Our Lady Immaculate, Tolworth

 Key Dates

  • Completed: 1958
  • First Mass celebrated 25th March
  • Consecrated: 31st May 1963

[Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood (1Pet.2:5)]

 Building a Parish

On the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Friday, September 8th 2006, Archbishop Kevin McDonald dedicated the new altar at the church of Our Lady Immaculate in Tolworth. It was an impressive and joyful ceremony, and, for the majority of those who witnessed it, the first time they had seen what happens when a new altar is dedicated into liturgical use.

From its earliest beginnings, the parish at Tolworth has been remarkable for its character as a joint effort, the production not only of energetic and determined parish priests but also of a dedicated congregation, generous not just in times of prosperity as now, but in earlier years of considerable hardship.

In 1933 Fr Redding (the parish priest at St Raphael’s, Surbiton) was given responsibility for the formation of a new parish in Tolworth and in 1934 he left St Raphael’s and became the full-time rector of Our Lady Immaculate parish. It was he who persuaded the Archbishop to dedicate the parish to Our Lady Immaculate.

In 1934 the diocese bought 401, Ewell Road as a presbytery. The adjoining no. 403, with a piece of land alongside, was bought in November 1939. The first building to appear on it was the Catholic Hall, built in 1934 by Oliver & Sons, which served as a Mass Centre and Community Hall and was eventually to become part of the primary school buildings. It could seat between 150-200 people and was used on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for Mass (first celebrated in September 1934) and Sunday Evening Service. A small altar was set in an alcove, which could be screened-off with a roller-shutter when not in use and the Blessed Sacrament was removed to the Presbytery on weekdays. During the week the Hall was rented out for badminton and other social functions, to raise money for a church and school. On April 26th 1936 the Catholic Hall was registered for marriages.

In 1936 the parishioners started building a small chapel, at the side of the Presbytery. This chapel cost about £100 to build and the first Mass was said in it on December 8th 1936 with 50 people attending. From then on the Blessed Sacrament was reserved and daily Mass said in the Chapel. The volunteers however continued to work hard as the plans for the chapel became more ambitious. The final plan was for a building 39ft. by 18ft 6ins ‘complete with sacristy, electric light and probably central heating’. This was achieved with the hard work and devotion of the volunteers and the generosity of the people of the parish. Before it was completed, Fr Redding observed that the five hundred-odd people who passed each week by the chapel were filled with admiration at the thought of its being built by voluntary labour. Now OLI, even without a church building, was establishing itself as a visible part of Surbiton society and it had now, in Fr Redding’s view, become a real community with a sense of itself.

During the war years all projects for expansion had to be halted and although the congregation of OLI Tolworth was increasing, it had to fit itself somehow into the small chapel, where Sunday Masses were celebrated at 8.00, 9.30 and 11am.

A new church

In 1953 Fr Redding wrote that Bishop’s House had been approached on the matter of building a new church in Tolworth and that there did seem the possibility of starting ‘before many more years have elapsed.’ There was a widespread shortage of money, labour and materials and the re-provision of housing understandably took precedence over other building projects. Fr Redding was justified, however, in his belief that work on the church of Our Lady Immaculate would begin before many more years had elapsed. It had been a period of severe austerity following the war and much rebuilding was necessary.

In 1958, Our Lady Immaculate Church was completed at a cost of £60,000, of which £42,000 had been raised throughout the district over a period of 22 years. The fundraising schemes that had been so successful for the building of the small chapel were put into effect for the new church, which was to be the biggest new church in the deanery. A paper collection was held once a month, and besides all the schemes, covenants, bazaars and so on, there was one that would provide a monument to the generosity of OLI parishioners for as long as the church itself stands. Individuals or families would buy a brick for 5 shillings, on which their names were inscribed. The bricks paid for in this way were placed in the east wall of the church, behind the high altar. The names of the first parish members are thus literally enshrined in the very fabric of the building, as is Edmund Redding’s, on a memorial plaque below the organ loft.

The first Mass was celebrated on 25th March, the Feast of the Annunciation, with a congregation of 1,200. Father Redding was the celebrant. The church was consecrated on 31st May 1963.

The story of OLI church and parish is to a significant extent the story of change. Various adversities have stood in the way of the building of our church and school, but they were eventually overcome by perseverance, particularly that of Edmund Redding and his parishioners. Since that time, different challenges have arisen, calling for energies less obviously heroic, but just as necessary: the power of discernment as to what needs to be said and done and what does not, what must at all costs be preserved, and what may be allowed to fade away. All of us, including our priests, are inclined to get this wrong at times and to believe that the words we say in the name of Christianity are sent from God, when in fact they are only our ideas and our feelings. The Church is not a collection of opinions, however wise; it is Christ’s body, given for all humanity. It is not what we believe in, but what we are. As Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master of the Dominican order, has written:

“….the Church is not interesting for its own sake. There will be no church once the Kingdom comes…. When we are baptised into the Church, it is not so that the Church gets bigger and increases, as people say, its share of the market. It is so that we may be a better sign of the unity of humanity.”

Throughout its eventful fifty years, OLI has had a great deal to be proud of and there is every reason to think that the parish will continue to flourish in ways that we cannot anticipate. In the future it may well be that the parish structure we are used to will no longer exist; social lives, as well as professional lives, are now formed according to quite different lines from those of our parochial experience. The Mass and the sacraments continue to be at the heart of everything that Catholics do, and these are not confined to any one building. The fruits of the Eucharist are not found primarily in the forming of parish groups, useful though these often are, but in the way that we are, out in the world at large. In every age we surely need to take seriously the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks to all creation, not just to the people we think have “got it right” in religious terms. To quote Timothy Radcliffe again:

…the only clear thing that the Bible tells us about the future of the Church is that it has one. Matt.28.20 Behold I am with you until the end of time.

The old order changeth, yielding place to new
And God fulfils himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.