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Letters from Fr John

1 August

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

I hope that you and all your loved ones are keeping safe and well. Formby finally returned to public Masses last weekend. The numbers were reasonable and I want to thank our volunteers whose generosity has ensured that the Masses can take place.

Since my last letter to you, I have officially taken responsibility for another parish! As I have previously mentioned, Father Bernard has now retired as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s and I have succeeded him. My first public Masses as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s will take place on Sunday. Once again, our prayers and thanks to Father Bernard and best wishes for a happy retirement. 

Now that I have three parishes to care for, this will be my last letter to you in its current form. I shall be looking for a new way of communicating with all three parishes. I see that since the middle of March, when the lockdown began, I have written 34 letters to you! Although we are very much in the middle of the pandemic, a new chapter is beginning. It is not the ideal time to take on a new responsibility, so I ask your prayers that we can all continue this journey in closer union with one another.

Just a reminder of Mass times in our town; Mass at St Jerome’s on Saturday evening at 6.00pm. Mass at Our Lady’s on Sunday morning at 9.00am and 11.00am. There will be a Mass at Our Lady’s on Wednesday at 12 Noon this week. All our Masses are subject to change. Just a glance at what is happening to our near neighbours in Greater Manchester reminds us that the virus is never far away. We must all be careful and vigilant.

Thank you for all you are doing to care for your families and loved ones. In particular, let us remember those who have died and their families and those who are sick. 

I ask especially for your prayers at this time,

God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

25 July

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

This weekend marks the reopening of two of our churches in Formby for public Mass. It has been 132 days, or 19 weeks since the last public Mass was offered in our churches. What stories could be told of those days by us all! 

Of course, we are still in the middle of the pandemic. I say this because our return to church is not a triumphant moment when we dust ourselves down and say, well that was that, now let’s get back to normal! The Prime Minister remarked yesterday that it would take until the middle of next year before our country would be well past this crisis. That sounds right. 

When those of you coming to Mass this weekend at St Jerome’s enter our church, you will notice an immediate change. Some of the benches have been removed to accommodate the safe number of worshippers and to create more space for people to move safely. It reminds us that things are no longer the same. All the instructions for attending Mass safely have already been sent to you. Please read them carefully and remember to bring your face covering with you.

Speaking of change, this weekend marks the end of Father Bernard’s ministry as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s. We have so many reasons to be grateful to him, especially here at St Jerome’s, which he served faithfully for 10 years. I am delighted that he will be remaining in the community. Father Bernard will move into the clergy retirement apartments in the Old Rectory next to Our Lady’s church in the coming weeks. With the Archbishop’s encouragement and approval, I shall then move into Our Lady’s Presbytery to make my new home there, in the centre of our town. 

The care of three parishes is a daunting challenge, and no one will be surprised to hear me say that it is not sustainable for very long. There will be changes of course, but it is going to take some time to see how these changes will happen. This is all happening in the middle of a pandemic which is likely to be with us for a long time to come. So much patience and understanding is needed.

A word of congratulation to our new deacon, John Mc Carthy, who was ordained deacon last Sunday. The Archbishop has appointed John to serve the Catholic community in Formby. Deacon Joe Moreland has also received the same appointment. John has now stepped down as Parish Administrator of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s parishes to take up his new role as deacon. I want to thank him for four years of excellent service to our communities in that role. A new Parish Administrator will be appointed in due course, but not until it becomes clear what the needs of the new reality in Formby are. I am very grateful to Deacon Joe who has agreed to continue to assist me in other administrative matters.

So let us fix our eyes on Jesus. We are here because of him and for him. Every brick, every pane of glass, every door of our churches and buildings were put there for him. To enable his message to be preached and heard and shared. But of far greater value than these bricks and mortar, precious though they are, are the people who gather in them. The true treasure is each and every disciple of Jesus who forms his body. We are the true temples of God, because His Spirit lives in us and glorifies the Father and the Son in us. Whatever happens in the time ahead, let us remain close to each other and work to build up the unity of the body of Jesus. Remember the final words of Jesus to his disciples;  ‘… and behold I am with you, yes, to the very end of time.’

Please pray for me.
God bless you,
Father John

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Letters from Fr John

21 July

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

It has been announced today that, with the Archbishop’s agreement, Father Bernard Higham has stepped down as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s and will now retire with immediate effect. The Archbishop has appointed me as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s with immediate effect. This is in addition to my responsibilities at St Jerome’s and St Anne’s.

Our first thoughts are with Father Bernard today. He has served Our Lady’s faithfully for 22 years and has been a wonderful, caring pastor. For 10 of those years he also took responsibility for the pastoral care of St Jerome’s. Our prayers and thoughts are with him as he begins a very well earned retirement. Father Bernard will continue to live in Our Lady’s Presbytery for the time being.

I would also like to ask for your prayers as I begin this new responsibility. There will obviously be changes and adjustments to the life of our parishes in the coming weeks and months, but I shall keep you informed of what is happening. 

I shall also be writing to you in the next couple of days to inform you of the Mass times for the coming weekend. Obviously, these arrangements have had to be revised in the light of today’s announcement.

God bless you all, 

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

18 July

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

Next weekend, the celebration of public Masses will begin again in Formby. It has been over four months since the last public Masses were celebrated, and I think we can say that much has changed since then. But above all, this will be a day when we can thank God that we are finally able to gather about His altar to celebrate the Eucharist together again.

