History of Our Parish

By the 18th century, Reading was a rarity among the small towns of southern England (along with Winchester & Havant) in that it had a Catholic congregation. The faith had been kept alive by the landed families and through the ministry of French priests.

The local Catholic families were the 'Englefields', who had a residence at White Knights and the 'Wheble' family at Bulmershe. The former left the area in 1780, but before leaving, Sir Harry Englefield founded and Endowment for a permanent mission, (as the parishes were then known) and so the first parish in Reading dates from that year.

From 1794 the mission was serviced by five French priests who, during the unrest in France, came to live there. One, Abbe de la Balardiere, became the chaplain of the Wheble family. The Catholics of the area were then able to attend Mass at the chapel on the Bulmershe estate.

Soon plans were well under way to open the church at St James. It was built in the grounds of the ruined Reading Abbey. This ground was owned by James Wheble and the church was built almost entirely at his expense. The foundation was laid on 14th December 1837 and the church opened in August 1840, two weeks after his death.

St James remained the only church in Reading to the beginning of this century. In 1904 Canon Le Grave built St William of York in Upper Redlands Road (though this remained part of St James' parish). Priests from St James said Mass in a variety of places (in this area in the 1940's) These included St Peter's church hall and the old cricket pavilion in church road (where, first you had to clear away the beer glasses left from the previous Saturday night!).

In 1946 St James' parish was divided up to make the new parishes of St William of York, St John Bosco in Woodley and Christ the King in Northumberland Avenue.

After living in various digs, Fathers Lane & Donnelly (serving St John Bosco and St William of York respectively) purchased a house in Whiteknights Road and Father Lane said Masses in the 'Long room' there for the people of Earley. Father Lane soon built, with the aid of volunteer labour, a church in Woodley and then (as there was serious talk at the time of combining Woodley and Earley with St William of York) on the land here at Earley crossroads (with a view to it becoming the focal point of both parishes).

In 1965 the Earley Catholic Church Development Society was formed. Its aim, to build a church as a pre-requisite to the formation of an Earley parish. Its task, to raise the funds to do so. This it proceeded to do by membership subscriptions and a system of lettings to the hall, together with bazaars, fetes and whist drives etc

Despite these efforts however, in 1970 the Diocese decided that the Earley area with its church hall and activities would be joined with St William of York. This only lasted two years, for following a Diocesan Boundary Commission recommendation in 1972. Earley was finally made into a separate parish of its own and so the parish of Our Lady of Peace was 'born'.

Fr Vincent Flanagan was appointed parish priest and, after taking up temporary residence in Our Lady's Hostel in Wokingham road, he moved to a flat in St Peter's road, until eventually a house was bought in Aldbourne Avenue.

In 1975 the foundations of the church were laid and finally in 1976 the church opened ... 24 years after Mass was first said in the hall.

Fr Flanagan was succeeded by Fr Quinn in 1983, Fr Quinn in 1985 by Fr Codd and changes were once more in the wind. The very large development at Lower Earley was well advanced and so the diocese decided to split the parish in two. A house was bought in Sawtry Close and Fr Codd left to build up the new parish, while Fr Alan Griffiths came here. The new parish in Lower Earley was named Blessed Dominic Barberi. Later Fr Vincent Convery replaced Fr Alan Griffiths in 1987.

In 1990 the two halves were once more 'made whole' and the parish of 'Our Lady of Peace & Blessed Dominic Barberi' came into being.

As the parish moved into the new Millennium. Fr Eamon Walsh who was the parish priest from 1993 to 2004, was a pivotal influence in a new extension which was added onto the front of the church. This has given more space at the busy times and more flexibility for courses and meetings. The new room was opened in 2003 and was officially named 'The Advent Room'.

Since then Fr Shaun Budden was our parish priest from 2004 to 2006 and he has been succeeded by Fr Anthony Ikhenoba from the Archdiocese Of Kaduna in Nigeria. Fr Anthony was studying at Reading University as well as taking the role of parish priest and his bishop gave permission for him to remain with us until 2011. In 2011 we were fortunate to be loaned Fr Emmanuel Odoemene and this loan has been made permanent for the forseable future.

The priests who have in the past added their own styles of ministry to our parish and who have helped us to formulate and grow into the community we are now. A universal church essentially grounded in core Catholic values, but one that has grown & changed with the dynamics of the priests, clergy & parishioners, entwined with the Holy Spirit. May we all continue to grow in faith with each other.

With such a chequered history you can see why we write of 'official' boundaries and why we strive to maintain links with all our neighbouring parishes, including the University Chaplaincy. During his time as the University Chaplain Fr Terry Burke was also a regular celebrant of Masses in the parish. We are now part of the Reading Pastoral Area, working with our neighbouring parishes of Christ the King, St John Bosco William of York, and the Reading Parishes of St James', English Martyrs, St Joseph's and Our Lady and St Annes. Over time we will build closer links with these parishes so that our resources can be best used to develop the Kingdom of God in our area.

Copyright Our Lady of Peace & Blessed Dominic Barberi.
All rights reserved. Revised: 15 September 2013