Everything there is to know about St Columba's and our parish community

Fr David Nixon

We Welcome Fr David Nixon MSC (Missionary of the Sacred Heart) who joined our parish in September 2022. We wish him every happiness in his new appointment.

Fr Giacomo Gelardi

We welcomed Fr Giacomo msc (Missionary of the Sacred Heart) in August 2023 who comes to live and work with us.

Deacon Gerard Felix

Previous Parish Priests

History of Catholicism in the Chesham Area

From the 1870s a visiting priest would occassionally offer Mass in the homes of local Chesham Catholics. Regular services began around 1905 after Betrum and Ada Chevalier, brother and sister of Anglo-French background, bought a house in Chesham which they named "St Telio" (now 164 White Hill). Before they came to Chesham the Chevaliers had been parishioners of the Catholic Priory in Kensington, which was run by Discalced Carmelites friars (Discalced friars  are those who go barefoot, or wear sandals) Once a month a Carmelite priest from Kensington visited Chesham by train, and said Mass for local Catholics in a room which served as a chapel in the Chevaliers' house.

Origins of St Joseph's Chapel, Chesham

In June 1907 the Chevaliers purchased a large piece of land in Khartoum(now Eskdale ) Avenue , where they had two houses built. In 1909 they sold these to the Catholics for a Carmelite mission. The upper house was named "St Helen's" (now 105 Eskdale Avenue) and the lower house was named "Mount Carmel" (now 103 Eskdale Avenue). A Carmelite priest, Father Francis Lamb lived at "St Helen's". Two rooms at the back were  knocked into one , to make a chapel dedicated to St Joseph (of Nazaerth) The first Mass was held there on Sunday, 9 May 1909, It was reported to the bishop that about 50 people attended with the majority being curious  or interested Protestants. Sunday services were held at 10.30am and 6.30pm, with singing led by a choir of men. Confessions were heard in English, Italian , French, and German, reflecting the languages of the congregation. St Helens was used as a community house for Carmelite novices (students) who were trained to be priests. By 1911 there were eight novices from England and Ireland living there. By 1912 increasing numbers of novices meant that Mount Carmel was also used with its rooms used as classroooms, a refectory, and offices. A corridor was built to link the two buildings, and St Joseph's Chapel was moved to Mount Carmel. Meanwhile the Carmelites applied for planning permission to build a monastery, church and school in Chesham but this was declined. Instead in September 1913 all the Carmelites moved from Chesham to Chalfont St Peter, where they built a new church called St Joseph's Church and Priory at  Austenwood Common, and established St Joseph's Primary School. The Chesham chapel continued to be used for Sunday services which were conducted by Fr Eric Coleman, who travelled from Chalfont St Peter.

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Chesham Bois

The congregation of approximately 35 came from Chesham, Chesham Bois and Amersham. It was decided that they needed a more central location for services. In November 1914 the Catholics bought some land in Chesham Bois, where they built the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (A Marian title) In 1915 services transferred from Eskdale Avenue to the new church in Chesham Bois. The Catholics then sold their Eskdale Avenue properties and land. Mass was not held in Chesham again until 1947, when the priest from Our Lady's came to conduct mass at the British legion.

(Adaption of an article by Neil Rees)

A brief history of St Columba's Church

Our Church is a relatively young building, just over 60 years old, with a proud history. The faith has grown from strength to strength here. We are at the end of the Metropolitan Line and within easy commuting distance of London.

There are a variety of church groups and organisations which contribute to the life of the church and the needs of others. The church is of course more than just a building; it is, and depends on, the community and its worship of God. That is why this church is here.

Please come and visit us

The present church was opened on 1st June 1960, but there had been earlier Catholic development in Chesham (see the article above).

Up until the year 2000, there was still an original parishioner living in Chesham, who as a child attended Mass at St Helen’s. Fr Madden made a great impression on local Catholics and the congregation, both in Chesham and surrounding villages, increased very quickly. There were celebrations for the anniversary in 1910, baptisms, funerals and new Catholics were recorded too. In 1911 one of the Carmelites, Brother Henry, was ordained Deacon by Bishop Riddell of Northampton. It was at this time that the present site was regarded as ii-adapted for the expansion planned for the town of Chesham, due to the steepness of the hill on which it stood. “Even the mission house itself was not considered to be in the centre of the mission area.,” so a plot of ground was bought in Chesham Bois to be equidistant from Chesham town centre and the newly developing Amersham on the Hill.

Meanwhile in 1911/12 some more Carmelite novices were brought to Chesham to study, so the house next door was bought, and a corridor built to link the two buildings. Their expanding mission in the neighbourhood showed the need for a chapel or church at Great Missenden, so land was bought there too. In 1914, St Helen’s Oratory and the Carmelite House in Eskdale Avenue closed completely, and the community moved to Chalfont St Peter (Gerrard’s Cross) where they are still firmly established.

By October 1914 the foundations of a small church were in place in Chesham Bois, to be ready by Christmas. This was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. In March 1956 there was a report in the Bucks Examiner of a site being bought in Chesham for a Roman Catholic Church to be built, the first since the Reformation. The report referred to the use of the British Legion Hall as a Mass Centre (since 1947) serving the 300 Catholics of Chesham in the town. Reference was also made to the fact that Chesham Bois was the Parish Church and that the parish boundaries extended to Chesham, Chorleywood, and Great Missenden – a very large area indeed.

In 1957, a further report noted that £1000 had been raised by the Catholic Association. As the starting costs were £10,000 it needed a lot of faith to see a way forward. In February 1958 the final negotiations for the plot of land in Berkhamstead Road were completed at a cost of £955. The land had been bought from a brewery who were at first reluctant to sell it to a church because of the proximity of their pub (the Nash Arms, now demolished and replaced by housing). When, after repeated attempts to buy the land from them, they discovered it was for Catholics, they agreed to the deal, as Catholics were apparently reputed to be among their best customers!

