1927 - 1961

Father Christopher Paul Kelly:  St Joseph's, 1927-1961



The challenge of minstering ''Tad folk'' was taken up by Father Christopher Kelly who was born in Drogheda but studied for the priesthood at Ushaw, near Durham. He was ordained in March 1911 by Bishop Joseph Cowgill, the third Bishop of Leeds and in may ways the founder of Catholic Care.

Fig: Bishop Cowgill
Fig: Bishop Cowgill

Fr. Kelly had been a curate at St Patrick's, Bradford for sixteen years. He served Tadacster until 1961 and was, by all accounts, quite a character. One parishioner, a schoolboy in the 1920s and an altar  boy during the 1930s, still remembers Fr. Kelly processing around the exterior of the church in red sash and exposing the Holy Sacrament at a temporary altar on the grass. At that time the Angelus was rung daily with a schoolboy detailed from the adjacent school to perform the task - for many years it was a member of the Moverley family who had originally come over with William in 1066 and were for centuries associated with the Vavasours - there are many memorials to Moverley family members in the church.


The celebration of Mass at this time was, of course, in the Tridentine tradition. Altar boys (as they were then) had tin plates with the Latin Mass inscribed and Fr Kelly was a stickler for getting it right and, as one parishioner remembers, "drummed it into them". Winter masses were a struggle with the weather and more often than not Fr Kelly would greet arriving servers  with the question "is the river over yet?". Servers surplices came in for a lot of wear and were in various sizes - one of the priest's jobs was to pin them up before the procession to the altar as they often dragged behind. A set of black pumps was kept so that all servers had the same footwear - you can't imagine that happening today!


Being an altar boy in those days was not an easy job. One server remembers that his task was to ensure Father Kelly had the Missal with the Latin epistle ready to read. Fr Kelly would put his left hand on the altar as a signal to the altar boy to bring the Epistle - no easy task for a small boy with a trailing surplice and a heavy book. There were - on very few occasions - mishaps with the heavy book slowly sliding off the stand but Fr. Kelly did not let this interfere with the solemnity of Mass (it isn't recorded what he said after Mass!). Another job - sought after by the altar boys was the ringing of the gong, not bells in those days - at the very many occassions which the old Mass required.  At Christmas Fr. Kelly would drape the window sills with red mats carrying suitable Yuletide blessings.  

It was not all hard work though. Fr.Kelly is remembered as providing a party for his boys with cakes from Bean's The Baker -  also frequented at lunchtime by Miss O'Connell, a teacher at St Joseph's. More exciting was the annual trip to Scarborough when a whole railway carriage was booked and the day trip to the seaside started early at a pre-Beeching Tadcaster station. 


During the 1930's Father Kelly also said Mass at St Leonard's, Hazelwood. By now the Church was largely derelict and it is an irony that the church which spawned the parish of St Joseph's now found itself being kept going by that very parish. Once a month Fr Kelly and an altar boy made their way to Hazlewood in his open car driving slowly "looking out for the rabbits" as Fr. Kelly would say. Cleaning materials would be taken to spruce up the church and, in particular, the memorial to Bishop Briggs - the first Bishop of Beverley following the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. Often the return journey would be a little more precarious as the Paschal candle would be sticking out of the car. In later years Florence and May Moverley did sterling work keeping St Leonard's tidy - they are commemorated in  stained glass windows at St Joseph's.


Fr. Kelly celebrated a significant personal anniversary within a few years of taking on the parish. In March,1936 the local newspaper detailed the event - Fr. Kelly's Silver Jubilee - with the headline "Tadcaster Catholics Happy Gathering". A "happy and enjoyable evening" was held at the parish hall  at which Fr. Kelly was presented with an illuminated address - made by the Sisters at Clifford - and a cheque for £70, a considerable sum in those days. Mr J Devine presided over the occasion and expressed the deep love and regard in which Fr Kelly was held. Fr Kelly was clearly moved but it was a measure of the man that he refused to accept the cheque unless allowed to spend it on parish needs.


Father Kelly was clearly held in great affection by St Joseph's parishioners the illuminated address spoke of his 'zeal for God's glory...fervour in his service and persevering labour for souls'' It was signed by members of the Devine, Brooke, Mulrooney, Heneachon, Brown, Pullan, Moverley, Stones, McDermott, and Leddy families of the parish. The parting wish - that Father Kelly would enjoy long years of health to labour in God's vineyard until his Golden Jubilee -  was indeed to be realised.


Fr. Kelly's work in the vineyard - not inappropriate as his family were said to be connected  with the ancient Drogheda wine trade - continued through war and victory. The Parish was well established by the time the country went to war in 1939 and average attendance at Mass in the lead up to the early stages of war remained at a steady 200 though interestingly there was a sharp rise in baptisms and marriages in 1942 and 1943. During the war itself the congregation of St Joseph's was swelled by the German prisoners of war. They were held in a camp of the present cricket ground and were marched down to the church. Those with an interest in church music might note that the POWs sang in the choir and often in German. 


