The White Fathers and White Sisters
at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church, Heston
1929 - 1960

The White Fathers ran a thriving parish at Heston, Middlesex, for over 30 years (1929 - 1960). They were supported by a congregation of White Sisters who set up a convent for postulants nearby, on 'The Green'.

It is unlikely that Cardinal Lavigerie, the founder of the White Fathers, ever envisaged that his "Missionaries of Africa" would become so heavily involved in the daily lives of ordinary Catholics living in a small village near Heathrow Airport — but get involved they did, and with great success. Anyone who attended Heston parish during that period will testify that the White Fathers had a particular flair for running a parish.

The following is an attempt to record and celebrate that period, though it will no doubt take some time to do justice to those who made it such a success— the priests, the nuns and the generations of loyal parishioners who lent their support over those years.

Click on the item that you wish to read:

A brief history of the White Fathers & White Sisters at Heston

'The Coming of The White Fathers' — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, January 26th 1929

White Fathers and White Sisters you may have known

Midnight Mass at Heston — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, January 4th 1930

The Blessing of The Grotto in 1932 The opening of the new Parish Hall in 1933
Postcards depicting the Church, the Parish Hall and the Lourdes Grotto etc 

A Farewell to Nine White Fathers — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, July 21st 1934

Children who attended St Mary's School in the early days 

'Off To Africa', a striking Tribute to Fr Howell — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, September 22nd 1934

The White Fathers' Garden Fêtetaken from the Middlesex Chronicle, July 13th 1935

Other photos from that period 
Parishioners' gift to Fr Owen McCoy, leaving Heston parish for the missions (1933) The WOPSY stories by Fr Gerard Scriven

A Letter From Fr McCoy on his experiences in Africa — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, April 23rd 1938

White Fathers' Holy Week Services at Heston —taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, April 23rd 1938

Some Wartime News of the White Fathers taken from the Middlesex Chronicle

Fr Francis Walsh appointed Bishop of Aberdeen —taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, July 6th 1951

The Consecration of the new Church  

Farewell to Father Hames, returning to the African Missions— taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, November 15th 1957

The White Fathers leave Heston — taken from the Middlesex Chronicle, January 29th 1960

 Parishioners whom you may have known  Tributes and Reminiscences


Here's a sketch Archbishop Hughes sent to his sister soon after being moved from the Priory to Heston. His sister was a Sister of Mercy: Christian name Winifred, Religious name Edith; two princesses, one Welsh, one AngloSaxon.  -Maurice Billingsley


A Brief History of The White Fathers & White Sisters at Heston
Taken from various sources — but still in the stage of development

On the 27 December 1928, the White Fathers took possession of Westbrook House, Heston Road, as a residence for those White Fathers studying at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill and London University.

At the request of the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Bourne, the White Fathers also agreed to take charge of the new parish of Heston.

Heston was formerly part of Hounslow Parish and before the arrival of the White Fathers, people either went to St Michael's and St Martin's in Hounslow or to St Anselm's in Southall for Mass.
Above: Westbrook House in Heston.

The parlour of the Westbrook House wasofficially opened as a Chapel on 27 January, 1929. Bishop Bidwell officiated at the ceremony and Fr Joseph Laane was installed as the first Parish Priest.

Mass continued to be celebrated in the Priest's House until 27 November 1929, by which time a more permanent Church was completed. It was agreed with the diocesan authorities that this should be the property of the White Fathers. As there was also need to build more rooms for the student fathers, the Cardinal gave permission to incorporate the church and the extra rooms in the same building.

Entry in the Catholic Yearbook 1930

(source : Vincent Celano)

NOTE : not one of the priests identified above are British. The White Fathers only became established in the UK in 1912 (at Bishop's Waltham) and the first batch of British priests would have been ordained in the mid-to-late twenties. However, it is strange that Fr AE Howell is not included in the above entry: he purportedly delivered the first sermon at Heston in 1929.

And here's the proof—taken from the same Yearbook:

(source : Vincent Celano)

Fr Laane

Fr Laane, besides being parish priest, was also responsible for promoting the work and raising funds for the White Fathers' Society. To assist him in this double task he was given the services of Fr. Alfred Howell and Fr. Arthur Hughes. (The latter became afterwards Archbishop Hughes, Apostolic Delegate of the Middle East at Cairo).

