The White Fathers & White Sisters at Heston

The White Fathers ran a thriving parish at Heston, Middlesex, for over 40 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.

Various items of interest have been loaned by people from the existing parish and elsewhere, and we are very grateful to them for entrusting us with this material whilst it is being copied.

No doubt there is a great deal more material out there, however, and we would be grateful to those of you who visit this part of the website to think about whether there is anything that you or your friends might be able to contribute.

Click on the item you wish to view

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

  2. White Fathers and White Sisters whom you may have known

  3. Postcards depicting the Church, the Parish Hall and the Lourdes Grotto etc

  4. The opening of the new Parish Hall in 1933

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

  6. Other photos from that period

  7. The Consecration of the new Church

  8. Parishioners whom you may have known

  9. Contact information

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.

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 succeeded him 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 'Stormbound House'). 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.
(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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