I want to begin by saying a sincere ‘thank you’ to those parishioners who volunteered for stewarding duties. Only a few days ago, I was reminded by the Archdiocese about the Government directive relating to the shielding of those over the age of 70. Consequently, I was unable to accept the generous offer of some of our volunteers. It would have been easy for me to turn a blind eye and allow all our volunteers to help in order to increase numbers. But we are all aware of how contagious this virus is, and we are also aware of the disastrous consequences should anyone fall ill whilst helping in our church.

I shall be meeting with the remaining volunteers this week for a training session to prepare for our Masses. Only after that meeting, once I have confirmed who is able to commit to days and times, can I make a final decision about the times of our Masses next weekend. I shall be writing to you mid- week to give you the final times of Masses. 

Tomorrow, Archbishop Malcolm will visit St Jerome’s to ordain John Mc Carthy to the Diaconate. This marks the end of a five year journey for John, and I am delighted that he has finally reached his goal. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all of us when I offer sincere congratulations to John, Clare, Edward and Ciaran. Although the celebration will take place privately, I am delighted to say that our new live streaming equipment has just been installed at St Jerome’s. This means that everyone can follow the Mass, which begins at 3.00pm tomorrow, through the live streaming link. The link has been put in a message to you all on the parish website. If you are not sure, just send an email to the parish address and you will be directed to the right place.

In due course, once we arrive at safer days, there will be a parish celebration for John. But until then, please remember him and his family in your prayers. 

God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

11 July

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

My letter of the last two weekends were concerned with the practical details of the reopening of churches. This weekend, I wanted to return to my normal practice of sending you a little reflection on the Sunday Gospel. But there are some details to share about the return of public Masses. Therefore I am writing a second letter to you.

The Health and Safety requirements are now almost all in place at St Jerome’s Church. There has been a reorganisation of furniture, new signage, sanitation stations and other provisions put in place. The church has to be inspected this week to ensure that it complies with the requirements. Then it will receive a deep clean. 

We have been authorised to cater for a maximum of 68 people at each celebration of Mass at St Jerome’s. After looking at all the various possibilities of how to manage the numbers, the deanery clergy have agreed to use a ‘first come, first served’ process. To me, it seems to be the best solution. 

In order that Mass be celebrated, a total of 4 stewards are required for each Mass. The duties of the stewards are as follows; to receive people at the church door and direct them to the hand sanitizer and then to their place in church. To carefully count the number of people arriving and once the maximum number has been reached, to close the doors of the church. To direct people to receive holy communion and to make sure people exit the church safely. Finally, the stewards will be asked to sanitize the benches where people have been sitting.

Full protection will obviously be provided for each steward. Contact will be kept to a minimum as much as possible. Careful instruction will be provided for each steward before Masses begin again. 

I now invite any member of our parishes who feels able to volunteer for this service to contact us through the parish email in the next couple of days. We will then get in contact with you to explain what you need to do next. I am proposing that the Mass times at St Jerome’s will follow the usual pattern for now; Saturday at 6.00pm and Sunday morning at 9.00am and 11.00am. Because St Anne’s is not reopening at the present time, I am celebrating their 9.00am Mass at St Jerome’s to cater for them. But all 3 Masses are obviously open to all. The Dean will confirm these Mass times in the coming week.

More details will be given in the days ahead. There are two weeks remaining until our Masses begin again. We are working to get everything safely in place before then.

One final point. It is essential that 4 stewards are in attendance at each Sunday Mass. If we do not get the volunteers, then the Mass cannot go ahead. I have been hearing of one or two sad situations across the diocese where Masses have begun, of too few volunteers which has meant that Masses were cancelled. So I leave this with you.

I shall be in touch soon with further details of our reopening.


God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

4 July

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s

Last week I wrote to tell you that the churches of our Archdiocese are being gradually reopened for public Mass in the coming weeks. I also told you that Our Lady’s and St Jerome’s will open on July 26th. Since I wrote to you, we have been working closely with the Archdiocese to prepare our church and put into place all the safety requirements. It is going to take time, but we are already making progress. Decisions still have to be made about how we work out who is able to come to Mass, the timings of Masses etc. But our first concern is to get all the preparations, materials and directives in place. Please continue to watch this space as we move nearer to the time of our reopening.

I am now delighted to announce that the Archbishop has decided to ordain John Mc Carthy to the Diaconate on Sunday, July 19th at 3.00pm at St Jerome’s. I am sure that we all share John’s joy and that of his family as he approaches this great day. Given the current restrictions, we understand that it will only be possible to have John’s family present in the church for the Ordination. It will be very simple. But the good news is that, hopefully, the Ordination will be live streamed, and so it will be possible for the parish family to share in the occasion electronically.

I know that several parishes have been able to live stream Mass regularly over these past months. Installing a professional system is costly. We have been without any collection income for over three months now, apart from those of you who kindly give by monthly direct debit. So our few resources have had to stretch to other needs. But when it became clear that we shall only be able to admit a smaller number of parishioners into the church for Sunday Mass, I felt it was time to get a system up and running, starting with St Jerome’s. Once our parish Masses begin again, I think it will be of crucial importance for those unable to attend to be able to join in our Mass from home. 

So we have been working on making this a reality, and the hope is that we can make this happen in time for John’s Ordination. 

Once again, I ask your prayers for all the preparations that are ongoing and for John as he approaches his Ordination. I also want to thank those who are working very hard at the moment behind the scenes to get everything ready for us. My sincere and grateful thanks to them.

May God bless you all,

Father John