The period leading up to 1914 had been a great one for SFX. The Jesuits and parishioners could look back with pride on almost seventy years during which the church had been of inestimable value to the Catholics of Liverpool. After the First World War, however, things were never quite the same. SFX was still an important and successful church but a slow decline was affecting many of the church’s activities. The Boy’s Guild provides a perfect illustration of one of the major effects of the changes brought about by the war. The guild had been a very valuable part of the church life since its founding by the Rector, Father George Porter, in 1867. It became even more successful as a result of Father Maher’s reorganization in the 70s and, ten years later, the Boy’s Guild had the great fortune to come under the leadership of Father Thomas. He was a priest with the great gift of being able to inspire the young. The boys loved him. The guild went from strength to strength and their jubilee feast in the college hall on November 17th 1892 was a great success “when 300 of the guild sat down at well filled tables.”

Architect's drawing of St Francis Xavier's College

The entrance to the Jesuit Community House

 

During the early years of the twentieth century the guild gave concerts at SFX and entertained all over Lancashire and Cheshire, raising money for charity. In April 1914, the Xaverian was able to announce that “the Boys’ Guild is steadily increasing both in the number of members and in the numbers of attendances at the meetings on Sunday and Wednesday.” The outbreak of war inevitably brought this success story to halt. The guild’s most influential officers left to join up and greater responsibility was placed on the boys and their parents. The guild, however, had suffered a serious blow from which it would never recover. When the war ended and some of the officers returned, they came home to a different world. The Xaverian of March 1921 commented sadly: “The good and conscientious parents see that their boys still remain active members of the guild but the director would like to bring home to the rest the gravity of recognizing their responsibilities towards their children.” The Guild, said Father Ryan in his centenary history, was dying “because the appreciation of things spiritual had lost the sensitiveness in the home.” The effects if the war, with its terrible casualties and social upheavals, were being felt within the parish as much as anywhere in the nation.

 

The years following the First World War were difficult years for Britain culminating in the General Strike of 1926. The depression and huge unemployment continued until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and had a considerable effect upon the fortunes of SFX and its people. The church had been built in the then fashionable district of Everton in 1848. It was attended mainly by people who had the dual advantages of money and education. In 1852, the congregation of SFX was sophisticated enough to be able to listen to, and understand, a sermon preached in French. During the next twenty years, however, the parish underwent drastic changes as great numbers of working class Irish Catholics flooded into Liverpool and settled. It is difficult, though, to establish just how Irish it made the parish. Houses, often of very poor quality, were built to accommodate this new population. One result of this was that, by 1924, that fashionable district of Everton had become a predominantly working class area. Not surprisingly then, it was the working class who bore the brunt of the hardships which the Depression brought in its wake.

The Jesuits at SFX were fully aware of the destructive effects of the bad housing and unemployment. In 1927, Father Magee opened a Women and Girls’ Club at 59 Shaw Street. It was felt that this kind of organisation was an effective way of supporting women, who were themselves, central to the well-being of the family, especially during times of economic hardship.