Where it began
The Diocese of Salford celebrates its birthday each year on 29th September. That was the date in 1850 when Pope Pius IX signed a decree re-establishing Catholic dioceses in England and Wales.
The Pope’s decree ensured that the newly-created Diocese of Salford was to consist of “the Hundreds of Salford, Blackburn and Leyland”. The name “Hundred” goes back over one thousand years. In the ninth century King Alfred reorganised the shires of England into areas known as “Hundreds”. South-east Lancashire became the Hundred of Salfordshire, though over time the name was shortened to the Hundred of Salford.
This ancient title survived well into the 20th century: it was only in 1971 that a High Court known as the Court of the Hundred of Salford was discontinued.
The Diocese of Salford was not to enjoy for long the company of the Hundred of Leyland. Bishop Brown, the first Bishop of Liverpool, argued that as he had to pass through Preston (in the Hundred of Leyland) to reach the northern part of his diocese in Lancaster, the Hundred of Leyland should be transferred to Liverpool. And so it was, by a papal brief dated 27th June 1851, that the Diocese of Salford relinquished the Hundred of Leyland to her larger neighbour.
The 1851 census revealed that in the Diocese of Salford there were 32 churches and chapels served by 37 priests. 33,029 Catholics attended Mass on 31st March 1851. Those Irish by birth in the diocese numbered 79,635 out of a total population of 1,180,834.
The rapid growth of the Diocese during the second half of the nineteenth century reflected the growth of Lancashire as an industrial centre. Immigration continued from the English countryside as well as from Ireland. Salford’s first Bishop, William Turner (1851 – 1872), more than doubled the number of churches in the diocese before his death. He founded the Salford Catholic Grammar School, brought the Xaverian Brothers into a school for boys, and laid the beginnings of Loreto College and Adelphi House, as well as setting up schools in various parishes.
Bishop Herbert Vaughan (1872–1892) built on Bishop Turner’s achievements in the field of education. He founded a seminary of Pastoral Theology attached to the Cathedral where Dutch, Belgian, German and Irish priests were to reside for a year under his own care, learning to adapt to the English mission.
Bishop Vaughan also founded St Bede’s College in Manchester, began the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society for orphans and homeless children, organised the Catholic Truth Society, and founded more than 40 new missions, or parishes.
In 1892, he was transferred to the see of Westminster, where he was responsible for the building of the present Cathedral.
The Catholic population continued to grow. The next bishop, John Bilsborrow (1892 – 1903), wrote in his Advent pastoral letter of 1901 that Catholics in the Diocese of Salford had increased from 217,000 in 1891 to 270,000 in 1901. He opened twelve new missions, fought successfully for voluntary schools in the educational struggle of the first decade of the twentieth century and strengthened the Ecclesiastical Education Council to encourage poorer boys to receive higher education and become students for the priesthood. In 1903, the Faithful Companions of Jesus bought a house in Sedgley Park, which became the famous Sedgley Park Teacher Training College.
Focusing on learning
After Bishop Bilsborrow, Salford for the first time got its own native bishop in the person of Louis Charles Casartelli (1903–1925). He was Rector of St Bede’s College and a scholar of international repute. As bishop, he greatly encouraged the laity to take a prominent part in society, and helped form the Catenian Association, which began in Manchester in 1908. He founded the Catholic Federation, primarily to defend the schools but which extended its activities, with indifferent success, to many branches of public life. Bishop Casartelli had the satisfaction of seeing two prominent Catholics making local history by becoming the first Catholic Lord Mayors of Manchester – Daniel McCabe and Tom Fox.
Another native of the Diocese of Salford followed Bishop Casartelli: Thomas Henshaw (1925–1938). Bishop Henshaw was tireless in his support for schools. As well as encouraging the building of elementary schools, he fostered the development of De la Salle College in Salford, the Salesian Thornleigh College in Bolton and the Marist College in Blackburn. He purchased Wardley Hall, with its rich Catholic history and connection with St Ambrose Barlow. The Hall is still the residence of the Bishop of Salford. In Bishop Henshaw’s time, 15 new parishes were formed and 41 new churches built.
Bishop Henshaw was succeeded by his Vicar General, Henry Vincent Marshall (1939 – 1955). The Second World War formed the background to these years in the diocese. With rationing and strict building regulations, they were in many ways years of austerity. Yet the Diocese had to face up to the challenges of the 1944 Education Act. This Act, for the first time, established a system under which education in schools controlled by the Catholic Church would be completely financed by Government, if it could be shown that there would be enough Catholic pupils for such a school. The Schools Emergency Fund was started and new schools were built throughout the diocese. The teacher-training college at Hopwood Hall began under the care of the Christian Brothers. Bishop Marshall, a Kerryman, lived up to his motto, Miles Christi sum (I am a soldier of Christ), fearlessly fighting the Catholic cause in education and encouraging Catholic spiritual life through family prayer.
The Diocese saw further growth in new parishes, churches and schools during the time of Bishop George Andrew Beck (1956 – 1964). This was a time of post-war growth and optimism. Infant baptisms, increasing from the end of the war, reached a peak of over 13,500 in 1963. The Church seemed destined for even further expansion. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) offered fresh visions and promised to open new doors. Bishop Thomas Holland (1964 – 1983) returned from the Council with one main purpose: “What I would most wish to see is one single family, one community, all consciously united in the bonds of truth and love. This is the point to which my efforts will be directed”.
Post Vatican II
Following the Council, new structures were formed in the Diocese in the fields of liturgy, ecumenism, social services, missionary activity at home and abroad, the deaf apostolate – and, as ever, in education with the introduction into England of comprehensive education.
In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised 40 English and Welsh Martyrs, including some with connections to the Diocese of Salford: Saints Edmund Arrowsmith, Ambrose Barlow, John Plessington, John Southworth. More from the diocese were beatified in 1987. They included the Blesseds William Thomson, Edward Osbaldeston, Robert Nutter, John Thules, John Woodcock and Thomas Whittaker, joining four others already beatified and highlighting the heroism of so many who suffered for their faith in these parts.
During the visit of Saint Pope John Paul II to Britain in 1982, he celebrated Mass and ordained priests in Heaton Park before an immense crowd, an historic event which greatly lifted spirits.
Bishop Patrick Kelly (1984 – 1996) and Bishop Terence Brain (1997 – 2014) continued to put into effect the spirit and the decrees of the Council. Further changes came with the established of a central office facility at the Cathedral Centre in 2009 and the foundation of Caritas, Diocese of Salford in 2010.
In response to declining Mass attendance and a call from Pope Francis for us to be Missionary Parishes, Bishop John Arnold (2014- ) announced a restructure of the parishes in January 2017. ‘Strengthening our Presence as Church’ outlined a blue print for the Diocese that would see a number of amalgamations and closures. This process was deemed necessary to help sustain the diocese for the future.
As we celebrate the rich and diverse history of the Diocese we ask ‘Stay with us Lord on our Journey.’