Centenary 1919-2019

The Centenary Celebration of our Parish of the opening of the original Catholic Church in Selsey (which was on the site of the present Church), and a Pastoral Visitation to the Parish from Bishop Richard took place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2019.

From L to R: Fr Peter Johnstone, Fr Peter Newsam, Fr John Healy, PP – (RIP 2020), Deacon Jon Harman, Bishop Richard Moth, Fr Chris Bergin, Deacon David Clifton, Fr Chris Ingle.     Photo: Courtesy of Kate Shemilt, Chichester Observer

The usual Saturday evening Mass at 5.30pm was replaced that weekend by a Special Mass at 4.00pm to which local dignitaries had been invited, clergy from other Churches in Selsey, priests from the Cathedral Deanery and other special guests.

Fr John Healy (RIP 2020) and Bishop Richard.   Photo: Courtesy of Kate Shemilt, Chichester Observer

A reception was held after Mass and with an opportunity to look at an exhibition showing a brief history of the Parish. A Souvenir Booklet with photos and text telling our parish story was also produced.

Amongst the gathering were two special centenarian parishioners, Reg Hunt, 103, and Joanne Donoghue, 100 years old who were warmly welcomed and enjoyed the occasion immensely.

Various anniversaries, especially those associated with the First World War, gave us a better picture of life 100 years ago than we might otherwise have had.  And we also have in the community two parishioners with memories that go back to that time!

During the years from 1916 to 1919 the Catholics in Selsey were busy working to ensure that they had Mass regularly on Sundays (hiring public Halls and Rooms) until they had saved enough funds to buy some land in Station Road (now Church Road!) and start planning to build (a very modest) Church.

The first Mass in the newly built Church was celebrated on 18th May 1919 with a congregation of 20 people: the formal opening and dedication was on 3rd July.  Those “pioneering” parishioners of 100 year ago struggled through the War and then the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic to achieve their objectives: what an inspiration and example to all of us!”

When faced with crisis – either a personal crisis or a crisis we share with others – it often happens that we discover what’s important and what’s not: the trivial can be dispensed with and what matters can be cherished.  

One hundred years ago the small Catholic community in Selsey was celebrating their first Christmas after the War and enjoying their new freedom: it must have been a particularly joyful celebration after the long years of hardship.

As many of them made their way to “The Fisherman’s Joy” (Public House) for Christmas Mass, they may have stopped to see how far progress had got with the new Church being built in Station Road.

This year the present generation of parishioners   celebrated the centenary of the opening of the first Catholic Church in Selsey, and  honoured the memory of the first parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Wilfrid.  Despite all the deprivations of the long years of the war, they appear to have been determined to build a Church in which to celebrate all future Christmases, all future feasts and festivals and Mass every Sunday, if not every day.

Ever since there have been parishioners at ‘St Wilfrid’s’ acting in the spirit those first parishioners (initially as part of the larger community of St Richard’s and then, since the early 1970s, as an independent parish).  

So may I renew my thanks to all who serve the present parish in a multitude of ways: many in an obvious way, particularly in the liturgy, and many more who do so much throughout the year for the community, helping to keep the wheels turning smoothly for everyone.  

Fr John Healy

Early Days

In the early 1900s there was a small Catholic population who had to attend St Richard’s Church in Chichester if they wished to hear Mass.  In 1916 it was estimated that the known Selsey Catholic population was in the order of 15-40.  As there was no opportunity to hear Mass in the village,  some people decided to hold a service on Sunday evenings consisting of the Rosary, a sermon and some hymns in their homes.  The first such service was held on 28th May 1916, the congregation numbering ten. These services continued on a weekly basis until the end of July 1916 with congregations ranging from 5 up to 22.

At the same time efforts were being made to secure a plot of land on which to erect a building where Mass could be said.  A Mr Pauling was approached about a plot of land and he was willing, in principle, to allow its use for a building, but the terms of the conveyance of the land would not allow the erection of a building of the sort required.  Towards the end of July 1916, a Miss Morand negotiated the use of a room above the Fisherman’s Joy public house for Mass to be celebrated.  Fr Thomas Smith from Chichester offered to send a priest to Selsey who was transported by car thanks to Dr André of Sidlesham.  In this way Mass was held in August and September 1916 with attendances of between 25 and 49.

