Fr Denis Marmion




At St Winefride's

2001 -2014



Father Denis was born on 20th November 1930 in Birkenhead. He was educated at St Gerard’s in Bray, Co. Wicklow, and at Ushaw Junior Seminary (1942-49) before continuing his studies for the priesthood at the Venerable English College, Rome (1949-56). He was ordained in Rome on 27 November 1955.


His first appointment was as assistant priest in St Joseph’s, Stockport (1956-58), followed by St Mary’s, Dukinfield (1958-60), St Alban’s, Macclesfield (1960-63), and St Peter’s, Hazel Grove (1963-70). In 1970 he was appointed parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Donnington (1970-78) followed by St Mary’s, Middlewich (1978-87), Our Lady’s, Birkenhead (1987-96), and St Winefride’s, Sandbach (1996-2001).


Father Denis was appointed Judge on the Diocesan Tribunal in 1979, a post he continued to actively fulfil right to the end.


Requiem Homily

22 August 2014

Canon Phil Moor, VG



Although Denis had been ill his sudden death I know came as a shock to us all, coming so closely after the death of Fr Peter Robertson; in the space of a few days the Diocese lost two good and faithful priests and servants.


We all feel a great sense of loss, but today particularly this loss is felt I know by Denis’ family, his brothers John and Vin and his nieces and nephews and all the family. In the midst of our sadness we are offered consolation through faith in Christ and his resurrection to eternal life. We offer our support to Denis’ family and to one another as we pray for him that he may have eternal life. We come together in prayer and we find strength in Christ’s presence. We listen to God’s word as the source of faith and hope, as light and life in the face of darkness and death. Consoled by the redeeming word of God and the presence of Christ we call upon the Father of mercy to receive Denis into the Kingdom of light and peace as we celebrate his Requiem Mass today.


Denis as always had prepared meticulously for his funeral choosing the hymns and readings for us. The Gospel reading today is the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I think we can understand how the disciples felt, they were sad and dejected because Jesus who had filled their lives with hope and meaning was dead, and the nature of his violent death added to the sorrow that they were experiencing.


Then as they were walking along Jesus joined them, he encouraged them to talk and he listened as they poured out the whole story to him. The end of the story signified the end of everything for them.


Having listened attentively Jesus then took up the story from where they had let off and explained the scriptures to them, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as we as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ they said.


Rather than being the end the disciples came to understand that the death of Jesus was the fulfilment of his life, ‘Was it not ordained, ‘necessary’ that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’


It was as they shared a meal together as Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and handed it to them that their eyes were opened and the disciples recognised the Risen Jesus as the one who had accompanied them on their journey.


We tell Denis’ story today, he was born in Birkenhead in 1930 and in 1939 the family moved to Northern Ireland. Having been at the junior seminary at Ushaw from 1942 Denis was chosen to go to the Venerable English College in Rome in 1949. This was a very different seminary experience to Ushaw. Denis sailed through his examinations and saw his time in Rome as a precious gift, he loved the city, its architecture and its cultural beauty. He remained captivated by them throughout his life, and he delighted in returning there. I know he was hoping to organise another pilgrimage to Rome.


In 1952 as a seminarian he travelled with two friends to the Holy Land and although he returned on several occasions it was that first visit walking in the footsteps of Christ that made such a deep impression on him.


At College he was popular and much loved by his fellow-students, who found his self-deprecating humour attractive. He always stayed in touch with them and was a keen member of the Roman Association for former students at the English College.


He was ordained in Rome on the 27 November 1955, and remained at the Venerabile to complete his studies.

He returned to the Diocese the following year to begin his pastoral ministry as curate in Stockport, then Dukinfield, Macclesfield, and Hazel Grove. Denis was a people person he was a kindly and caring priest and wherever he was people came to love him. Parishioners never forgot him and he maintained friendships from his various parishes all his life.

