When Father Dukes became Rector in 1937, he continued these praiseworthy efforts to combat the social problems which beset the parish. He felt that the time was right to re-establish the Association of the Ladies of Charity which had last operated at SFX in 1878. Like the Brotherhood of St Vincent de Paul, it was an organisation devoted to giving practical help to those in need. In 1938, Father Dukes also set up a Catholic Advisory Bureau at SFX. The aim of this new body was “To advise and help people, free of charge, irrespective of creed, in the thousand and one difficulties of life.” These “difficulties of life” often left people feeling utterly confused and unable to cope and the bureau gave sympathetic hearing and, wherever possible, effective help. The following examples show just how effective the Catholic Advisory Bureau’s help could be. A young woman injured her hand in factory machinery and was offered £70 compensation. She was brought by her mother to talk to the Bureau of SFX and was put in touch with a local solicitor who happily took up her case. In just two weeks, he had obtained compensation on £720 for the injured girl. He gave her good advice on the investment of the money including a £50 investment in the factory where she had been injured. He also obtained a guarantee from the firm that her job would be kept open until she was fit enough to return to work.

Aerial shot of SFX Parish (Church is circled)
View from behind the Church after the May Blitz


Not all Father Duke’s attempts to tackle social problems of the parish me with such success. General indiscipline and lack of respect for authority had been on the increase since the end of the First World War and, in an effort to keep the children of the parish off the streets at night, he introduced a curfew. The Xaverian reacted enthusiastically with the following comments: “The schoolteachers will be delighted for a child that hasn’t sufficient sleep, has a dull brain. We priests will be delighted because we know what harm can come to both body and soul of a child that plays or loiters in the street of alley late at night. And we can well believe that even a policeman will pace his street with a jauntier and lightsome step when he hears the curfew ring.” At 8 pm each evening the church bell would ring and the children of the parish would file into church for prayers before going home to bed.

 

Initially it was very successful; on the first night no less that three thousand children packed themselves into SFX. The national press were on hand to record this remarkable scene and the news made headlines in the USA. It was a success, though, which was not to last. Less that a year after the first amazing night, the number of children present in church when the curfew bell rang had dwindled to ten.