The White Sisters arrived in Heston on the 29th December 1930 and began a postulancy for their order at 15, The Green. Amongst other duties, the Sisters helped with the catechism classes.

Fr Laane left for the Missions in January 1931. He was well-known on account of his immense size and the large pipes that he smoked. He had also endeared himself to everyone because of his great kindness and friendliness.  Fr. Howell took over as Parish Priest.

During the summer of 1932, a group of parishioners built the Lourdes Grotto which was blessed in September of the same year. In December of 1932 the Legion of Mary had their first meeting.

The Parish Hall was built in 1933 by the Brothers of the Society. Mgr Butt officiated at the opening ceremony.

(Click here to see more about this event).

In September 1935, Fr Howell, too, left for the missions. His place as parish priest was taken by Fr Owen McCoy, who had already been curate at the parish for two years. Fr Bernard Brown took over Fr Howell's work of promotion in England and was appointed Provincial.
(Click here for further information about all the priests who served at the parish).

During the next two years, the White Fathers purchased a large area of land between The Green and Walnut Tree Road—the site which now occupies the site of the Rosary Junior School.

Fr McCoy left for the missions in 1937 (later to become Bishop of Oyo in Nigeria). He was succeeded by Fr Thomas Tye.

At the start of the Second World War the Parish Priest became Chaplain to the RAF at Heston Aerodrome in Cranford Lane. Throughout the conflict, Heston was no longer a residence for White Father students.

The parishioners determined to help the members of the armed face, who were very numerous in the district. They arranged regular 'socials' in the Hall, to which the Services were invited free of charge. These occasions became very popular, especially with the Polish community of soldiers and airmen.

It was during the war years that the Scouts and Guides were started.

In 1944 it was decided to start a private school in the Parish Hall, behind Westbrook House. Many Parishioners and members of the U.S.A. Airforce helped with the preparations which included laying down a concrete playground.

By August, the school was opened—as St Mary's Infant School. The first teachers were two nuns of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God who came over everyday from Hayes.

The school catered for children of ages 4 to 7 and was intended to provide a sound Catholic education, culminating with First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Above: pupils of St Mary's during the late forties.
Click here to see more photos relating to the School.

In March 1945, Fr John Maguire took over from Fr Tye as parish priest. His health was not very good, in fact, having suffered a long imprisonment in France during the war. (Along with several other White Father students, such as Fr Paul Moody). By the end of 1947 he had to leave for a sanatorium and his place was taken by a number of priests such as Fr Lee, Fr Gaffney and Fr Briody — until the appointment of Fr Francis Walsh in December 1948. (Click here to read a biography of this great man).

Because the student Fathers had to make long journeys every day to colleges in London, Cardinal Griffin gave permission to the Society to open a house in central London (known, as it is today, as 'Stormmont House'—in Highgate). The Father Provincial also made this his headquarters.

After this move, the community at Heston consisted of the parish priest, the Provincial Treasurer and Fr Arthur Prentice, who, although 79 years of age, helped with the instruction of converts and playing the organ in church. At the same time, Heston acted as an 'overflow' when the London HQ could not accommodate the number of White Father visitors.

It would seem that Heston was a nursery for bishops: in June 1951 Fr Walsh, the parish priest, was appointed Bishop of Aberdeen.

He was succeeded by Fr Antony Hames, another very popular priest, during whose term of office the Men's Club was opened.

Three years later, in November 1957, Fr Lawrence Jones succeeded Fr Hames.

Towards the end of 1959, the Provincial of the White Fathers approached Cardinal Godfrey about the possibility of handing over the parish to the clergy of the diocese. This was agreed and Fr Peter Moore (photo left), who had been Assistant Priest at St Francis de Sales in Tottenham, became parish priest on 1st March 1960. The White Fathers left on the previous day.

Meanwhile, the White Sisters also decided to move and their property on The Green was purchased by the diocese in 1961, as the site intended for the building of a new Church — which was started in November 1962. The solemn blessing and laying of the foundation stone o the new church was performed by Bishop Craven (Vicar Capitular) in the following July.


On 11th October 1964, Fr Peter Moore officiated at the last service in the old church and then blessed and said the first Mass in the new church.

Below: aspects of the 'new' church which replaced the original
building at Westbrook House where the White Sisters had resided.

(photos by Paul West)

Inside the new church - photo taken from the
1967 Offertory Promise Campaign brochure
lent by David Rose.

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