Canon John and Fr Denis Marmion


He was meticulous in everything he did. After fourteen years as a curate he was appointed parish priest to take over from Ted Harrington at Our Lady of the Rosary, Donnington. Ted Harrington was telling me last night that before he took over Denis arrived with a list of forty-two questions in which he asked for information about the parish, thankfully Ted was able to answer all 42 questions!. Everything was done with care and with reverence, conscientiously and well. He showed the same care in Middlewich, here at Our Lady’s, and in Sandbach. Denis was a collaborative priest, in all his parishes as PP he had a parish council, encouraging many others to work alongside him. In many ways Denis was a shy man, there was a reluctance to take the spotlight and wherever possible he avoided confrontation.


Happy, holy, warm, humble, wonderful, accommodating, spiritual, character, fun, gentleman, generous, always had time for people – words that have been used by various parishioners to describe Denis to me over the last week or so.


Above all Denis was a holy man, a man of prayer and deep spirituality. In retirement he lived only a short distance from St Winefride’s Church in Neston. Each day began with an hour and a half in church spent in celebrating mass in leading morning prayer and in private adoration. He would return to the church later in the day, for a further time of prayer. All this was a continuation of his spiritual life as curate and parish priest. As Bishop Mark reminded us last night the Eucharist was right at the heart of Denis’ life, right at the centre of Denis’ daily life.


From the 1990’s especially he was an avid reader of Julian of Norwich and other classical writers, he left an unfinished booklet about her that I know John is planning to finish off for him.


Denis retired in 2001, but it did not stop him. He loved to supply, to celebrate mass in parishes where the priest was away, not just in this Diocese I believe but also in North Wales. He loved supplying, being with people and not having the responsibility of parish administration. He was an Honorary Chaplain of Chester Cathedral, showing visitors round or spending time with them in prayer. He was a volunteer worker in the beautiful Ness Gardens. In St Winefride’s parish he organised a Scripture Group and a Prayer Group. He was a determined man, a doer and he got things done.


Since 1979 Denis has been a judge on the Marriage Tribunal and I know having spoken to Canon John Gordon that Denis was very faithful to this role for the last 35 years. He was meticulous as always and could be relied upon. Denis had great pastoral concern for the people in all the cases that he was called to judge, the emphasis for Denis was on pastoral consideration and not legalism.


His interests included a love for animals     ……   one goat, two cats and three dogs     ….   mercifully not at the same time! He loved gardening, walking, music, golf, cricket and Manchester United.


But most of all he loved people and he loved God.


Denis had a great love of the Psalms and frequently prayed psalm 137 – “I thank you Lord with all my heart; in the presence of the angels I will bless you; I thank you for your faithfulness and love.”



Father Ravi Bosco was with him when he died. Denis quoted, in Latin, the words of Night Prayer from the breviary: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Father Ravi looked puzzled, so Denis translated: Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. And he added: You should get to know some Latin. They were the last words he spoke.


Denis believed that Jesus died “to gather together into one the scattered children of God.”


At the Last Supper Jesus prayed, “May they all be one, just as Father you are in me and I am in you.” Christ will be the Head with everything “in the heavens and everything on earth” united to Him in love. Denis saw his life and his priesthood as part of that coming together in divine love.


Throughout his life Denis journeyed with the Lord by his side. We pray for Denis today as he comes to the end of his earthly journey that like the disciples in the Gospel and through the mercy of God he may experience the glory of the Lord in all its fullness and enjoy that divine love.


Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him may he rest in peace, Amen.


From a St Winefride's Parishioner 


Fr Denis Marmion arrived in Neston in 2001 moving into a bungalow in Allans Meadow to enjoy his retirement. He became, in a very short time, a beloved fixture in St Winefride's parish. He became involved in parish life, setting up a weekly prayer group at his home, to which all were welcome. When not required to fill in at Sunday masses throughout the diocese he regularly concelebrated or said Mass and helped Fr Courell and subsequently Fr Ravi in any way he could. He was active in leading the parish in the diocesan pilgrimages to Lourdes and Walsingham.


Fr Denis died on Wednesday 13 August 2014. His body was brought to St Winefride’s at 7pm and a Vigil Mass was held, celebrated by Bishop Mark Davies. The church was packed which is a testament to how much he was loved. He is sadly missed by all at St Winefride’s.


