Holy Cross Church was opened by Bishop Amigo on 14 September 1904 – the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Originally serviced from Lewisham, the new church’s first parish priest, Fr Edward Escarguel, was installed on 7 January 1905. The church had to wait until July 1960, however, to be formally consecrated.
Holy Cross was one of over 20 churches built in the early years of the 20th Century under the financial patronage of Miss Frances Ellis (1846-1930), an heiress who converted to Catholicism and was received into the Church in January 1901. Miss Ellis inherited a considerable fortune from her parents, and dedicated her life to founding new churches, hospitals, hospices, orphanages and nursing homes. Her vision in building so many churches in South London, at a time of enormous population increase, created new parishes and facilitated attendance at Mass for thousands of people who otherwise would have had no local parish church.
It was her specific request that each of her churches should be small, simple and Romanesque in style. They came to be known as Miss Ellis boxes. The architect of several of them, including Holy Cross, was F W Tasker, and the building was described at the time in The Tablet as a plain and unpretentious structure. Since then the church has undergone several changes, including the addition of the sanctuary, sacristy and organ in 1924, and the porch at the front of the building in 1949. The interior has also seen many changes including the addition of stained glass windows, wall paintings, shrines and statues over the years, as well as the major refurbishing and reordering of the sanctuary in 1991, which produced the open, welcoming interior familiar to us all today.
The parish of Holy Cross has grown from its humble beginnings in 1904 to a thriving community of some 600 families today. Around 700 parishioners attend Mass each week, of all ages from tiny babies to those in their 90s. Over the years, the parish community has become richly multicultural, reflecting the growing diversity of the local population here in Catford.
Since 1905 there have been eight parish priests, including the current Fr John Mulligan who came to the parish in 1990 as assistant priest, and took over as parish priest in 1993. Under his inspiring pastoral direction the parish has developed out of all recognition. Today more than 150 people are actively involved in liturgical ministry as servers, musicians, readers and eucharistic ministers; around 40 people are regular catechists for our sacramental formation programmes. We have a pastoral visiting team of 25, and more than 100 people are involved in our various parish societies and organisations.
Attached to the church is our thriving parish school – Junior, Infant and Nursery. Founded in 1975 by Fr Edward Fagan, then parish priest at Holy Cross, the school was desperately needed as the only Catholic school within the parish, and remains to this day permanently oversubscribed, being recognised for its all round excellence. When the school opened in January 1975 with 86 children and 12 staff, Sheila Dunn was its first head teacher, a post she held for the next 21 years until her retirement in 1996. Maureen Maher was then head teacher for the next five years until 2001, when the current Head, Pat Peters, took over. Today Holy Cross School has trebled in size with 265 pupils and 31 staff, and continues to go from strength to strength.
Our parish community centre, Hartley Hall, opened in 2002. For years the parish had longed for a hall that would be fully accessible to everyone and accommodate the growing variety of spiritual, educational and social activities of the parish, as well as offering a welcome to the local community. The dream became a reality in 2000, when Mary Hartley died leaving her home to be sold to provide funds for the building of a new centre. She had been born and baptised into the parish of Holy Cross in 1908, and had lived here most of her life. Her long-term friend Canon Mark Diamond gave her home to the parish and, inspired by such an extraordinary gift, the parish raised the remaining money needed to build the centre from a combination of private gifts, grants, Mary Hartley from trusts and a variety of special fundraising events and activities.
The new centre, named after Mary Hartley, was beautifully designed by architect David Haswell to be adaptable, accessible and welcoming to all, including those with disabilities. The contractor, Tony Early, had the centre built with great expertise in a little over a year, and its official opening was on 1 July 2002. Its long-tem financial stability was secured by a generous bequest from Mary Holland, a parishioner who was involved in its planning from the outset, but sadly never saw it completed as she died early in 2002, just a few months before it opened.
The crowning gift to Hartley Hall came in 2003, when a further bequest was made by the Killick family to establish a unique parish resource for Christian faith formation. This includes a reference library of books, journals and other educational materials, a CTS bookshop and an ongoing programme of talks and short courses. The Killick Foundation was given in memory of parishioners Henry and Eileen Killick, who were dedicated to the Hartley Hall project, but sadly died within a few months of one another while the building was still under construction.
After several years of needing a fully accessible and functional parish centre, Hartley Hall has been a dream come true for the parish. The centre’s first year saw a huge variety of activities. Many hundreds of people have taken part in its programme of courses, clubs, meetings and workshops, prayer groups and liturgies, talks and reflection days, music and drama, health and fitness, parties and entertainment – activities of all kinds for the benefit and enjoyment of the parish and local community.