On 30th August 1959 the foundation stone (which can be seen in the left wall of the Sanctuary) was formally blessed and laid in a very moving ceremony by Bishop Leo Parker. It was a very warm day with large numbers of Catholics and many onlookers. The money had come from Fr Tomlinson mortgaging the house in Chesham Bois, as well as serious fund-raising by the congregation. This still left a huge shortfall. In 1961 a detailed breakdown of the costs was shown. The bank overdraft was £14,823 with the annual interest at £825 and costs to run the church and Presbytery at £1000 per annum. The income only just covered the running costs so reducing the debt seemed ‘pie in the sky’. A new scheme of Direct Giving or Planned Giving was set up and was used (and still is) to meet the church’s debts and running expenses.

There have been a number of Parish priests over the 62 years of this church building’s existence. Fr Anthony Chadwick had been a curate at Chesham Bois whilst St Columba’s was being built, and shortly after it was opened, he was appointed Parish priest. He eventually retired due to ill-health in 1967.

Fr Reffitt came but only stayed for a short time, and the Parish had no permanent priest for nearly two years. The Carmelite foundation at Gerrard’s Cross frequently supplied a priest for Sundays and Holydays when Fr Tomlinson was unable to come himself.

Fr Michael Foley, a former Army Chaplain, came and helped the Parish enormously. At that time, we had very little in the church apart from two statues and a small crucifix. Even the Tabernacle was from another parish. Serious fund-raising bought a tabernacle, new vestments, a large crucifix, stations of the cross, and a beautiful chalice. Fr Foley retired in 1978 and returned to Ireland where he died some three weeks later.

Our next Parish priest was Fr Derek Morgan who had been secretary to Bishop Charles Grant. Fr Derek was a very popular priest, and during his time in the parish further improvements were made. The principal Altar was installed in the nave to mirror the High Altar. The Union of Catholic Mothers worked very hard to raise funds to carpet the Lady Chapel and to re-cover the kneelers in the church.

Parishioners donated carpets for the Narthex and the Sacred Heart chapel, and some flower stands, candlesticks and lectern covers were also provided. Fr Derek was admitted to Harefield Hospital in 1984 for a heart bypass operation but he did not recover.

Fr Bernard Hindle then came to our Parish. He lived very frugally and either walked or used local buses to visit his parishioners both sick and healthy. It was whilst he was with us that we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Parish, and much of his research has been used for this article. He became quite ill and went to the Bon Secours Hospital at Beaconsfield where he died in 1992.

We then welcomed Fr Jim Marks, recently returned from the mission in Peru. Under his guidance, the interior of the church was painted for the first time since it was built. The difference to the interior was fantastic. The hall (which was created from the original choir loft in Fr Morgan’s time) was decorated too. At Fr Jim’s instigation, 5% of all the Sunday collections was sent to CAFOD, the Catholic charity helping to feed people suffering from malnutrition around the world. We had several successful concerts and fund-raising barbecues for various projects in Peru. Fr Jim died in his sleep while away at the National Conference of Priests in Birmingham in 1996.

Fr Chris Whitehouse came in October 1996. Bishop Leo McCartie consecrated our church on 11th October 1997. The relics in the Principal Altar are those of St Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury (1170-1240). Twelve consecration candles and crosses mark the spot where the walls of the church were anointed, imitating the twelve Apostles who are the foundations of the Church. In the same year we celebrated the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columba.

For the year of the Great Jubilee, marking 2000 years of Christ coming to earth, the Parish commissioned two stained glass windows, one depicting the Jubilee logo, and the other Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They were made by Thomas Mikellides of Bath. The tabernacle was remodelled on the Ark of the Covenant by Roger Warren. The Crucifix was suspended from the arch, and the picture carving of St Columba was installed over the High Altar.

In 2002, Fr Whitehouse left the Parish to move to a parish in Leighton Buzzard, and we welcomed Father Patrick Bailey, who had been a distinguished Parish priest in Luton, Kettering, and Bedford, and who brought a wealth of experience and wisdom. In 2010, the Parish commemorated its Golden Jubilee with several large-scale events, including a Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Doyle, an Open Day, an ecumenical service attended by members of other churches in Chesham and a musical concert. Father Bailey continued to oversee the continued expansion of the parish’s work, and the improvements in the church building itself, including a new Principal Altar and Ambo (lectern), new carpeting in the sanctuary, and, in 2015, a new state of the art organ to replace the model that had been in place since the opening of the church. Father Bailey retired in August 2016. He spent a number of years in a nursing home in Aylesbury and passed away peacefully in March 2022

Father Alessandro Reno joined us in 2016 coming from his missionary work in Ecuador. To be a missionary is his lasting legacy to the parish leading missions to and from Ecuador to encounter and understand other cultures and their spirituality. A house was built in Ecuador and our Lady's Grotto at St Columba's. Father Alessandro built on the interfaith relationships in Chesham and his focus for our church was on the youth ministry. During his time with us he was appointed to be parish priest both here in Chesham and at the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Great Missenden. During COVID we were able to live stream services, keep in touch with parishioners electronically, via the postal service and at Christmas time to visit people outside their homes carolling. In 2021 Gerard Felix was ordained as a deacon by Bishop David Oakley – the first deacon in our parish. Father Alessandro went to pastures new in late summer 2022.

Father David Nixon, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, joined us in September 2022 to start the next chapter of our parish as we grow, in joy and love, in the full knowledge that the Lord is with us every step of the way.

Church Timeline

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