Rest in Peace


Griff Griffiths


No record of the priests who have served St Winefride’s would be complete without a mention of the 'servant of the servants of God' - affectionately known to all as just 'Griff'. Priests came and went, but for approximately 50 years, he was the mainstay and support of the priests of St Winefride's.


He raised countless thousands of pounds for the parish with his tote, bingo and other fund-raising events. His loyalty and service was fittingly acknowledged with the award of a much deserved 'Bene Merrenti' medal, which he proudly shows in the picture.


There is the story of a child rushed to hospital having swallowed some money. The X-ray showed up a ten pence piece. While doctors discussed what to do, the mother, a parishioner, exclaimed: 'I'll take him to Griff at St Winefride's. Because if there is anyone who can get 10p out of you it's Griff!'


Griff died 20th August 2007 and is buried in the Churchyard.


Priests of St Winefride's Parish

Rev John Kershaw (1843-45)


Rev John Kershaw was born at Liverpool in 1816 Rev John Kershaw and brought up Unitarian. A chemist by profession and accustomed to long working hours he was impressed by the number of people who heard early morning Mass before going to their place of employment. When out with some friends one Sunday evening, he persuaded them to go with him to a lecture on Transubstantiation. Convinced, that same evening at supper he announced to his family that he was becoming a Catholic.


After setting his affairs in order he entered Ushaw College in 1837 to study for the priesthood. He completed his studies at Puddington Hall under the Rev Richard Gillow, a former Professor at the college and was then ordained at Liverpool and appointed immediately to the new mission at Neston, a place and its people already familiar to him.


In 1845 he moved to All Saints, Barton-on-lrwell, which when the dioceses were formed after the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850, was included in the Diocese of Salford, and in 1852 he was elected to that Chapter. Energetic and enterprising his influence was felt throughout that area as he developed the mission and founded others coupled with the commitment to school building. The value of his work was acknowledged in his appointment in 1879 as Domestic Prelate. He died suddenly at All Saints in 1890.


Canon James Pemberton (1845-76)


Canon James Pemberton was born in 1808 at Chorley. He too studied for the priesthood at Ushaw College and was ordained in 1834. His years at St Winefride's, 1845-76, during which time he baptized children whose parents he had married and watched over them at school to their young adulthood, meant that he was truly bonded with his people. He fostered education, encouraging the young by providing book prizes and setting up a school lending library, free at first, then charged at one penny towards the rebinding of the texts so much borrowed were they by the families of the young readers - and in an age when weekly rather than daily newspaper was the event of the week, hence the popularity of the Cheshire/Chester papers and the Catholic Fireside. His sense of duty and generosity moved him to support a young parishioner, Michael Craig, as a candidate for the priesthood. In his letter to the Bishop dated 10 December, 1861, he writes'. . . / undertake to provide his pension at Sedgeley Park . . . (and) if he should go afterwards to College. . .'He concerned himself to with a simple domestic matter in order to comply with the requirements of the Junior Seminary '. . .what kind of fork or spoon is it usual to take? . . .'


He has been the only Parish priest to own a horse. As he grew older he suffered from a chronic bronchial condition so that his riding had to be at the walking pace.


Committed to Diocesan affairs, he was elected to the Chapter in 1851, he was by all accounts a shrewd negotiator on matters concerning land and finance. In 1876 he retired to Bank House Farm, then moved to Belle Vue House, Shrewsbury where he died on 26 January 1881.


The obituary in The Chronicle, February 5,1881 testifies to the love and respect his former parishioners had for him '. . . their much loved friend and adviser. . .' His friend the Rev Provost Hilton, Vicar General, officiated at the interment at St Winefride's.

Canon Joseph Daly (1876-1890)


 Canon J Daly

Canon Joseph Daly was born at Nobber, Co. Meath. He studied for the priesthood at All Hallows, Dublin, and was ordained in 1858. To St Winefride's he brought a wide experience gathered in serving parishes in rural and industrial areas which had made him keenly aware of the hardship caused when there was a surplus of labour and especially so at a time of seasonal unemployment and he was concerned for the well being of those who in such a situation were among the first to suffer.


His work as a Poor Law Guardian gave him a further insight and it was known that his visits to the Union Workhouse at Clatterbridge were eagerly awaited, such was the warmth of his personality.


