If those responsible for the welfare of SFX thought that the end of the Second World War would be followed by a period of calm and relaxation, they were in for a shock. The Rector received a letter informing him that a new hospital was to be built in the Shaw Street area. This went on to say: “This site included the land upon which is now erected St Francis Xavier’s Church.” The church, which had survived German Air-raids, was now under threat from British planners. Rumours were flying around the parish about the imminent destruction of SFX and the Rector spoke at all Masses on January 6th 1946 in an attempt to put parishioner in the picture. The rector said that, as Christians, they could hardly stand in the way of the erection of a hospital which would benefit the sick, “The charity of Christ urges us.” As a result, he had agreed to co-operate in negotiations to decide upon a new site for SFX. The parishioners were devastated at the thought of losing their beautiful old church and many prayers were offered that something would happen to prevent this coming about. And so it came to pass. A labour government was elected, the original plans were scrapped and a new hospital site was chosen. SFX was saved.

The church had escaped the demolition hammers but it could not avoid the consequences of the Second World War. On the evening of January 6th 1948, a heavy plaster panel crashed down on to the benches below. Fortunately, there were few people in the church at the time and no one was injured. It would have been very serious if the accident had happened during a busy Mass. And examination showed that the church roof had been lifted, probably by the blast from the land-mine explosion. In addition, the upper walls were out of alignment. So the main body of the church was not able to be used until months of extensive repairs had been carried out.

The view from Islington - Salisbury Street
Brother Mulligan and the Altar staff of the 1960's

 

In the period following the Second World War and into the 1950s, SFX continued to be a thriving and well attended church. Each Sunday there were Masses at 7 am, 8 am, 9am, 10 am and 11 am. Two masses took place simultaneously at 8 am. A school mass was held in the main church which was filled with children, while the nuns and teachers walked up down the aisles, and a Mass for adults was held in the Sodality Chapel. Confessions were on Saturday night, starting at 6 pm and finishing at 10 pm, with eight boxes in use. Billy Thistlewood, a sacristan of SFX recalls those days: “Saturday nights were very busy indeed and you’d have people rushing up from the shops in town to get confession. Every bench was full. We used to have monthly Xaverian magazine which used to cost a penny and, if you sold a dozen, you’d get a penny commission, I used to be in the porch with about twelve dozen and I’d sell all of them on Saturday night.”

 

All seven altars were in use: the Sacred Heart, the Main Altar, and the sodality, St Joseph’s, Bona Mors and the Domestic Altar. The Domestic Altar was above the sacristy and was for the use of the Jesuit community.

For much of its 150 years, SFX church has been blessed to have the service of dedicated altar boys and, in the period following the war, there were basically three teams giving a total of twenty one boys. It was an honour to be an altar boy. At the Sunday High Mass they wore red cassocks, Eton collars, red bows and white gloves. During the week, the church day began at 6:30am with the ringing of the Angelus and the first Mass was a 5 minutes to seven. All altars were full. There were further Masses at 7.30 am and 8 am which gave the college Fathers time to have breakfast before going into College. Attendance at Mass was still high. On the first four Sundays of Lent 1950, a combined total of 13,613 people attended Mass. By the standards of the 1990s, these figures are staggering; three and a half thousand at Mass each Sunday. Significantly, the 9 am Children’s Mass attracted an attendance of one thousand!