Following the war the church became a focus for those who had returned from the war. It is noticeable that after "demob" in 1947 there was a huge rise in Mass attendance with the Lenten celebrations seeing attendance of 350   as opposed to the normal 200 in previous years. Church records give some idea of the church in which Mass was said. An undated post-war inventory - designed to show what damage the war might have brought - showed


2 altars "with all requisites", 2 confessionals, Baptismal font, organ (insured in 1942 for £16 against bomb damage), Stations of the Cross, three statues (one of which may have been the statue of St Therese of Lisieux which has been restored and is now back in the church and was apparently won by a parishioner in a competition organised by The Universe and donated to the church), coke furnace heating, one safe with contents of two chalices, parish documents and registers, vestment chest with two full sets, three white, red and purple, one "special chasuble", one High Mass set and cope, six albs - three plain and three white - six collars, six altar cloths, two dozen boy's collars , eighteen boys cassocks, two Benedictine copes, branch  candles and various vases, Christmas Cribs and two thuribles

Fig:  Pre Vatican II interior showing the "lozenge" above the altar.
Fig: Pre Vatican II interior showing the "lozenge" above the altar.

In those days the presbytery was attached to the church and the inventory noted the living accommodation of Fr. Kelly as four bedrooms - furnished, dining room with all requirements, study - furnished, kitchen and scullery - with both gas and electricity!


The High Mass set mentioned in the inventory was probably the famous " cloth of gold" set. This beautiful set of vestments - white satin and gold thread embroidery in the form of grape bunches - was reputed to be derived from an old Vavasour wedding dress. It was extremely heavy and worn only on special occasions. Fr Kelly was particulalry fond of them and insisted on wearing them for the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. According to an altar boy eavesdropping, on one occasion a visiting Bishop had the vestments displayed by Fr Kelly with a "you don't see the like of this in Ushaw!" These vestments were prone to damage and appear to have been lost in the 1960s renovations.

Fr Kelly was a well loved and excellent PP but he could get very nervous. One parishioner remembers a visit by the then Bishop Heenan - Bishop of Leeds - and Fr Kelly, unable to resort to his frequent calming cigarette got so hot and bothered that the Bishop told him unceremoniously and loudly to "sit down and calm down" before Mass could start.

The 1950s was a high point for the parish as a social community and several parishioners look back on it as a golden age. There was a Catholic Social Club presided over by Mr J A Devine with subs set at 4/- per annum. The association was committed to provide people with "a meeting place...and afford...the means of social intercourse, mental and moral improvement, reasoonable recreation  and to encourage...the practice of their religion". The club was men-only and banned gambling, drinking and the use of bad language.

A major social event for town as well as parish was the annual St Patrick's Ball which ran through the 1950s at the Riley Smith Hall. The first was held in 1948 and had got so popular that the local press covered its tenth anniversary in 1958. One parishioners still has a dance card from 1952 at which "premier dance bands" provided the backing for twenty six dances including the "on-leave foxtrot", "naval three step", "St Bernard" and a "waltx cotillon". A flavour of this parish and town event can be got from a report in the Wetherby News for March 22, 1957. Under the headline "Shamrocks For All" the newspaper reported five hundred attendees each receiving a shamrock corsage and dancing the night away under the direction of Mr A R Vevers. Spot prizes were won by Mrs Hardcastle, Miss Lofthouse, Miss Berry and Miss Crowther amongst others.

The year of 1961 was one of great joy and sadness for St Joseph's. Back in 1908 the Bishop's Pastoral Letter had noted that "the Golden Jubilee of any priest in charge of a flock is always recognised". In 1961 the parish had the opportunity to recognise this special anniversary of Fr Kelly. On March 17 1961 (an appropriate date for the man from Drogheda) Fr Kelly was presented with an illuminated address and a cheque for £300 at a gathering in the Parish Hall. Mr. H Mulrooney - the oldest parishioner - made the presentation and a bouquet was also presented.

Fig: Fr. Kelly Receiving the Cheque from Mr Mulrooney
Fig: Fr. Kelly Receiving the Cheque from Mr Mulrooney

by Patricia Murphy. The assembled parish then heard a tribute from Mr Leddy, a song recital from the school children and a piano selection from Mr J Moverley who had played the organ for almost sixty years. Fr Kelly had made an impact beyond the parish as his celebration was attended by many "outsiders" and he was clearly emotional at the warmth of affection. He declared that Yorkshire had become his second home and he doubted he had done enough to deserve the tributes to him. Fr Kelly declared the jubilee weekend to be the most memorable of his life.

But later that year of celebration the parish lost its longest serving priest. Just prior to the Christmas celebration Father Kelly has addressed his parishioners with a characteristic message of prayer. ''Thanks be to God for his many favours'' wrote Father Kelly ''I have witnessed many things - families in many comfortable homes in the various estates, good employment...these are favours and blessings in many ways''. Whether Fr Kelly was taking the opportunity to reflect on a full and holy life nearing its end we will never know. He ended his Christmas message to the flock he had cared for for thirty four years thus,  "we gave the service expected from us in our lives to promote the honour and glory of the cause we all have at heart". Fr Kelly struggled to take Mass on Christmas Day but was determined to see it through - supported physically by his altar servers. On Boxing Day Father Kelly collapsed while preparing for the 8am Mass and was rushed to York hospital but died soon after. Apart from an annual visit to his beloved Ireland, Father Kelly had ministered, without curate or assistant for over three decades at St Joseph's. He is buried at St Edward's in Clifford with a headstone (see below) purchased by grateful parishioners.