In 1890 he retired and took up residence in Gladstone Road, Neston. The presentation of a purse of 60 guineas and an illuminated address marked the esteem and friendship he enjoyed in the Parish and among the wider community. Canon Daly died on 24 March, 1891 and is buried at St Winefride's.


Canon George Benjamin Clegg (1890 - 1902)


Canon CleggCanon George Benjamin Clegg was born near Edinburgh in 1832. After ordination in 1856 he remained at Lisbon (where he had studied) as professor followed by appointment to a number of parishes. He was elected Canon of the Chapter in 1875 and whilst incumbent at St Winefride's, 1890-1902, he was appointed Provost. As recorded elsewhere in this Chronicle the belfry was added in 1899. Was this not only to complete the Church according to the original plans of the elder Pugin, but also to commemorate the Parish Golden Jubilee in 1893. In addition he himself would be celebrating the fortieth year of his priesthood in 1896.


Fluent in French, Irish and Portuguese he heard confessions in all three languages — a boon to visitors, sailors and Irish immigrants. Provost Clegg left St Winefride's for St Mary of the Angels, Hooton in 1902 where he would serve up to his death on 26th April 1913.


His grave is to be found in the churchyard of St Mary of the Angels. Other honours bestowed upon him were Privy Chamberlain 1906; Domestic Prelate 1908; Vicar Capitular 1908.


Rev Bernard Thompson (1902-1913)


Rev B ThompsonRev Bernard Thompson was born at Congleton. He studied at the Junior Seminary at Sedgeley Park then continued at Donai and Ushaw. He was ordained in 1880 at St Laurence's, Birkenhead. He was famed as a preacher and St Winefride's parishioners too were spellbound. Recognised as one who did not spare himself, consequently his health suffered. As he could not always stand the pace, Franciscan father Cuthbert Hess would come from the Monastery at Pantasaph to help with parish duties. From St Winefride's father Thompson went to St Joseph's, Sale, where he died in 1929 and is buried at Brooklands Cemetery, Sale.


Rev John David Ryan (1913-1935)


Rev J RyanRev John David Ryan was born at Flint. He studied for the priesthood at Cotton and Ushaw and was ordained by Bishop Knight on 8 September 1891 in the domestic chapel of St David's College, Mold. His experience as curate in several parishes including St Laurence's, Birkenhead (1893-1894) and St Alban's, Liscard (1895-1898) before his appointment as Parish Priest at Middlewich, served him well when in 1902 he became Acting Chaplain to the Forces in South Africa" and followed by further service up to 1906 when he returned to the diocese, eventually becoming parish priest at St Winefride's (1913-1935).


These were eventful years. The parish responded to the energy and warmth of his personality. He himself had a great devotion to Our Lady and the procession in her honour in May 1914 became an annual event. Blue-cloaked Children of Mary carried the statue and banner returning to the Church for the Crowning Ceremony and Benediction.


The missionary spirit that founded St Winefride's founded the mission that would become Our Lady and St John, Heswall, where, in 1914, the first Mass was celebrated in the ballroom of the Victoria Hotel.


Various forms of transport were used by Father Ryan, accompanied by his altar servers, ranging from Bell's Taxi to Swift's horse and cab (which also on occasions took him on Thursday evenings to dinner hosted by Roger Taylor at Alma Cottage, Parkgate), and in summer they often cycled. In fact, Father Ryan was well known on his bicycle, his usual way of getting around a widely spread parish. Then came the Austin Seven! His Airedale dogs, Monk and Flint, slept in the coach house.


Father Ryan's hobby was woodwork - he was a gifted craftsman - and the hall housed his materials and tools. He made the solid chestnut wood double gates to replace white painted paling ones, and carved three Offertory Plates - the smallest, though damaged, still in use and inscribed 'For God and St Winefride'. For the presbytery he carved overmantles and furniture. When the church was redecorated he replaced the second set of Stations of the Cross (which went to the 'tin' church at Heswall in 1928) with the enamel ones.


