Fr. Michael V. Brown (PP 1961-1991) part 1

Michael V Brown was born 28 January 1917 born in Barrow in Furness and baptised a few days later on 1 February at St Mary’s Church. He went to school at St Mary’s Parish School and then at the English Martyrs School, Whalley Range and at the Xaverian and St Bede’s Colleges in Manchester.

In 1935 he commenced his training for the Priesthood at the Seminaire St Thomas, Merville, later transferring to the Grand Seminaire not far away at Lille. In 1937 with the outbreak of the Second World War and the invasion of France forced Michael Brown and his great friend, Ben Knight, to make a hasty return to England. They then completed their training at the English College, Valladolid. He was ordained on 25 July 1940.

1940-1948 St Patrick’s Collyhurst, as curate

1948-1950 St Robert’s Longsight, as curate

(Far Left: Fr Ben Knight, Fr M Brown, Centre Bishop Marshall, far right Mgr Egan)

1950-1961 St John’s Cathedral, Salford, as curate 

Fr. Michael V. Brown became St. Luke's fifth Parish Priest on 23rd April 1961. 

The sixties had proved a different world altogether to what had gone before, and spiritual, moral and educational changes, population movements and increases, changing economic values and steeply rising land and building costs, had all affected the parish on a scale never known before. Yet it was at this time that St. Luke's decided to  build a new church. It was a brave decision in that era,  of Fr. Brown and the parishioners of St. Luke's.

With the appointment of Fr Brown, the previous curate, Fr. Bergin had taken up an appointment at the Cathedral. One of Fr. Brown's problems was to face was the frequency the assistant priests came and left the parish. There have been tales that the housekeeper, Miss Heywood, a lady of limited culinary skills, was a big factor in this. While hugely loyal to the Parish Priest, she is said to have made every curate's life a misery. For a while  Fr. T. Murray who was Chaplain to St. Lawrence's School helped Fr. Brown until he left for the Missions in Nigeria. A more 'permanent' assistant priest was appointed on 20th February 1964, this was Fr. G. Wearden previously at St. Ambrose, Didsbury.  He stayed for three years before moving to St. Alban's, Blackburn. Fr. B. Quilter succeeded  Fr. Wearden but only stayed for one year. In January 1968 he was transferred to St. John's, Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Fr. W. Kelly from Oldham arrived next but he only stayed for six months before leaving for Ireland. An uneasy period of assistance for Fr. Brown followed until fortunately, at the end of August 1968, Fr. Philip O'Mara arrived from St. Peter's, Blackburn.

A problem looming again on Fr. Brown's arrival, in spite of the easing of pressure in 1959 by the building of St. Lawrence's, was that of school accommodation. Due to the rising birthrate after the War the number of pupils at St. Luke's had risen again by 1963 to around  260. In 1967, at a cost of £17,000 and the loss of the garden at the back of the presbytery's greenhouse, two new prefabricated classrooms were built. By the following year, with the highest number of pupils ever, it became obvious that soon even the ten classes would prove inadequate. However St. Luke's was a good school with 40% of school leavers going on to Grammar Schools. Religious inspection reports were good and the school had an excellent record in competitive games.

The sixties also saw some notable events. There was the Mission of November 1964, the Visitation and Confirmation by Bishop Holland in April 1965 and in July 1965 Fr. Brown celebrated his Silver Jubilee. Also Mr James O'Garr received the Benemerenti medal from the Pope for his long and devoted service to St. Luke's.

There was a good social side to St. Luke's driven by the need to raise what would be a huge amount of money to pay for the building of a new church. Events includes dinner dances at Belle Vue and in 1964 a supper dance at Castle Irwell.  In 1965 there was a parochial dinner  at Rivington Barn  to inaugurate the new financial venture. There was also successful Christmas Fairs and various concerts. Some of the concerts were  held at the Salford R.F.C. Social Hall. Numerous private donations, legacies and financial gifts for furnishings for the new church were also received.

In spite of all this the material upkeep of the existing church was never neglected. When necessary, renovations and refurnishing  had been undertaken, often by volunteers. In 1969 the number of parishioners at St. Luke's had reached 2,250.This simple church was never intended to meet the needs of so many. However it had kept a great affection with many parishioners. There were many occasions when the interior of the little church possessed a beauty, an appeal and a quiet intimacy all its own. Nevertheless, for some time it had been maintaining a losing battle, not only with accommodation problems, but with inevitable deterioration. The deterioration might have been accelerated  due to mining subsidence in the area. 

Faced with these issues Fr. Brown was determined to speed up the possible building of a new church and in December 1963 the Diocesan Finance Board approved the project and Messrs. Burles, Newton and Partners were appointed as the architects. In June 1964 the plans for a church to seat 470 people was approved and it was hoped building would start in December. But the Diocesan Building Programme was running into difficulties and Bishop Holland found a solution in almost doubling the financial assessment in each parish in its contribution towards the Diocesan Emergency Fund. The Finance Board was soon to refuse any support for most church building projects in the diocese and so building a new St. Luke's church had to be postponed. 

The increased assessment, put upon St. Luke's parish had reached  £3,000 per annum, and faced by such a target, in March 1965 Fr. Brown organised a new collecting drive. The parishioners made great efforts, doubling the total weekly collections and signing tax rebate covenants. But the final result still fell short of the rate of saving necessary to build a church even within the next ten years. In November 1965 Fr. Brown started the Planned Giving Scheme. Its value to the church fund was seen in the fact that £2,500 was raised in six months. This figure also included donations. In 1966 £5,000 was in the parish funds and the Diocesan Board at last agreed to the resumption of the building of the new St. Luke's church. The firm William Thorpe was awarded the contract and at long last in March 1967 work on the new church began. 

On Sunday, 15th October 1967 the long awaited Blessing of the Foundation Stone, by Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Burke  had at last arrived. Twenty five priests of the diocese also attended the ceremony. However the complicated design brought many further delays and it was obvious that the church wouldn't be opened before February 1969. The cost of the church, around £71,000 and the delay in completion was due to the fact that Fr. Brown and the architects weren't taking any chances with the foundations. The whole church had been built on a series of rafts, and was designed in a way as to take full account of any possible mining subsidence in the future.

Fr Brown was not only the driving force for the new church. He also introduced the parish's into mechanisation: In 1967 an electric Gestetner duplicating machine was bought -  the start of the Parish Bulletin!

25th Feb 1969 Opening of the new church.

The ceremony was performed by Bishop Holland, assisted by Canon McLannon and Canon O'Donnell, Monsignor C.L. Egan VG, many priests and other invited guests were present (Alderman Leslie Lever M.P. architects and representatives of the builders etc. Miss O'Shauhnessy and nany others numbering 100)

(Monsignor Egan, Bishop Holland, Canon O'Donnell - who had previously been Parish Priest of St Luke's in the 1930's)
The church was full and the choir, under the able direction of Mrs Evans, sang beautifully. The new Jardine pipe organ, specially designed for the church, gave us a grandeur of sound never before heard at St Luke's. 
This new church has been praised by all, and the people are immensely proud of it. A new spirit has emerged, a feeling of being a community and a willingness to help to keep it beautiful

Click this link for a gallery of the photos of the opening of the new church

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