Establishing a Parish
Speight, in his Two Thousand Years of Tadcaster History (1902) notes that the ''Roman Catholics have never...been wholly extinct in the parish of Tadcaster and are now a flourishing community having a handsome church on the west side of the town''. The growth of the Catholic population was the main reason for the creation of St. Joseph's. Much of that population was, of course, Irish in origin - drawn from the poverty of Erin to work in factories and flax mills of Yorkshire. An insight, albeit unfortunate, on this population growth was the fact that nearly ten percent of the inhabitants of the Tadcaster Workhouse in 1881 were from Ireland - mostly agricultural labourers. Evidence of the strength of the Irish parishioners of the new parish of St. Joseph's can be seen today in the stained glass window to the fair right of the altar.
This beautiful example of the art represents St Patrick - snakes and all - and was installed only a few years after the creation of the Parish in 1903. The dedication bears witness to the joy which the creation of the parish must have fostered in the new parishioners; it simply thanks God for the Gift of Faith. In his Advent Pastoral Letter of 1898, Bishop William of Leeds might have reflected this joy in writing to all parishes celebrating the establishment of new missions which created ''a new centre of grace, a new beacon to the wanderer, a new chance of salvation to the fallen''. St Joseph's was only too happy to agree, subscribing £1/2/0 to the Ecclessiastical Educational fund which allowed all Catholics to share in the ''unspeakable privilege'' of supporting priests in training.
The new parish priest, Father John Bradley (born in 1861 and ordained in 1887) presided over a new congregation which clearly welcomed the creation of the parish with all the burdens this might impose.
New parishes were costly - the Bishop's Pastoral Letter of 1908 emphasised that "great sacrifices had to be made" in every mission but the numbers at Tadcaster remained encouraging. The Easter returns for the early years of the church show communicants averaging just over 200. During Lent in 1900 two masses had to be offered in Tadcaster to cope with the demand. A steady number of baptisms and marriages took place and, interestingly, in 1901 St Joseph's welcomed 11 converts. Throughout the early years of the century Tadcaster was thought to have 400 catholics but this figure is difficult to substantiate. The normal practice in making census returns to the Diocese was to estimate total population by multiplying the baptisms by 22. In 1906 figures were to be based on an actual census by the priests but in 1908 it was noted that this seemed to have lost 11000 Catholics across the Diocese.
Throughout the early years of the parish it responded generously to the many requests for donations which came from Diocese, Bishop and organisations (plus ca change?). It was not that Tadcaster Catholics had particularly deep pockets - far from it. In 1895 a joint letter of the Catholic Bishops of England had noted that the "Catholic church no longer represents the wealth but the poverty of the land; composed of the poor and working people...all its work is dependent upon constant sacrifice made by a small and poor but generous community". Such a statement would clearly apply to the founding generation of St Joseph's who responded to frequent calls with generous disbursement of their hard-earned cash.
Father John's parishioners, despite having a dozen places for every penny, found money to support the Leeds diocesan Mission Fund, the ecclesiastical education fund, African Missions, the Holy Places fund, expenses of pupil teachers and many other causes. No sooner had the parish been formed than a request for funds to help build the new Westminster Cathedral - a cause dear to the heart of the very Cardinal Manning who had recently opened St Joseph's. The parish responded in the spirit of Tobias - "blessed shall they be that shall build thee up"(13:16)- and contributed.
St Joseph's also contributed to an experiment in education which the Diocese ran at Shibden. Here the Industrial School of the Good Shepherd was established to "train as well as shelter the destitute little ones of the flock of Jesus Christ".
The proper Catholic education of children was a major concern of the parish which supported the school without Diocesan help. In 1894 there were around 42 Catholic children attending the school next door to the church; this figure rose gradually until the start of the First World War then there was 87. Throughout this period there were 3 or 4 teachers invovled and the standard was high. In the early part of the century teachers such as Mary Cooke, Ada Moore, Marianne Piercy, Louisa Roberts and Elizabeth Kenny helped establish a tradition of catholic education in Tadcaster. Up until 1910 schools were given merit marks following an inspection and Tadcaster only once fell below "good" and frequently achieved "excellent".
Catholic education meant spiritual development as well as learning. the 1904 Diocesan Schools report put it powerfully - "what priests are to the altar, teachers are to the school". It was a heavy responsibility for the teachers themselves and they too were tested. In 1900 Eleanor Cosgrave, the first pupil teacher at St Joseph's, achieved a second class grade in the annual pupil teachers' religious examination which required detailed knowledge of an extensive curriculum. These pupil teachers were often not that much older than the pupils they taught. In 1903 the law prevented any person under 16 being employed and demanded proper preparation. Nationally such reforms were an attempt to raise standards but they were seen as a threat to catholic education. Bishop William wrote to St Joseph's in 1904 noting that the new act would remove pupil teachers from the influence of the priest and demanded that catholic teachers did not attend non-catholic training centres. Naturally catholic centres for training had to be set up and this was another burden for the parishes supporting pupil teachers.
There was an even greater threat in 1906 when local authorities were to be given the right of control of religious teachings in public elementary schools. The church demonstrated against the bill under the banner "for catholic children, catholic teachers in catholic schools, under catholic management". It became increasingly difficult to attract people to the teaching profession and the Bishop wrote of an 'education crisis' and requested that children themselves pray to God to "save our schools where we are taught to know and love thee and never let us lose the faith for which our martyrs died".
Nevertheless the parish continued to support the school which alongside family and church helped shape future Catholics. In 1908 the Bishop wrote that some parishes - including St Joseph's - had not supported the 1907 annual collection for pupil teachers' expenses and, pointedly, the following year the parish was recorded as contributing £1/6/0 for 1907 and 1908! In 1914 it went one better by donating 15/- to the Diocesan Education Fund and then having another collection which raised 15/6d..
The parish continued to grow and prosper in times of war and economic hardship. During the First World War nine of the founding generation of parishoners gave their lives in the ''magnus belli'' - as the commemorative plaque to the right of the entrance door describes the war. The plaque was originally attached to the current baptismal font - the holes can still be seen. Anyone wanting to read more about these brave men can follow up most of them at the site http://www.tadcaster-ww1-memorials.com/updates.htm.
On January 17, 1927 the parish lost its founding priest when Fr. Bradley died and was buried in Tadcaster cemetery. His grave still forms a focal point for the current parishioners who gather annually to give thanks for their church and parish. Fittingly a grateful parish dedicated to Fr. John the stained glass window of St John the Evangelist which is second from the right on the altar.