In 1935 ill-health forced him to retire to Rhyl where he died on 9 March 1941. He is buried at Pantasaph. Father William Ross, S.J. who had been a Chaplain to the Forces, assisted Father Ryan, sometimes for quite long periods.


Rev George A. Worsley D.D. (1935-1941)


Rev George A. Worsley was born in Birkenhead. He studied for the priesthood at Ushaw and the English College, Rome, where he was ordained on 6th March 1927 by the Rt Rev Arthur Hinsley (later Cardinal). After being a curate at St Werburgh's, Chester and the Cathedral, Shrewsbury he was appointed Parish Priest of St Winefride's (1935-41).


He was kind and firm and had a quiet, lively sense of humour. One of the first innovations was to abolish bench rents and the brass name plates, to encourage parishioners to use the front benches. Needless to say the new system had to be adjusted to but with the outbreak of war and an increased congregation the situation resolved itself.'


His preparation for the Consecration of the Church in 1939 is described elsewhere in this chronicle, and involved the removal of most of the Gothic style decoration and lighting, and the introduction of Renaissance-style paneling in the sanctuary. The altar was replaced by marble, likewise the wood and brass altar rails, and the marble pulpit was introduced. The Calvary was so placed that the clear view of the East Window was lost. However, when the window was damaged in 1962, and removed, and not restored until 1985, the Calvary became the focal point above the altar step. Our Lady's Altar as a Lourdes Grotto was unchanged. Father Worsley introduced the procession in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, held on the Sunday after Corpus Christi.


With the opening of the new C.of E. school in Neston, St Winefride's lost nearly half its pupils, as the school, though Catholic, had many non-Catholics attending and was threatened with closure. Father Worsley fought to keep the school open and thanks to him Catholic education continued to have a base in Neston. Through his determination St Winefride's school was saved from closure.


In 1941 he became Parish Priest of St John's New Ferry, where he died on 27th April, 1957 and is buried at Flaybrick Hill Cemetery. Mrs. Annie Maguire (nee Swift), a parishioner of St Winefride's was his housekeeper and continued as such at St John's Presbytery.


Rev (later Canon) Joseph M. Briscoe(1941-1950)


Rev J BriscoeThe Rev Joseph M. Briscoe was born in St John's Parish, New Ferry where he was ordained on 24th March 1928 by Bishop Singleton after studying at Donai, the English College, Rome and Fribourg. He was already experienced as parish priest before taking up his appointment at St Winefride’s (1941-50) where the presbytery became very much the family home with his sister Rosie as housekeeper and to which his brothers (Vincent and Padre Bill Briscoe) serving in the forces came on leave. He and his sister Jenny gardened happily, and other members of his family came as occasion served — the Rector's Bench came into its own!


Father Briscoe's light tenor voice complemented the choir, especially outdoors during processions. His love of music led him to be a founder of the Neston Music Society (now unhappily defunct). String instruments were his favourites, violin and cello especially, and his favourite song was The lark in the clear air'. The weekly play reading circle was a social outlet enlivened annually as St Patrick's Day approached by the teaching of reels to the accompaniment of records on an old gramophone.


He was a light-footed dancer. His gentleness and rather dreamy manner belied a markedly. practical streak - for example when he helped a newly wedded couple (the Griffiths') arrange their furniture and he himself hung the curtains.


He left St Winefride's in 1950 to serve two further parishes, until 1978 when he retired. His death occurred on 19th October, 1978, and he is buried at St Winefride's.


Rev Edward Coughlan (1950-1954)


Rev Edward CoughlanRev Edward Coughlan was born at Seacombe. After studying for the priesthood at Ushaw he was ordained by Bishop Moriarty at Our Lady's, Birkenhead, on 24th June,1934. From then until 1941 he was curate at St Edward's, Runcorn, when he became Chaplain to the forces (1941-46), seeing service in Holland, Belgium and France. The Belgian Croix de Guerre was awarded him 'For services rendered to the Belgian Government . . . and was also mentioned in despatches. . '. (as reported in the Birkenhead News after his death).


