“Preston’s best kept secret?”
“Parish hopping” is a well established ritual
among Preston’s Catholic community. With so many
parishes and churches to choose from the faithful can pick
their time to worship at Mass. Because of this people
regularly worship at a church outside their parish and this
gives Preston’s Catholics an encyclopaedic knowledge of each
St Mary’s at Lea Town does not, however,
often feature in this ritual, as it is such a well kept
secret. The first problem is that, although everyone
has heard of Lea; the tiny community of Lea Town, which
straddles Darkinson Lane in the countryside west of Preston,
is not well known. In fact, Lea Town has not only a
beautiful little church but also a thriving Catholic Primary
School, also known as St Mary’s.
Building of the
Chapel was completed in 1804 making it the seventeenth
oldest Catholic church in Lancashire and it has served the
community ever since, closing only once, in 2006 for
approximately 6 months, while urgent and vital building work
the lengthy Church renovation work, parishioners were
invited by the Vicar of St John's
Anglican Church, in the next village of Lund, to
have Mass said there - most of the congregation regularly attended.
This has left a beautifully refurbished Chapel and Presbytery where
Mass is celebrated every Sunday and also during the week.
The recent reorganisation of Parishes has
brought Fr Adrian Towers, Parish Priest of St Andrew’s Cottam, as
the man responsible for managing the merger of the two parishes.
He has recently taken over from Father Simon Hawksworth who had an
interesting time overseeing a huge refurbishment programme.
There were many problems with this 200 year old chapel not least
being woodworm infestation, dry rot and wet rot - some of which
caused serious health and safety hazards.
Also, an unknown, redundant well was found under the old
kitchen which had to be filled in with many tons of sand.
Whilst the Church was being
refurbished it was a good opportunity to bring it up to date and it
was reordered to enable the Priest to conduct services facing the
congregation rather than in the ' traditional way of celebrant and
congregation facing East together.
The small Church Bell used to be installed
in the Old Town Hall in Preston but has been at St Mary's since
about 1860. However, it had not been rung for a long time -
because the stone support mounting was unstable. Again this
was a good time to sort it out - we now have the bell rung
'electronically' each Sunday morning calling Parishioners to Mass
and the Angelus is rung at noon
each day of the week.
The Sacristy and Presbytery were also in a
poor state of repair and a significant part has been knocked down
and rebuilt. All this work took about 6 months to complete at
a cost of nearly £300,000.
At the moment Father Joe Diskin lives at
St Mary’s having retired from being Parish Priest of St Mary of the
Angel at Bolton le Sands. He has quickly established himself
as a popular members of the Parish community.
In 1968 Father James
Keville became Parish Priest at St Mary’s and held the post until
his death in November 2005.
He has by far and away been the longest serving of the 24 Parish
Priests and a huge figure in the small community of Lea Town.
Fr Keville was born in 1920 and brought up
on a farm in Headford, County Galway in Ireland. He came from
a strong Catholic family of 8 children and was ordained a Priest
in June 1946. Later that year he came to Preston to start his
To say the very least Fr Keville was from
the 'old school' of Priests – resisting what he saw as unnecessary
changes like shaking hands for the Sign of Peace - “this is a
farming community, you don't know what they've been doing prior to
coming to church,” and believing it was a big part of his pastoral
role to visit and take Holy Communion to the sick and housebound.
Even when the parish received a very large bequest and were no
longer one of the poor parishes of the Diocese he still insisted
there were two collections at Mass!
He had a very strong love for his
parishioners, particularly the old and the young. His pride
and joy was the Primary School situated just opposite the Church.
In 1978 he took on the Diocese, the County Council and the
Government to keep the small village school open when it was going
to be closed for an arbitrary lack of numbers on role (less than
30). The closure decision was reversed and it now has close to
one hundred pupils and is a very modern and well liked 'country
jewel' of a school.
Fr Keville remained at St Mary's until he
died almost 38 years later – by far
the longest serving Parish Priest, he is buried in St Mary's
Cemetery. There is a marble plaque, in memory of him, at the
back of the Church - above the font
St Mary's is a
jewel, approached along a drive lined with twenty mature lime trees
it nestles in its own grounds. Recently a Mulberry tree, one
of only two known in Preston, was discovered in the grounds; another
claim for fame for a parish that has traditionally hidden its light
under a bushel.
The High Altar
and Lady Altar at St Mary's