A Brief History of St Monica’s Catholic Church, Wivenhoe from 1967 – 2003
Written to commemorate the rebuilding of the West Boundary Wall, June 2003.
Before St. Monica’s Church was built, Wivenhoe’s Catholics attended Mass at either St James’s Church in Colchester, the Church of St Sabina in Brightlingsea, St John’s Ambulance Hut, The Greyhound Public House or a room at the “Boys School” (the present Wivenhoe Library site). Mass was sometimes even celebrated in a small stable to the rear of the present church, which although it sounds a little unconventional, to my mind not inappropriate!
In 1908 the first Mass since the Reformation was said in Brightlingsea and just after the Second World War the priest began to travel from there to the old school in the Wivenhoe High St. to celebrate Mass.
With the population of the village growing so quickly in the 1960’s the provision of a Catholic Church was deemed desirable and on the 20th April 1967 this church building of St Monica’s, as we see it today, was formally opened by the Bishop. Currently about 90-100 people attend the 10.45am Sunday Mass.
The land upon which our church and gardens now stand once formed part of the Corsellis estate. Zegar Corsellis was an elder of the Dutch Church whose son, Nicholas the first, bought the manor of Wivenhoe in 1657.
Their family home, Wivenhoe Hall, stood at the North End of what is now known to us as the King George V Playing Fields and within its boundaries were a stable block (at the rear of our church) a summer house (which in the mid 1950’s became the site for the present Congregational Church) and a kitchen garden, upon which St Monica’s now stands. The estate gardener lived in the house opposite the church on the left of Cedric’s Garage forecourt.
The family name of Nicholas Caesar Corsellis remained popular and the kitchen garden wall – which we celebrate the rebuilding of today – contains a plaque bearing the initials NCC 1834.
In 1925 Wivenhoe Hall nearly burnt down and eventually in 1927 it was demolished. The land was purchased for £750.00 and in 1935 the George V Playing Fields were opened. We were to wait for a further 32 years to realise our own dreams and plans.
Our present church is constructed mainly of cedar wood. Fr. Michael Butler, our priest at that time, dedicated the railings and Millennium Gates at the front boundary in July 2000. The maintenance of the building and its surroundings is supervised by the Church Committee who rely on the physical and financial support of the congregation.
A structural survey undertaken in 2001 informed us that the western boundary brick wall was considered to be unsafe and would therefore have to be demolished. Today, 13th June 2003 we are celebrating it’s rebuilding by a local builder Mr Frost, who was able to utilise most of the original bricks.
St Monica’s Church has literally been a Godsend. Its congregation has also been blessed with the parish priests who have faithfully continued their journeys from Brightlingsea to Wivenhoe over the years to tend to their pastoral needs. Our current parish priest Fr. Martin Boland lives in the presbytery at Brightlingsea and is also responsible to parishioners of St Sabina’s Church as well as the church at Great Bentley. Add to this his work as chaplain at the University of Essex and we realise the amount that we have come to expect from our priests. They all have given unstintingly and as a parish we continue not only to thank them but also to pray for them and hope that we play our part by providing our support and encouragement now and in the future.
Much of above information was given by local residents and some taken from various books including Nicholas Butler’s ”History of Wivenhoe” for which I give all of them full credit.