Selsey’s First Catholic Church

During 1916 and 1917 attempts were made to secure land for a church and a number of donations of cash (in particular a sum of £300 for the building of a church) and vestments and furnishings were made. The Bishop at the time was happy to sanction the building of a church, providing that conveyancing was correctly done and that there would be no expense to the Diocese. 

Although the principle of building a church was agreed, it was postponed due to the First World War and issues around the acquisition of land and correspondence between solicitors and the Diocesan finance committee, so that the building of the church was not begun until 1919.  It appears that Fr. Cuthbert Shoolbred, parish priest of Chichester went ahead with the scheme, without keeping the Bishop informed.  In a letter of 27th April 1919 he informed the Finance Committee that: ‘a temporary church is in the course of construction at Selsey and will shortly be completed’. He went on to say that: ‘the church is made of concrete and will hold 100’. On 3rd July 1919 the church was opened and the first Mass said on 6th August.  The church was designed and constructed by John McManus and situated in Station Road, close to the station and dedicated to St Wilfrid.

It appears that the church continued to serve the Catholic population of Selsey during the interwar period, with annual average Mass attendances ranging from 20 to 40 in the 1920s to 30 to 50 in the 1930s. In 1928 there was a big fire next to the Church, which sustained considerable damage from fire, smoke, heat and water.  The parish priest, Fr Measures arranged for repainting and repair the cost of which was covered by insurance. In June 1939 a scheme to build a new church was turned down by donors on the grounds that the Blessed Sacrament would not be reserved there.  With the advent of World War Two, further plans for a new church were put on hold. The next major event to be recorded was a Mission at St Wilfrid’s in June 1950.

The Present Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St Wilfrid

The new church was built on the same site as the old one, which was becoming too small to accommodate the growth in parishioner numbers. It was started in 1961, designed by architect Richard Gosford and built by W. Stirling of reconstituted Cotswold stone.  The base relief of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Wilfrid was sculpted by Mr P Lindsey-Clark, based on a drawing by David O’Connell.  The latter also painted the three panels above the altar, the centre one depicting the Crucifixion, with Our Lady on the left and St Wilfrid on the right. Another stunning feature in the new church is the stained glass by Joseph Nuttgens including: 14 Stations of the Cross on either side of the church; the seven small windows above the altar representing the seven Sacraments and the four side windows in the Sanctuary depicting the four Evangelists.  The baptismal font was sculpted by  John Skelton and is in Bath stone.  The total cost of the church, including furnishings, was £26,000.  The first Mass was said on 25th February 1962 and on 30th May the church was officially blessed and opened by the Bishop Cowderoy of Southwark.  

Selsey was part of Chichester parish until May 1970, after which, together with The Witterings it became a separate parish, continuing in this form until 1986 when Selsey split from The Witterings.  Fr Vincent Maxwell was the first priest of the new parish of Selsey and The Witterings who was succeeded by Fr Campbell Price in 1972, who arranged for the Presbytery to be built next to the church at a cost of £10,000.  The Church was consecrated on 12th October 1974 (The feast of St Wilfrid) by the Archbishop of Southwark, Michael Bowen.  Fr Price died in 1984 and was succeeded by Fr Corcoran who died after only a short time as parish priest.  Fr. Patrick Cox was then parish priest from 1985 until 1996, during which time he arranged for the Church Hall to be built.  The hall was completed in 1986 and was officially opened on 27th September by the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Cormac Murphy O’Connor.  In the same year Selsey split from The Witterings and became a parish in its own right.

During the last twenty years the parish has been served by Provost Bernard Thom (1996-2000), Canon Michael Reynell (2000-2011) assisted by Fr Paul Wilkins (2000-2003) and now by Fr John Healy our present parish priest.