After the war he became a member of the Military History Society. On returning to the diocese he was appointed to St Anne's, Nantwich and then to St Winefride's (1950-54) where his short stay was marked by his interest in the Scout Movement in which he was assisted by other priests of the diocese. The field was used annually for camping. He and others, helped by Dick Lee, a parishioner, continued the gardening so enjoyed by his predecessor.


Sport was another of his interests and he was always in evidence on St Winefride's School's sports days. His work as one of the Diocesan Examiners was time consuming, so that the assistance of Rev J. Egan, a Salvatorian from Christleton, was sometimes needed in the parish. Father Egan knew the parish well as he had frequently helped the Rev J. Briscoe. From St Winefride's Father Coughlan went to St Peter's, Stalybridge where he died on 5th January, 1967. He is buried at Dukinfield.


Rev Frank L. Jones (1954-1966)


Rev Frank JonesFrank L. Jones was born in Rock Ferry in 1907. His studies for the priesthood took him to Chieri in northern Italy and south to Naples before finally arriving at Oscott where he completed his studies and was ordained on 29th June, 1937. He volunteered as Chaplain to the Forces (1940-41). Unfortunately, he contracted malaria and died in 1966 as a result of a heart attack. Following other appointments in the diocese he came to St Winefride's in 1954.


Wherever he served the depth and warmth of his personality and simple philosophy brought people to him. He was a very humble self-effacing priest, full of the milk of human kindness, he believed the greatest sin in life was to speak ill of anyone.


Father Frank's great loves in life, apart from his family to whom he was devoted, were horse racing and reading, his favourites being P. G. Wodehouse and Damon Runyon. His regular bedtime reading, however, was the Time Form book, working out tomorrow's winners. Numerous friends in the racing fraternity, trainers, jockeys etc sometimes helped in that direction.


Always the individual, he wore his trilby ‘broadsides' with brim upturned, his black beret he wore at a decidedly rakish angle and he loved baggy trousers, his Oxford bags. Practical, yet uncaring of himself, oblivious to personal inconvenience, he was generous to a fault in helping others. He had a great ability to mix easily with all levels of society.


It was not unknown for him to be seen discussing form at the village cross with the local ‘lads'. Sometimes he was moved along by Canon Hempton when they sat on the wall of the parish church, the Canon of course apologising when recognising Father Jones.


When he was a religious examiner for the diocese he was known to reward both pupils and teachers with a handful of jelly babies. There are so many anecdotes and stories about this very human and much-loved man a book could be compiled on him alone.


Father Jones did not have a car, but this was never a problem as several parishioners volunteered to drive him, especially when there was a sick call, and on first Fridays when taking out Holy Communion. The parish had outgrown the outdoor collection begun in the 1850's. The Altar Society now became a retiring collection on the first Sunday of each month.


In 1962 Father Jones celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his priesthood and even managed to have a holiday in Italy. Earlier that year the exhumation of the grave where St John Plessington was believed to have been buried took place, and the shrine prepared to receive the remains. The result of the exhumation was disappointing. No formal identification of the remains was possible.


St Winefride's came into the possession of the granite slab which Victor Morrell of St Nicholas's, Burton, had in the 1920's placed on the reputed grave of Father Ralph Platt whose wish had always been to be buried in the grave of 'the other priest'. The rose and silver and cope believed to have been associated with St John Plessington were brought from St Mary of the Angels, Hooton, to be displayed permanently in St Winefride's.


Father Frank loved life and he loved people. 'Daybreak was great’, he would say, ‘the world’s at peace and God is in his heaven’. On the 1st August, 1966, he joined Him there, appropriately enough in the morning, shortly after saying Mass and is buried at St Winefride's.


Canon William Briscoe, OBE, (Hon Rtd) (1966 - 1986)


Canon William BriscoeFather Briscoe — Fr B to so very many, and delighting in signing himself as such, settled happily in the parish for 19 years (but managed to give the impression he still lived out of a kitbag and a tin trunk!) - a parish already known to him and as he so often fondly remarks 'My first and only parish'. He is easily remembered, invariably to be found smoke-screened in sitting room-cum-office (he loved a fire, a cigarette - in elegant holder - and the Daily Express, a good racing guide, studying form).


