On May 19th 1853, the choir was accompanied by a full orchestra and the church was full to capacity, with many people traveling long distances to hear them sing. It was at this time that the choir gained two new members: Kate Santley and her brother, Charles, who was to become one of Britain’s finest opera singers. He made his first appearance in London in 1857 and was a huge success at Convent Garden in the opera “Dinorah” in 1859. He later became Sir Charles Santley. An unknown parishioner wrote of that time: “I was back in spirit in Liverpool and in St Francis Xavier’s church as II remembered it in 1852. What took me there? A voice – one voice – which we then possessed and which numbered in its quite perfect quartet Charles Santley and his sister.”

 

The pulpit dedicated to the memory of Father West, the builder and original Clerk of Works of the Church.

The choir of St Francis Xavier’s was also paid and, to meet this expense, special sermons were preached and the choir sang on special fund raising nights. Church records tell us that one such occasion took place in May 1854: “The Annual Choir Day of the Church of St Francis Xavier will be on Sunday next when your liberal support will be solicited to defray the expenses of the choir. A sermon will be preached in the morning by Reverend Father Sumner and by the Reverend Father Grant in the evening. Haydn’s Grand Mass No 2 will be performed by the choir with full orchestra. Silver will be expected on admission to the nave and the tribune of the Lady Chapel.”

On October 26th 1851, His Lordship the right Reverent Doctor Conoz delivered his sermon in French! The pulpit, which stands in the church today and which is so widely admired for its beauty, was erected before 1856 and was occupied by all the great Catholic preachers of the day. It is made with stone from Caen in France. Appropriately, it is dedicated to the memory of Father West, the builder and original Clerk of Works of the church. It was paid for with money raised through collections begun by Father Richard Sumner, himself a great orator. The inscription on the pulpit reads: “Arguere, obsecra, increpa” meaning “Reprove, entreat, rebuke” and is taken from St Paul’s epistle to Timothy: “Preach the work, be instant in season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” Paul’s instructions have been carried out eloquently. By 1856 there were plenty if people at whom to preach at St Francis Xavier’s. The Catholic population of Liverpool continued to increase during the middle of the nineteenth century due mainly to the arrival of large numbers of Irish Catholics driven out of Ireland by the potato famine.


Thanks to Nathanial Caine, we have a reasonably accurate idea of the total number of parishioners who attended the various Masses each Sunday at St Francis Xavier’s in 1855. The figure was 2789; quite remarkable in view of the fact that the church had only been in existence for seven years. Caine’s figures for the other Catholic churches in Liverpool were: St Patrick’s 7632, St Anthony’s 7042, St Mary’s 5827, St Nicholas’ 3995, St Joseph’s 3726, St Peter’s 3048, St Augustine’s 2308, St Alban’s 1879, Holy Cross 1852, St Anne’s 1494, St Vincent’s 1481 and St Philip Neri’s 1003. With such numbers attending Catholic churches, it comes as no surprise to learn that St Francis Xavier’s was full to capacity for its first ever Midnight Mass on December 25th 1858. Admission was by ticket only and many parishioners were unable to get in.

 

The pulpit decorated with flowers at a flower festival
On Sunday, January 15th 1859, a meeting was held in the college Assembly Room after Mass to discuss the many complaints which had been received about the lack of heating in the church. On the following Sunday, the decision was announced that: “Each person holding a bench or seat or sitting in the church, shall contribute one quarter’s rent towards the expense of laying down the warming apparatus and, during the month of February, the admission fee to the aisles be threepence and, the nave, sixpence and that each of the clergy shall subscribe as much as the entire bench holders. It is hoped that no one will begrudge or seek to avoid the contribution required for the warming apparatus which will yield comfort to the poor as much as to the rich.”
Drawing of SFX in 1873

As has been stated, the High Altar was not ready for the opening of the church in December 1848, although a design for it existed thanks to Mr. Scoles, the church’s architect. It was not installed until the end of 1856 and was used for the first time at 10am on December 3rd, the feast of St Francis Xavier. A temporary altar had been in use for the previous eight years and we are fortunate to be able to read a description sent by an unknown parishioner from that period: “I remember a wooden altar which, with varnish and gutta-percha enrichments, was, to my youthful eye, something lovely."

The new altar which was paid for by the Withnell family, was, and is, breathtakingly beautiful. The central tabernacle is flanked on each side by a reredos containing two designs in high relief and statues of St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier are crowned by pinnacles.”