Mass Attendance 1926-2015

Between 1926 until 1956 Mass attendance increased from 10-20 at the beginning of the period, to 80-100 at the end of the period.  There are no records available from 1957 until 1969. From 1970 until 1981 it appears that the data was collected on a different basis and includes other places of worship in addition to Selsey, namely The Witterings with Mass attendances of between 260 and 310. Between 1957 and 1981 there was a gradual growth in Mass attendance at Selsey, during the period when there is either no data or inflated data. From 1982 Mass attendances reduced from around 100 to 200+ being a truer indication of the Mass attendances in Selsey. 

(Source:  Arundel and Brighton Diocese Archives, Parish Returns and Diocesan Yearbooks)

* * * * * * * *


Chichester Observer, (February 23rd 1962)  New Selsey R.C. church has dignity in its clean lines.

Mee, F (1988) A History of Selsey, Phillimore and Co. Ltd., Chichester, pp 35-36

No author (c.1986) In the steps of St Wilfrid: a short history of how the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Wilfrid came into being.

Parish Returns,Yearbooks  and Correspondence (various dates) Archive Office, Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, (accessed 24th February and 20th April 2016)

The Observer and West Sussex Recorder (July 9,1919) R.C Church Opened , Chichester Observer 1919, WSCC DVD (accessed 4th May, 2016, W. Sussex Records Office.)

Photographs and Illustrations

Thanks to Mr Brian Pullinger, Cyril and parishioners


Thanks to all who shared their memories of parish life over the past 50 years and especially to Peter Green for writing this article.


The sculpture on the outside wall above the main entrance to the Church in Cotswold Stone, represents Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Wilfrid and is the work of Mr P. Lindsay Clark, FRBS.

The large abstract coloured glass window with the Christian Fish (Ichthus) symbol in the Church Porch is Loire Glass, by Gabriel Loire of Chartres.

The stained glass Stations of the Cross were the work of Mr Joseph Nuttgens, MGP.

Joseph Nuttgens also created the four Sanctuary windows representing the Four Evangelists. The seven small high windows on the rear wall of the Church, that represent the Seven Sacraments, are the work of a former Parish Priest, Canon Bernard Thom and are modelled on the windows of the Four Evangelists.

The triptych on the rear wall of the Sanctuary (see our Home Page and Gallery of photos) depicts the Crucifixion in the centre panel with Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the left-hand panel and St. Wilfrid on the right-hand panel. It is the work of Mr. David O’Connell.

The stone Baptismal Font was by John Skelton, ARBS, FRSH.

Our Parish Today

Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St Wilfrid’s in Selsey is a small parish in a coastal fishing village now growing into a small town.

There are approximately 130 people who attend Mass at weekends.  But more Catholics in the area.  Some are not practicing and some go to the Chichester Parish (especially those who have children at the School).

We have a variety of different nationality groups from Europe and particularly, a growing number of East Europeans.  

In the main the Parish consists predominantly of senior citizens with a growing number of young parents and children.

There is always need to improve our liturgy!  The areas most in need of development are recruiting and training for the various liturgical ministries; and for recruiting more “musicians” to lead the community in worship.

Following on from making improvements to the way we worship as a parish, we hope to increase greater participation in the life and growth of the community particularly by appealing to young people, those who are “middle-aged” and those who belong to migrant communities.

While the parish has an impressive record in recent years for fund-raising (arising out of the need to make urgent repairs to the Church and other parish property) and for organising social events for the community, it needs also to encourage more people to become involved in caring for those in the community who are sick, elderly, or in need – at home or in residential care.

The parish could make better use of the services from the Christian Education Centre and other organisations such as the Bible School in providing opportunities for adult formation, particularly by joining with neighbouring parishes whenever possible.

Within the boundaries of the parish there are a number of large caravan sites offering various facilities for holiday makers.  Selsey also caters for a large non-resident population who own holiday homes, mobile chalets etc., throughout the year. 

Summer visitors have always been an important part of the Parish, boosting our numbers considerably during the season. We hope they always enjoy the welcome we offer them.  The parish seeks to do more to promote the presence of the Church, and be a witness to, the “visiting” population.