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History of St Francis Xavier’s Church in Liverpool

St Francis Xavier’s Church (SFX) for most of its' history it had been staffed by the Jesuits. In April 2023 they handed the parish to the care of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. Fr. Chris McCoy is now the Parish Priest, the first Diocesan Priest to serve here since 1848.

The history of the Jesuits in Liverpool can be traced back to 17 Century

Jesuits had been working in the Liverpool area since the 17th Century. In 1712 they built the city’s first Catholic Chapel since the Reformation. A second, larger, chapel was built in 1736 only to be demolished by a mob in 1738. it was rebuilt the following year disguised as a warehouse. In 1783, some years after the suppression of the Society of Jesus, it was handed over to the Benedictines who continued to serve St Mary’s until the late 1960’s. St Mary’s was closed in 1999.

In 1840, eight Catholic businessmen met in the Rose & Crown pub in Liverpool to draft the following proposal:

“We the undersigned form ourselves into a provisional committee for the formation of a society with a view to erecting a Catholic Church in Liverpool to be presented to the President of Stonyhurst College”.

The President of Stonyhurst College was the Jesuit Provincial.

First Jesuit College opens in 1842

A small Jesuit college was opened in 1842 followed by the Church 5 years later. Between the planning of the Church and its opening the Great Hunger had devastated Ireland.

It was soon found that the church – which had been designed by J.J. Scoles to hold 1,000 people – was too small. In 1888 the beautiful Sodality Chapel (designed by Edmund Kirkby) was opened. This chapel is now used for most of the weekday services..

4 December 1848… the church doors open

The day of the opening was December 4th, 1848 – the transferred feast of St Francis Xavier owing to the 3rd of December being the first Sunday in Advent. And it rained torrents which considerably lessened the anticipated attendance. 

Solemn High Mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rev. Dr BROWN, the sermon being preached by Fr. William Cobb SJ. In the evening Vespers were chanted and an eloquent sermon was preached by Fr Andrew Bannon SJ. But on Sunday 8th December the weather was clement, and the church was packed for similar services, when both Father Carroll and Fr Sumner preached for the first time. 

The spiritual work has now begun, and the first baptism took place on 17th December at an adapted font which had been placed where today stands the pieta. The name of the boy baby first baptised in this church was Richard Collard of Everton Village, who has been born on the 10th of December.

St Francis Xavier Church in 1873

The parish flourished and by the Second World War was the largest Catholic Parish in England, with over 13,000 Catholics living within its boundaries. It had a variety of schools including SFX College – the first Catholic Secondary Grammar Day School in the country (1843) . The poor schools were founded in 1853.

   It remained a large parish until the early 1960’s. At that time the College moved to the outskirts of the City, whilst nearer home the Council started to clear the slums and rehouse parishioners in other parts of the City and beyond. The area went into sharp decline. By the early 1980’s there were plans to demolish the nave, but a massive, nationwide campaign was successfully fought to save the building.
   Slowly new houses have been built and the community has started to regain some of its former confidence.  Over the past few years Hope college – the only ecumenical college of higher education in the country – moved part of its campus into our disused school buildings. Their redevelopment includes accommodation for 200 students, homes for their music, fine arts, community education and drama departments. They also used to own the church building which they shared with the parish, however the building now belongs to the parish once more. In 2001, two local parishes, St Joseph’s and St Mary of the Angels joined with SFX to form one new parish. On December the 8th 2001, Archbishop Kelly renamed the Sodality Chapel ‘The Chapel of St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph. This amalgamation has released a whole new energy and enthusiasm. A new chapter in the history of SFX has begun.

Contact SFX Church

Saint Francis Xavier’s Church, Salisbury Street, Liverpool, L3 8DR

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