Church of St Francis of Assisi, Ely
The History of our parishes, is not an ancient one.
After the First World War there was a need for a considerable housing development in Cardiff and Ely was the largest area scheduled for local authority building. By the year 1926 the Catholic population had increased considerably and Archbishop Mostyn decided to build a Church Hall to cater more fully for the spiritual needs of the people. Before the establishment of St. Francis’ Pariah the Ely District was served from St. Mary’s, Canton. Fr. Anthony Barnett OSB used travel to offer Holy Mass in the Dining Hall at Ely Homes, which came to be known as Ely Hospital.
The Parish of St. Francis began in 1927, in a building which was also used as a Church Hall on the site of what is now St. Francis Infant School. In October 1928 the foundation stone of the permanent school was laid and sometime in 1929 it was opened.
It was often only with hardship, or at great effort that the congregation could gather for worship, but make the sacrifices they did. For the people living especially in Fairwater and the lower part of Ely, the journey to Mass was quite a walk. It was when the children were brought together that a clear picture of the strength of the Parish began, many of the Altar servers lived in the loser part of Ely and Sunday was a full day starting with 8.00 am Low Mass, 11.00am High Mass, 3.00pm Children’s Benediction and 6.30pm Rosary, Sermon and Benediction.
The present church was built in the late 1950’s on land given by Doctor Meredith, a local doctor whose home and surgery was what is now the present presbytery, or Parish Priest’s residence.
The church was opened on April 19th 1960 and is a listed building because its concrete structure is typical of the era in which it was built, On the outside wall of St. Francis Church beside the door, is a sculpture by David John depicting St. Francis of Assisi looking up at Jesus on the cross, reminiscent of the vision at San Damiano when St. Francis was asked by Christ to restore the Church, thus prompting the start of the Franciscan Order.
A more conventional statue of St. Francis can be seen inside the church near the main entrance. This statue was purchased to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II to this country in 1982. A Crucifix was erected in the far corner of the car park at the same time and for the same reason.
You may be interested in reading more about the inside St Francis church.
Church of St Clare
The Parish of St. Francis began in 1927, in a building which was also used as a Church Hall on the site of what is now St. Francis Infant School, but it was often only with hardship, or at great effort that the congregation could gather for worship. Parishioners in Lower Ely and in Fairwater especially, were faced with a long walk uphill in order to get to Holy Mass.
Eventually a small, disused Presbyterian Chapel in Mill Road was acquired and used as a Mass Centre for these Catholics. This became the first St Clare’s Church, served from St. Francis. In the 1930’s St. Clare’s became a parish in its own right, covering Ely, Fairwater, part of Llandaff, Radyr and Morganstown.
In October. 1937, the foundations for a new church were laid by Archbishop Mostyn. The following year saw the church and a residence for the Parish Priest, completed, the original Chapel being sold off. The 1950’s saw the development of a large housing estate in Fairwater which resulted in the parish of The Holy Family being established in 1964 to serve the increasing Catholic population in Fairwater, Radyr and Morganstown.
As time passed the condition of the original St. Clares church deteriorated until it was decided that the building was beyond repair. The Parish Hall became the new venue for the celebration of Holy Mass.
By 1989 the number of active Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese was such that it was no longer possible for St Francis and St Clare’s to have separate Parish Priests and so it became necessary that they share one priest between both parishes.
The present Parish Priest resides next door to St. Francis’ Church on Cowbridge Road West, in a house that at one time was the Surgery and home of Dr. John Meredith, who had donated the land that the present St Francis Church is built on.
The dual use of St Clare’s, of their building as both church and hall, proved increasingly unsatisfactory, In 1993 it was decided that the hail should he refurbished and become the parish church.
While work wis being carried out the congregation were able to use St. Davids Church on Cowbridge Road West for the celebration of Holy Mass, through the kindness of the Anglican Minister of the time, Canon Buttimore. who had always been friendly with the local Catholic clergy With the work completed, the first Mass was offered in the present church on August 1lth, the Feast of St Clare. 1995. The church was consecrated by His Grace. John’ Aloysius Ward, Archbishop of Cardiff, on May 28 1996.
The church of St Clare was closed in July, 2016. The land is in the process of being sold to a housing association who will build flats.
Building of the church hall
Text from the Welsh Catholic Times of Friday, July 14th, 1939:
“Parishioners in the Parish of St. Clare’s, Ely, are now busily engaged in building a new parish hall, all by voluntary labour. The picture above shows the work in progress. Fr. P. McBrearty, parish priest of St. Clare’s, is the fourth from the left, and his brother, the Rev. Benedict McBrearty, is the third.
“At a meeting of the men of the parish, held on the first Sunday in May, it was decided, his Grace the Archbishop of Cardiff having given his approval, to build a new hall. which would be of great benefit to the parish, as the old church hail was far too small. There was considerable difficulty in the beginning to remove the soil away from the proposed site, as nearly 120 tons had to be taken away. Nearly every man and boy in the parish buckled to, and in a short time the soil was cleared away and the site was ready for the foundations. Every hour of work was given voluntarily by the men and boys of the parish. Since then the work has progressed very favourably, and it is hoped that in a couple of months or so the hall will be ready for the opening ceremony.”
Cutting from the South Wales Echo and Express of Thursday, April 11, 1940
“St. Clares Roman Catholic Hall, Ely, Cardiff was built by the volunteer labour of the men in this group. In the centre of the front row are the local priests, the Rev. Fathers Patrick and Benedict McBrearty.”
We think the far right on the front row is Tom Ballard, of Mill Road. Does anyone know who any of the others are?
“The Rev. R. Jennings opened the new R.C church-hall at Mill-road, Ely, yesterday. This hail was erected entirely by voluntary labour. Left to right: Rev. P. McBrearty, Rev. R. Jennings, and Rev. D. McBrearty.”