday, 27th July. 


  • Ss Peter & Paul parish log
  • A history of Ss Peter & Paul (anonymous handwritten)
  • Catholic Lancashire, Past and Present
  • Census 1911

Can you help?

  • Do you remember any other events of this time? We are also interested to know about the societies and people of the parish as well as the clergy.
  • Photos of Fr McGinnell
  • Does anyone have memories/photos of events around the time of the opening of the church
  • Photo of early Ss Peter and Paul church, outside and inside (perhaps weddings, christenings)


Parish History Group

If you would like to help research the history of the Parish or have any stories or photos then please get in touch. or speak to Paul Ashton, Stephanie McDonough or Pat Murray

We have some specific requests for information

  • Photos of our Assistant Priests/Curates
  • Photos and stories of the Charter Players
  • Photo
    • Fr J Leo McGinnell
    • James O'Garr  (1891-1979)
    • Billy Brady Sr
  • Servicemen of WWII (your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents ?)
  • Early photos of Ss Peter and Paul