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Leading Catholic Priests of Woolwich

Read about the leading Catholic priests who have served in Woolwich since 1816.

Father Cornelius Coles 1839-1859

Father Cornelius Coles was the founding priest of St Peter’s and performed his first Baptism in St Mary’s Chapel on 28 April 1839. He oversaw the acquisition of the land, the opening of the church and later extensions. He also acquired adjacent land on which the first school was built. He was also the principal organist and he seems to be the first in a long line of musical priests.

Father Jeremiah Cotter 1859-1889

Father Jeremiah Cotter served in Woolwich for 30 years. He paid for the large 1870 section of the presbytery and for the two-storey building behind it, originally containing a music room but now serving as the priest’s sacristy.

Father Seraphin Fieu 1889-1893

Father Seraphin Fieu’s key achievements were the building of the Sanctuary and St Joseph chapel, the setting up of the St Vincent de Paul Society in the parish, and writing a devotional book on the Stations of the Cross.

Father Joseph Reeks 1893-1900

One of Father Joseph Reeks’ first tasks was to arrange to move the graves from the small graveyard, situated behind the church, in order to extend the school playground. He was responsible for the setting up of the Stations of the Cross from St George’s Cathedral, and putting up the statue of St Anthony and the Infant of Prague to which he had a special devotion. Fr Reeks was also an accomplished musician and published a hymn book which was widely used.

Father Arthur Doubleday 1900-1907

Father Doubleday had a briliant academic career and successfully stood for election to the Borough Council, motivated by the desire to ensure a fair deal for the parish schools. He started the first parish magazine and in 1905 supervised the erection of the altar of St Joseph as well as overseeing the decoration of the chapel. In 1909 Pope Pius X made Fr Doubleday one of his Domestic Prelates, and in 1916 he was elected a member of the Southwark Chapter. In June 1920, Monsignor Doubleday was consecrated by Cardinal Bourne as Bishop of Brentwood. He was made Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre 1934.

Father Daniel McCarthy 1907-1909

Father McCarthy was the senior curate for Father Doubleday and took over as administrator of St Peter’s when Fr Doubleday moved to Wonersh. Father McCarthy was responsible for the installation of the stained glass windows over the high altar and St Joseph’s altar.

Father James Connell 1909-1914

Although Father Connell remained at St Peters for more than five years, the records are very sparse in matters of parish activity. The publication of the parish magazine stopped after his arrival.Because of a health problem arising as a result of an alcohol issue, he was asked to resign from the parish in 1914.

Father Augustine Arthur Joseph O’Leary 1915-1935

Father O’Leary also held the army rank of Captain in his role as military chaplain. An unassuming and modest man he earned great respect and was highly thought of throughout the parish.

Father William Henry Monk 1935-1968.

Father Monk was the longest serving priest of St Peter’s. his first appointment was as curate at St Peter’s to Fr Doubleday. He pioneered pilgrimages to Lourdes after WWI and for his dedication to this activity he was made an honorary Canon of Tarbes, the diocese covering Lourdes. By the time of his return to Woolwich he was already a Canon of the Southwark Chapter. His achievements were numerous and included: new stain glass window in honour of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, the erection of a new Shrine to Our Lady of New Road, the restarting of the parish magazine lasting until 1963, starting the scout group, the celebration of St Peter’s centenary, the consecration of the church, creating the new primary school in 1953 and the merger of the senior school with St Patrick’s in Plumstead in 1962.

Father Ronald Edwin William Pepper 1968-1980

Canon Pepper bought the disused building in Herbert Road, vacated by the Bible Christian Methodists in 1970, where St Joseph’s church was established, as part of St Peter’s parish. On the 4th October 1972 the Church was officially opened by Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy who offered Holy Mass in the evening. On the 1st September 1976 St. Joseph’s became a Parish in its own right. In 1980, Canon Pepper had to retire because of ill-health, becoming chaplain to St Raphael’s Nursing Home in Bromley.

Father Niall Thornton 1980 - 1994

Father Niall Thornton succeeded as parish priest and threw all his energy into the work of building up a parish now reduced in size. Shortly after his arrival the Salvation Army Hall that was owned by the parish was sold, and the youth club premises on Anglesea Hill closed. A decision had to be made about the St. Peter’s Social Club, which was also closed. These provided much needed capital for the refurbishing of St. Peter’s Church. The porch inside the church was enlarged as a meeting place for after the weekend Masses; a children’s chapel was made, a new floor laid in the church, and a new heating system installed. On one occasion Mr Spike Milligan, whose mother was baptised in St. Peter’s Church, came to open the Parish Bazaar. He was also instrumental in getting financial help for the restoration of the church from both English Heritage and London Heritage.

On 27th October 1993, Archbishop Michael Bowen, assisted by Father Thornton, many priests who have worked in the parish, and priests from neighbouring parishes, celebrated Mass in thanksgiving for the 150th anniversary of the opening of St. Peter’s Church. On this occasion Canon Tom McHugh (himself a former curate at Woolwich) preached, and twenty-four priests cocelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop. The Rev. Bruce Freeder assisted at the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel. The church was full of worshippers. After the Mass a great social gathering was held in the Woolwich Catholic Club.

Father Michael Scanlon 1995 - 2012

Father Michael Scanlon’s immediate previous appointment was as an assistant priest at Strood in Kent. He quickly entered into this new ministry with great energy and enthusiasm.