In 1966 a wide range of activities were being promoted in the parish — CWL, Knights of St Columba, tote, Bingo - all attracting his attention, and many of the AGMs enlivened by his fund of humorous stories — some unashamedly 'borrowed' from other priests!


St Winefride's, so long associated with devotion to Our Lady took on board another — the novena in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on Thursday evenings. When the builders' dust settled Father Briscoe began to say the Friday morning Mass in the new school in Mellock Lane. On Sunday mornings while the 10 and 11.30 am Masses were being said by a visiting priest (a regular arrangement), Father Briscoe, in black cloak and often followed by his dog, Finn, would be seen taking Holy Communion to the Titleys in West Vale. In the coach house he kept two tin trunks that had served him well in the tropics, and the hall stand in the presbytery held a collection of headgear accumulated over the years, articles of personal history to suit any kind of clime.


Always an honoured guest at the Royal British Legion in Willaston, he took part in Remembrance Day parades, mindful of his role as Chaplain (1941-46) with the 5th Parachute Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division (he landed in Normandy on D-Day and was severely wounded in that campaign) and then as Chaplain R.N. (1946-66).


In 1978-79 Father Briscoe was obliged to take sick leave, returning after Easter, when the first of two Flower Festivals was drawing to a close. Father John McManus covered this period of absence. Priests who assisted him after this date were the Revs James Farrell (1979-81), David Craig (1981-83) and Patrick Shivnen (1983-84). Before Father Briscoe left, another dog, Nuala, became part of his establishment - and would go into retirement with him to New Brighton 'Where', said Father Briscoe the day before he left, 'her next walk will be full of ozone'.


Fr Gerry Courell (1986 - 2012) 

Fr. Gerry Courell arrived at St. Winefride’s in early February 1986. He was from the West of Ireland - a Mayo man from Ballina. He entered St. Peter’s seminary in Wexford in September 1962 and was ordained to the priesthood in June 1968. He opted for the Shrewsbury diocese because “it was closest to home!” His first parish was St. Werburgh’s Chester (1968-1974), as curate. He was then transferred to St. Saviour's Great Sutton (1974 - 1979). He was then made Parish Priest at Holy Spirit Runcorn (1979 -1986) and eventually moved to St. Winefride’s.


Within a short space of time everyone felt as though they had known him all their lives. His quality as a person and sensitivity as a Parish Priest was immediately apparent. He became loved by all and he quickly learnt to know every parishioner by name and became a friend first and parish priest second. His unique sense of humour soon came to the fore, being demonstrated regularly on a Sunday with his jokes and tales after Mass, much to the entertainment of the altar servers who had increased sevenfold since his arrival.


One of the many things he introduced was the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, which has now become a tradition much enjoyed by children and adults alike. He showed a very sensitive concern for the sick and a sincere way with words which enabled him to find the right words to console and he became a great source of comfort to grieving families. He was a very familiar figure in St. Winefride’s school, knowing each child by name and reputation!


He became an avid supporter and coach to the school football team.
He had a long history of a love of Gaelic football as his grandfather, Tom Courell, was the first president of The Ballina Stephenites Club (established in 1886) in his home town. His father, Gerald Courell, was a famous Gaelic football player. Fr. Courell became Club Patron of Stephenites, a post he held until his death. He always said that one of the highlights of his life was seeing the victory of the Ballina Stephenites in the All Ireland Finals in 2005 in Croke Park, for which he had especially taken a trip home.


His love of soccer led him to become the chaplain of Tranmere Rovers Football Club, Birkenhead for his last 20 years at St. Winefride’s. His involvement with the school football team reached its pinnacle in 2009 when they won through to the final of the Football League Community Cup. The school team went unbeaten in 13 games and went on to represent the North of England at Wembley Stadium in the final – a once in a lifetime match! The match was a draw so both teams were declared winners and both received a cup. This cup was proudly shown at Mass on a Sunday so that the whole parish could see it and Fr. Courell declared:


"I thought the highlight of my life was my home team winning the All Ireland final – but leading St. Winefride’s out onto the pitch at Wembley

and winning the cup, tops it!" 


