Our Lady Help of Christians and St. Oswald, Oswestry

The Story of our Parish


One day in 1839, Father John Collins travelled from Wrexham to Oswestry with a market-dealer, Mr McDermott, and set up a makeshift altar of orange boxes in the White Lion Inn, Willow Street. This was used to celebrate what is believed to be the first Roman Catholic Mass in Oswestry since the Reformation.

Over the next 25 years, Mass was said from time to time on market days in a variety of buildings, and a school was started. The mission was served by priests from both sides of the Welsh border. By 1849, the number of parishioners had risen to around 200.

In 1864, a small building on Cripplegate, off Castle Street, was acquired and adapted for use as a church and school. The next year saw the arrival of Father P. Tracey as the town’s first resident Roman Catholic parish priest in modern times.

In 1879, an iron church was brought from Barmouth and set up by Thomas Longueville, solicitor and local land-owner, who had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1877 together with his wife Mary Frances. In 1889 they generously donated land from their estate, and paid for the building of a church, priest’s house, convent and school on Upper Brook Street. The church, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians and Saint Oswald, was consecrated by the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Edmund Knight, on 10 June 1890. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Paul, a teaching order of nuns based at Selly Park, Birmingham, provided sisters to run the school.

The interior of our church is decorated in traditional style. The carved oak reredos behind the high altar was formerly in Holy Trinity Church, Salop Road. A Latin plaque commemorating the donors of the church and its consecration in 1890 is mounted on the right-hand wall of the chancel.

The side aisle and Lady Chapel were added to the original church building in 1925, in memory of Dorothy Longueville, the daughter-in-law of Thomas and Mary Frances, who died at the early age of 42. The beautiful Italian-style altar of the Lady Chapel is decorated with panels of lapis lazuli and turquoise surrounding the figure of the Virgin and Child.

Mary Frances Longueville died in 1910 and Thomas in 1922. They are buried in the church grounds, together with four other members of their immediate family.

At the back of the church are three modern stained glass windows, which were commissioned from Shropshire artist Jane Gray. The left and right-hand windows show the patrons of our church: St Oswald and Our Lady Help of Christians. The latter is a memorial to parishioner Sheila Gadd, who died in 2004. The centre window was given in memory of parishioner Helen Pitts, and represents the sacrament of baptism. It shows the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, with the inscription ‘Thou art my Beloved Son’, words from the Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus. 

The war memorial and crucifix outside the church were dedicated in July 1920. Two slabs of polished granite commemorate parishioners who died in the two World Wars: thirteen men from World War One and seven from World War Two. The figure of Christ on the cross came from France.

Since the arrival of Father Tracey in 1865, many priests have served in our parish. The longest serving was Father Ralph Chapman, parish priest from 1931–1960. He is buried in Oswestry Cemetery, together with two other priests who died while working here. These are Father John Corcoran, parish priest from 1972-1976, and Father Terry Thompson, who served the parish for five years, and died at the age of 54 in 2005.

This photograph was taken around 1904, and shows the original church building without the side aisle, which was not built until 1925. The priest’s house is on the right of the church. On the left of the photograph is the convent with attached school building.

Photograph reproduced courtesy of Oswestry History Postcards, web address: www.oswestry-history.co.uk