Poverty in a Missionary Territory

The Bishop-elect was a man of learning and culture, a student and a scholar, accustomed to the company of his fellow monks and the shelter of his community life. He was suddenly called upon to face poverty and loneliness and the crushing burden of serving a mission land. His flock consisted mainly of scattered and poverty-stricken people, including many immigrants. Throughout his vast area he had only 16 Mass centres and just 19 priests to look after them. There was hardly a school, no seminary, little money and the barest of resources.

In one mission Catholics worshipped in a draughty loft over a slaughter house; In another they used rooms in public houses; a warehouse was the only church in the biggest town. There were only eight chapels in the whole of the country and another 11 in neighbouring provinces.

The Bishop was forced to live on charity. The total income for the whole of his area was only 24 a year, which was interest from an investment fund. Special collections brought in 300 which was used to pay for two priests to be trained. The bishop poured all the stream of his unresting activity into labour for the area which God had committed to him.

It was 40 years hard labour during which the he travelled, preached, wrote, saved and begged for his people.

On one occasion, he sent out an appeal on behalf of one of his priests to save him from being forced to sell, before it was fat, the pig on which he reckoned for rent for his humble residence. The bishop had found the priest, on a Monday, in bad health and dependent for the coming week on the collection made the day before, just a halfcrown, 12.5 pence in today's money!

Help came to the territory through an organisation which was founded to raise a suitable and permanent income for the relief of the destitute church. In 12 months the society collected nearly fifteen-hundred pounds. It was enough to enable the bishop to establish a foundation stone on which a thriving corner of the Catholic Church was built. …….

And that corner of the church was Wales and Herefordshire. The Bishop was Thomas Brown who was appointed to the area in 1840 and who faced extreme poverty. The church above the slaughter house was in Merthyr. The public house Tabernacles were at Pontypool and Abersychan. The warehouse church was in Cardiff.

And the priest who may have been forced to sell his pig before it was fat was the one who ministered to the few Catholics who lived in Cardiff in 1842. Wales and Herefordshire were clearly Third World areas 150 years ago. It was the Faith, hope and charity of our ancestors who brought about the miracle of change. As Cafod says, "Together they made a difference".

Let us remember that when we think of countries in the Third World today. Let us act now to give them the chance that our ancestors gave us. God bless you all. John O’Sullivan, May 22, 2003.

: John O'Sullivan.

Some related articles:
The Famine and the Faith

St. Illtyd's Church, Dowlais

St. Mary's, Newport