From 1953, the Rosminians at St Marie’s began celebrating Mass for Catholics in Bilton in a variety of premises. A church was built and a parish established in 1959. It was taken over from the Rosminians and a diocesan priest appointed to the parish the following year.
The parish priests have been as follows:
Mgr Bernard Navin 1960-1965
Fr Edward Kirner 1965-1979
Fr Alec McGavin 1979-1982
Fr Paul Chamberlain 1982-2002
Fr Joe Mullen IC 2002-2007
Fr Ted Mullen IC 2007-2012
Fr Antonio Belsito IC 2012-July 2013
Fr Gerry Murray December 2013-present
The most recent chairs of the Sacred Heart Parish Pastoral Council have been:
2012 – Vashti Southarn and Caroline Warburton
2011 – John Howes
2010 – Michael Floyd
2009 – Brian Davies
2008 – Brian Davies
2002 – Michael Floyd
1998 – Geraldine Reid
1993 – Michael Floyd
1992 – Michael Floyd
The parish was served by Deacon John Burrows from June 2003 until his death in 2014.
The Catholic population grew to about a thousand by the end of the 70s but, due to the general decline in practice, such figures have become unreliable and the emphasis instead has been on the annual mass count. Sacred Heart has a large proportion of professional members.
A significant development affecting the parish was that of Cawston Grange, a large housing estate to the west, which is still growing.
Following the Second Vatican Council, there was at first some opposition to changes in the liturgy but, supported by a number of outside speakers, a lively interest was generated and a strong tradition of participation and singing grew up. In the 1980s, members of the parish were involved in a temporary reordering of the sanctuary, but in 1993 the reordering of the whole church was completed with an immersion font, a new Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a quiet room, a youth room and a library.
There was also a new narthex giving direct access to the hall extended in 1991. All this was made financially possible through an arrangement with the diocese involving the transfer of a plot of land in Clifton that had been bequeathed jointly to the parish along with Hillmorton. The church was dedicated by the Archbishop in April 1998.
A Garden of Remembrance was blessed at the side of the church and a number of parishioners are now able to scatter the ashes of their departed loved ones. From the early days, there was a strong move to found a Catholic primary school in Bilton but the application was rejected by the DES in 1973. Since the baptismal rate was falling in later years, the case was dropped. There was therefore a concern to provide religious education for children in the parish and with the help initially of sisters at St Marie’s and then of staff and students from St Paul’s, regular classes were arranged.
There have been a number of missions aimed at spiritual renewal: in 1973 led by Fr Tim Buckley (CSSR); in 1983 by CMS; in 2002 by CMS again. Meanwhile Fr Buckley returned to lead a parish retreat and others were led by Sr Sharon (PCJ) from Southam and Sr Madeleine Prendergast (LSU).
The parish council, established as long ago as 1969, has been responsible over the years for a strong emphasis on adult formation, ecumenism, justice and peace, and caring in the local community. It has also heard about UCM activities, organised social events and received reports on parish finances. In 1994 the parish project (part of the National RE Programme) was begun leading two years later to a day involving about a third of the parish. In this way future priorities were identified.
For six months up until February 2003, the parish managed without a resident priest with weekend masses provided among others by Canon Tom Farrell, Fr Michael Brandon and St Marie’s. From then, the Rosminians agreed with the diocese to provide a resident priest for five years.
From June 2003, the parish had a deacon, John Burrows, who played a full ministerial role. Since 1983 there has been a team of Eucharistic Ministers who regularly assist at mass, take communion to the sick and lead the Ministry of the Word and distribute communion when no priest is available.
Between 2003 and 2013, the parish was served by priests from the Rosminian Order. This arrangement ceased in July 2013 when the parish returned to the direct authority of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This led to the appointment of Father Gerry Murray as parish priest in December 2013.