The Old Hall, East Bergholt, Suffolk - St Mary's Friary 1946 - 1973
Ordinations to Sacred Orders (and in those days to minor Orders as well) were naturally a regular feature of life at St Mary's Friary. The first Ordination (to minor Orders) took place at the very start on 20th September 1947. The picture on the left can be exactly dated to 22nd September 1956, when the Bishop of Northampton, Thomas Leo Parker, conferred the priesthood on Br Stanislaus Hill, and the Diaconate on Brs Irenaeus Dooley, George Brown, and Roger Barralet. (Also in the picture is Fr Hugh McKay who taught Sacred Scipture). Bishop Parker was Bishop of Northampton from 11th February 1941 until he resigned on 14 February 1967. He took great pride in the fact that in the twenty-one years that he was the local Bishop for the Study Centre at East Bergholt he personally ordained over 100 friars to the priesthood. After he retired, he lived another eight years until his death on the 25th March 1975, when he was buried in Northampton Cathedral dressed in the Franciscan habit as a member of the Third Order of St Francis. He was succeeded as Bishop by Msgr Charles Alexander Grant who was still the Bishop when the Friary closed in 1973.
The years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-5)saw a re-examination of many things in the Church, including the seminary system for training priests. The friars became increasingly aware of the need to integrate their academic life with that of the wider student community in the country at large and looked for a suitable university institution to link up with. Eventually they were welcomed by the University of Kent at Canterbury which had an embryo theology department which welcomed the Franciscan Study Centre in their midst. Canterbury had important historical associations for the friars, for it was the very first port of call of the original band of friars who landed at Dover in 1224 sent by Saint Francis and who made this their first friary in the country. The final break with East Bergholt came at the end of the academic year in 1973, when the remaining friars moved to Canterbury. But the friars did not abandon the people in the area: the Province offered to the Bishop a community of four priests who would remain in the diocese, and he asked them to take over St Mark's parish in Ipswich which was enlarged to include Brantham and surrounding areas, and from there they continued to take pastoral care of the people. The friars went on doing this until 1994, when a shortage of man power led the Province to withdraw the friars from St Mark's and close it as a friary.
The friars have also retained ownership of one part of the old East Bergholt friary grounds: the cemetery which they had inherited from the nuns of the Abbey, many of whom are buried there, and where by this time several of the friars and parishioners had been buried, including one Bishop (John Forest Hogan OFM, the first Bishop of Bellary in India, who died in Naples on his way to the Second Vatican Council). The cemetery is being cared for now by the local Fraternity of the SFO.
The Old Hall today
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