Catholic History Society – 20th anniversary.

Tuesday, 12th October, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Island Catholic History Society. It is also (most appropriately) the Feast of St. Wilfrid, Patron of our Island.

October 12th also (and very conveniently) the anniversary of the Consecration of our two Benedictine (Solesmes) Abbeys of St. Cecilia’s (1907) and Quarr (1912).

Bishop Philip Egan has kindly sent this message to the Island CHS:-


“The Tradition which comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum 8).

I congratulate the Isle of Wight Catholic History Society on your twentieth anniversary; an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. I thank you for all your good work in bringing to life the history and traditions of the Church on the Island – work that helps us to appreciate the faith of those who have gone before us. May their example renew our own faith today, and may the Holy Spirit reinvigorate our work of mission and evangelisation in the future.

In Corde Iesu,
+ Philip,
Bishop of Portsmouth

Looking back to the early days of our society, we remember the enthusiasm of the first supporters of the CHS. Most have departed this life, but their work lives on. It was after Mass at St. Mary’s, Ryde, on this day in 2001, that Fr. David Buckley, Dean of the Island, read a letter of approval from Bishop Hollis for this new society and he asked for God’s blessing on their work. He urged people to join and to support the society as they raised awareness of the Island’s Catholic heritage. A reception was held in the church hall after Mass and Fr. Buckley explained the need for a Catholic History Society. By unanimous acclaim, Peter Clarke was appointed as the first chairman, with Doreen Drake of Cowes as vice chairman, Richard Dickinson of Newport as secretary and Roy Reid of Seaview as Treasurer. With hindsight, these elections (or rather …… instructions from Fr. Buckley) would inevitably fall foul of the electoral commission today. However, they were only meant to last for one year. Twenty years later, just one of these initial four officers is still in situ!

This photo shows Peter Clarke with Fr. John Dunne (former parish priest of St. Mary’s, Ryde) and Fr. David Buckley (Dean of the Island) at the society’s inauguration in 2001.

The following Sunday, the Island’s clergy promoted the new society in their churches. As with all things new, there was initial enthusiasm and many people came forward to help. There was particular support from Abbot Cuthbert of Quarr, Fr. Bruce Barnes of Newport and Fr. Michael Purbrick of Cowes; and it was at St. Thomas’s, Cowes, that one of our first meetings was held. Father spoke about the history of St. Thomas’s and one of his parishioners, Doreen Drake, gave a history of the two Isle of Wight martyrs, Blessèd Robert Anderton and Blessèd William Marsden. It was during conversations in the church hall afterwards that a discussion took place concerning an appropriate memorial to these two courageous martyr-priests. Eighteen months later the memorial came to fruition just outside the church.

In our first year there were talks by Abbot Cuthbert on the Benedictine Order and Val Fontana (Cathedral archivist) on the Bishops of Portsmouth. Our first outing was to Southbourne at the invitation of Fr. John Dunne (former parish priest of Ryde). He offered Mass for us and gave a talk on the church and on Blessèd Margaret Pole. Our next outing was a pilgrimage to Winchester. Mass was offered in St. Peter’s Church and there was a guided tour of the Cathedral. It was on this visit that we met a certain (young) Anthony Glaysher; at the time, a deacon at St. Peter’s Church and preparing for his Ordination the following year.

It was in 2003 that the CHS published the first of almost twenty books / booklets. This one “Ryde to Rome” gave a historical account of the pilgrimage to Rome by Elizabeth, Countess of Clare (1841); her conversion and her return to Ryde, where she spent the next 38 years doing all that she could to promote and advance the Church, locally and further afield. Six-hundred copies of this book have been sold. In addition, the CHS has arranged 26 talks / lectures on various aspects of our history; organised seven residential pilgrimages; fifteen one-day pilgrimages and supported and promoted at least twelve others.

As time moved on, different people came and went, all making their valued contribution to the society. We have to mention and give thanks to all the local representatives in each parish who have highlighted and promoted our society events in their areas. If we mention just one person, it has to be Yvonne Rowles of Bembridge (a member for fifteen years). She was an active and very enthusiastic supporter and committee member, who assisted with this newsletter and contributed greatly to the production of most of our booklets. Sadly, Yvonne died in 2018. R.I.P.