It is worth recalling the events at St Francis Xavier's on the very last day of the nineteenth century. It was a day of great drama and excitement, underlining the importance of St Francis Xavier's in the lives of so many people at that time. A special Mass was being said at midnight and huge crowds arrived at the church. So vast was the crowd that the gates had to be closed an hour before the commencement of the Mass. As the clock struck twelve, Father Hayes began the Missa Cantata and the choir burst forth with the "Deus tibi laus et gloria" to carry St Francis Xavier's and its people into the twentieth century.

 

Those who ran SFX were well aware of the many moral dangers which faced their young parishioners and it was their intention to provide wholesome activities which would be useful, uplifting and stimulating. It was a wide and ambitious range of interests which they offered: musical evenings, lectures, cricket, football, swimming and drama. And, of course, all the various guilds organized their own trips and excursion. SFX’s reputation for performing ceremonies of religion with splendour and majesty was widespread over Merseyside. A church as grand and successful as SFX required a considerable amount of money to keep it so and, in this, the church was lucky to have such dedicated helpers. In 1890, the debt on the church was £6400 and £1800 on the Sodality Chapel; a combined total of £8200. By April 1900, this had been reduced to £4234. This was due entirely to outdoor collectors and subscribers.

The parishioners of SFX have traditionally loved the ‘Quarant Ore’, forty hours of devotions in church. In 1906, the High Altar looked particularly magnificent and this was due to the hard work and artistry of the sacristan, Brother Shaw. He became sacristan in 1892 and held the position for forty five years. He loved his vestments, his chalices and especially forty hours. Describing the 1906 display, a writer in the Xaverian said: “Looking up the centre aisle the first thing to catch the eye was the Heart, the centre of which was filled with red flowers, bordered with flowers of various tints. The picture of an artist, the continuation of the flowers and the wavy lines of rays of the candles from the heart to the foot of the throne were sublime.” The dedicated service that was willingly given to SFX by its sacristan, Brother Shaw, cannot be over estimated. He is remembered in a stained glass window above the choir loft steps.

St Francis Xavier's Church


It is fitting that, within the first two years if the new century, electric lights were installed in the church. When the lights were first switched on, the congregation were amused, although Father Hayes was not, as odd lights were going on and off during the service. The electricians were called back and told, in no uncertain manner, to sort the problem out. When all the lights were working properly the church was very brightly illuminated. This, however, only served to draw attention to the fact the roof and much of the stonework were in need of a thorough cleaning; this was done in 1905.

One of the many beautiful patterns on the vestments at SFX

The church clubs and guilds were well patronized and the Jesuits continued their efforts to improve the quality of parishioners’ social lives as well as caring for their spiritual needs. In relation to the latter, a letter written by an unknown hand in 1913 underlines the great fervour of the congregation at SFX.

The writer went on to express his astonishment that five hundred worshippers would attend Mass so early in the morning. He concluded his note by vowing to look into the teachings of the Catholic Church!

When the First World War started in 1914, it is not surprising that there were many volunteers from the SFX parish. In December of that year, a report in the Liverpool Daily Post stated: “In the current number of the Xaverian appears a list of the members of the parish SFX who are now serving in His Majesty’s services. The list compromises about 750 names which must be something of a record for one particular parish. As might be expected, the great majority of names are distinctly Irish and it is not surprising to find tat the unit with the biggest Xaverian membership is he 8 th Irish battalion of the King’s Liverpool regiment.”