From 1943 to the Present in Six Parish Priests…
Fr Pat Smith, the first parish priest, was sent in 1943 by the Archbishop to look after the many Catholics settling in this newly-developed and developing part of the City – many from Ireland and Scotland coming to Coventry for work. There was no church then – so masses were said in Finham Hostel and Chace Hostel on London Rd. Eventually Fr Smith arranged for Masses to be said in the church hall belonging to St James’ on Knoll Drive. A temporary church was built on the site of the current church – and this was ready for use in 1946. In 1951 a parish hall was opened and it was used for teaching by Nora O’Sullivan – who as deputy head at St Osburgs. A permanent school building was opened near the church in 1952. Fr Smith left the parish in 1961 and went to Birmingham. He was succeeded by Fr Philip Cleary – who began planning and raising finance for the building of the current church of St Thomas More.
Fr Cleary- A man with a Mission (The Memories of a parishioner). The Fr. Cleary I remember was a man on a bike with big wheels dashing around the parish visiting his people. He was a man with a burning ambition to build a church that would grace the parish and would be a joy to everyone. He therefore squeezed the pockets of his parishioners as hard as he could to achieve this aim. Fr. Cleary was a late vocation to the priesthood and was an ex-head teacher. He was new to the parish when I came to live here in 1964. The presbytery was a house in The Chesils and the church was a small one, built by the parishioners, in Knoll drive. The parish was served by a half decent parish hall and this was the focal point for functions and meetings. There were a number of thriving sodalities including C.M.S., Guides and Brownies, Mothers Union, Legion of Mary, Patricians etc. He put a lot of time into these. He also had instruction classes for First Holy Communion and Confirmation for Catholic children attending non-Catholic schools as well as a class for interested non-Catholics. What sort of man was he? He was a very dedicated priest, but he did not try to be a crowd-pleaser. If you did something for the church you did it for God, not him, so thanks were in limited supply. He was a workaholic, an intellectual, he lived modestly, he treated everyone the same and was indifferent to position or wealth. He was very kind to the sick, bereaved and those in need. In matters of faith he seemed to be conservative but also showed a progressive side. When I was a neighbour in The Chesils he used to pass on to me a small monthly magazine which came from Dublin that advocated avant garde ideas such as priests living together in communities and bishops being appointed at the age of 40 to serve small dioceses. I suppose he liked to keep abreast of the latest ideas in the Church although he never personally advocated them. He loved the Latin Mass and said the Latin version of the new Mass once every Sunday. He announced his intention of setting up house masses and street wardens in the parish but this never came about. However before he left to retire and join his niece in Spain he held house masses in the parish for the various sodalities. His lasting monument is the church which is one of the most beautiful in Coventry. He was meticulous in selecting items and materials for the interior of the church and even ensured that the acoustics were excellent. He returned to this country in his old age to enter the priest’s home at Stone and made several visits to the parish before he died.
Monsignor Thomas Joseph Gavin, former Head Master of Cotton College Boys’ School in Staffordshire, was appointed Parish Priest, succeeding Fr Cleary, in 1978. Cotton College had been a junior seminary as well as a school and has formed many priests as well as lay men for the Archdiocese and beyond. He was Parish Priest from 1978 until 2004 when he retired. Mgr Gavin constructed the Margaret Roper Room, the well appointed church hall, and brought several items from Cotton to the church and grounds after it closed in 1987. Mgr Gavin was in his young days an international rugby player, and here the organiser of the Papal Mass of 1982 celebrated at Coventry airport by Pope St John Paul II, the director of the diocesan schools and the parish’s longest serving priest. He lived in the parish after his retirement in 2004, and continued to celebrate Mass in the parish until his death on Christmas morning, 2009. Much of Mgr Gavin’s life is charted here http://www.stmcov.org/monsignor-thomas-joseph-gavin in a homily for the reception of his body into St Thomas More Church, in January 2010. This homily was given by Fr Jonathan Veasey, who had lived and worked with Mgr Gavin for 9 years, whilst working for the Diocesan Department of Religious Education.
Monsignor Timothy Menezes, as he now is, arrived in succession to Mgr Gavin in 2004 after having been Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ secretary. He in turn played a great part in organising the 2010 Papal Mass at Cofton Park in Birmingham, celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 for the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman. Fr Tim left the parish on his appointment as Vicar General of the Archdiocese in 2011.
Fr Philip Gay came to the parish in 2011 from his work at the diocesan youth retreat centre at Alton Castle, Staffordshire. During his time the new school building was completed in 2014 and he left soon afterwards.
Fr Stephen Day, the sixth and current parish priest, was asked to come to the parish in January 2015 from St Anne’s, Nuneaton. He was a Catholic secondary school RE teacher both before and after ordination, and then spent fourteen years at St Anne’s. After at first feeling daunted at how best to attempt to fill the very big shoes left by several of his predecessors, he has got to know the parish and happily led the celebrations for our 75th anniversary year in 2018. Events included a Parish Mission led by the Sion Community, a Flower Festival, a pilgrimage to Rome, several celebration Masses, a barn dance or two, a film show and, we hope, a rediscovered sense of parish community and mission.
The pandemic of 2020 onwards has of course had a great impact upon the life of this parish, as it has upon all others and society in general. In September 2020 Fr Stephen was asked to become the parish priest also of St Joseph the Worker parish in Canley. It has been almost impossible to develop links properly between the two parishes over the first year, due to the constraints of the pandemic. St Joseph’s is a small church and its limited Covid-capacity means that it is nearly full each week with its onw parishioners with precious little spare room for others. As the situation eases, we hope to move forward in drawing closer and sharing between the two parishes.