London Province


Headquarters: Sunningdale

The story of the London Province began to unfold when, whilst on an ad limina visit to Rome in 1903, Bishop (later Cardinal) Francis Bourne enquired of the possibility of Religious Orders coming to work in his large diocese of Southwark. He was directed to visit the Mother House of the ‘Institute for the Missions of Africa’ in Verona which he duly did on May 7th. His request was immediately accepted given the Society’s desire to establish a presence in England to enable Confrères to study English in view of their working in English-speaking Africa and to recruit English-speaking personnel. This remained the priority for many years to come.

The first priests were assigned to a ‘Mass Centre’ in Sidcup (Kent), and in August 1903 Fr. Mantica took up residence there, with Fr. Lehr later appointed Priest-in-Charge. A parish church was built in 1905 but was subsequently declared unsafe by the Local Council and ordered to be pulled down. Our Fathers recently preached a Mission Appeal in the very same Church!

Our presence in Sidcup was however to prove short-lived and the supposedly pressing need for personnel in Uganda caused the then Superior-General Fr. Vianello to order an impromptu withdrawal from the Parish. The Bishop at the time was deeply offended at this move and the perceived slight was to have dire consequences for future relationships with him and the Diocese. This was in 1911.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s much work was done in trying to re-gain a foothold in England always with the aim of providing Confrères with the possibility of studying English and undertaking the required ‘Colonial Course’, and of preparing English-speaking candidates for the Society. Eventually the house of Sunningdale was purchased at the beginning of 1938 and was to serve inter alia as a Junior Seminary, Novitiate and Scholasticate down the years. Great disruption and suffering was experienced during the Second Word War when our Italian Confrères were arrested at the end of Mass and sent from Sunningdale to a detention camp on the Isle of Man. During their six years there, they tended to fellow-detainees in the camp, and much of their pastoral ministry in the immediate aftermath of the war was to the self-same Italians who were by then scattered throughout England and Scotland.

The first edition of our missionary magazine, “Our African Missions” appeared in 1946 and under other names has continued to flourish to this day.

In 1947, a house in Dawson Place was purchased for Confrères studying in Central London, followed by the opening of a Parish at Elm Park (Essex) in 1949 which served the Diocese of Brentwood for many years until the early 1990’s. Other centres in Yorkshire sprung up and served as the Junior Seminary – Ganthorpe Hall (1945/1949), Stillington (1949/1960) and Mirfield (1960/1984). During this period, much vocation promotion was carried out and the Society was blessed with a good number of Confrères hailing from these Isles.

The economic mainstay of the Society came through Mission Appeals and the generous co-operation of Catholic Parishes in England and in Scotland. Many were the Confrères who worked tirelessly, week in and week out, to bring in funds for the support of our work at home and abroad.