By the middle of the 1880's, the St Francis Xavier's choir had a huge reputation. They gave a series of weekly concerts which were always played to capacity audiences and the singing at the various Masses was judged to be sublime.

 


In June 1885, they gave the first British performance of Gounod’s ‘Messe Solennelle du Paque’ with fifty voices supported by a thirty piece orchestra. The local press was ecstatic: “The music was beautiful and the Mass was unanimously pronounced to be the finest musical effort produced, even at SFX. At both services, the ‘Ave Maria’ was rendered with thrilling effect by the talented soprano of the choir, Madame Laura Haworth. After the evening sermon there was a solemn procession of the children’s guilds, the girls being wreathed and in white veils and both boys and girls wearing the coloured sashes of their respective confraternities.” These were thrilling occasions at SFX and the rector, Father Murphy, was justly proud of his great choir. Yet, they went on from strength to strength. On May 22nd 1887, they performed Beethoven’s Mass in D, one of the most difficult ever composed. From the plaintive opening movement of the Kyrie to the striking movement of the Dona Nobis, they uncovered the beauties of Beethoven’s work. Such was the fame of SFX’s choir that the Xaverian of June 1888 contained the following unforgettable lines: “The choir is a credit to the church and draws hundreds of Protestants to hear the truths of our holy religion.”

 

Bona Mors Altar

 

Despite the fame of the choir, concern was expressed about the cost of its upkeep and, in 1890, to widespread dismay, it was replaced by a choir of unpaid volunteers under the direction of Mr. Hodson. To be fair to the new choir, however, although they failed, understandably, to reach the heights of their predecessors, they grew in stature and became a fine choir. As the fiftieth anniversary approached, work was undertaken to improve the exterior of the church. Four new notice boards were erected and the job of pointing the tower was completed while the Corporation helped by removing the cobblestones from Langsdale Street and replacing them with oblong sets.

St Joseph's Altar


During the year of 1898, the altars were cleaned and the church generally underwent a through renovation. The biggest job was the removal of the wall which separated the Sodality Chapel from the main body of the church. The Jubilee celebrations began with Solemn Benediction on December 3rd 1898. The church was full but there was no sermon as it was Saturday and the priests were attending their confessionals. Jubilee day had been postponed to the 11th at the request of the Bishop. It was a fine clear December day and the church looked beautiful. Father Nicholas Ryan describes it graphically: “The church had been tastefully decorated by a large number of willing skilful hands. The walls between the windows of the apse were covered with red velvet edged with gold bullion lace, the corbels of the three arches bearing shields, on each of which was one of the letters AMDG. But the High Altar was left in its pure beauty; except for six candles it bore little decoration. Above them rose three arches of candles and above them, three baskets of chrysanthemums joined by festoons of the same beautiful flowers. Similar baskets hung from the keystone of each of the fourteen nave arches and three others from the rooftop were also flanked by festoons, Just at 11 am, Bishop Mostyn of Menevia, the celebrant, entered the church vested for Mass, accompanied his assistants. Immediately, the strains of the Ecce Sacerdos called attention to the entrance of the Bishop if Liverpool, the Right Reverend Doctor Whiteside, with his attendant clergy. The High Mass began forthwith.”

Our Lady of St Francis Xavier's

The church thronged from altar rails and beyond to the porches; even the side chapels were full. Old and present parishioners gathered together to the Glory of Almighty God and St Francis Xavier. Father Bernard Vaughan preached a moving sermon and “brought tears to the eyes and quickened the pulse of every hearer and made us feel near and how dear our glorious patron was to us.” This memorable day was brought close with Vespers and a touching sermon from Monsignor Nugent. The Boys’ Guild and the Guild of St Agnes took part in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, watched by a congregation which filled every nook and cranny of the vast building.


As the nineteenth century drew to a close, St Francis Xavier’s church was in a healthy condition. As always, the church provided a wide range of activities for its parishioners. There was the sisterhood of the Children of Mary, guilds for men, boys and girls, the Apostleship of Prayer, the third order of St Francis, the Living Rosary and the confraternities of the Immaculate Conception, Bona Mors, St Vincent de Paul and the Holy Family. These various organisations were far reaching in their influence on parishioners of all ages and they flourished.