Here is his personal report of the match:


Fr Courell and Football team



Wembley 2009

Saturday May 23rd the coach departed St. Winefride’s 8.30am. We were cheered off by a group of well wishers having earlier been provided with sausage baps, bacon butties, tea or coffee, so we started our journey full and satisfied.


We arrived at our hotel, in the shadow of Wembley stadium, at 12.45pm and having sorted out our rooms we embarked to cross London via the underground to take a trip on the ‘London Eye’, a marvellous hair-raising experience for those who have difficulty with heights. Jenny’s wheelchair, in the absence of lifts, was a problem but ably sorted out by Nathan and Damien. Back to the hotel for our evening meal and off to bed at 9.30pm (players).


Saturday 24th began at 5.30am with the patter of little feet outside my door, the anticipation, the excitement was becoming too much. Breakfast 8am – an eye opening experience as I watched the boys get stuck in despite the nerves. The boy sitting opposite me at table had 2 sausages, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 hash browns, a mound of scrambled egg, beans, mushrooms and apart from leaving a few beans and a sausage he cleared the plate!


Then, after what seemed like an eternity we waited for Ann Hussey our football league rep, to appear. Eventually, at 9.45am she arrived to escort us to the stadium, a short walk of just 4 minutes. The stadium, was amazing but the welcome we received was even more so. We were ushered through the barriers – doors – past officials like VIPs and on to our dressing room which had a sign on it proclaiming: “ST.WINFRIDS RC PRIMARY SCHOOL NESTON”. Despite the wrong spelling there was no stopping the rush of pride and emotion which welled up inside. The dressing room was huge. There are four in Wembley, all identical, a well stocked fridge, a treatment room, bath, showers, toilets. Ann then led us out onto the Wembley pitch through a maze of roads and pathways, like a mini underground city, and the awesome experience of walking out onto the ground. Back to the dressing room to prepare for the game, everything organized to a schedule which had to be adhered to.


Watching the lads' line in the tunnel area waiting to be called will always remain one of the great emotion-filled moments of my life. The game itself was in many ways uneventful apart from Alex Gore’s shot which, on another day, would have gone in. The playing area was huge. The temperature over 100 degrees, so it ended in stalemate, 0-0, which meant both teams were winners as joint champions of 2009. As the boys trooped up to receive their winners medals you could not help but feel we had created a little bit of history, OUR little school – National Champions of England.


Congratulations to Mr. Haynes and the team, Tom Flooks, Jack Jones, Dan Robinson,Will Hardy, Alex Gore, Josh Sutton, Joe Hardy, Ben Meredith.


Thanks for all the memories lads, not just of Wembley, but of all the 21 games unbeaten that you played to get there.


By Fr. Gerry Courell


1993 wFr Courell SIlver Jubilee Celebrationsas the 150th anniversary of St. Winefride’s parish and coincidentally it was also 25 years since the ordination of Fr. Courell and both were celebrated together.
A stained glass window commemorating the occasion was installed towards the back of the church on the left hand side. It also commemorates the 50th anniversary as a priest, of Bishop Joseph Gray, who was then the Bishop of Shrewsbury.   

Fr Courell SIlver Jubilee Celebrations

Fr Courell also presided over the renovations to St. Winefride’s which commenced in 1993. (details in the History section of this website) Fr. Courell was well known throughout Neston and would greet his own parishioners and all those who knew him, in the same friendly manner. He was a great supporter and member of ‘Churches Together’ and played a big part in all the activities of that group. The only meeting he is known to have missed was the one arranged for the day St. Winefride’s football team played at Wembley - he took great delight in announcing, at the previous meeting, that he would not be able to attend on that day and the reason why! He was a great believer in the ecumenical approach to religion. Ministers of all other churches involved were also his friends.


During his last 3 or 4 years Fr. Courell began to be troubled by a heart condition. He had been a keen runner and was often seen pounding along the Wirral Way on his regular runs. In his younger years he had taken part in several Dublin city marathons. Unfortunately his illness prevented him from continuing his running. Throughout the period of his illness he very rarely missed saying Mass. This only happened if he had had treatment in hospital and had been ordered to rest – though this did not stop him coming into church on a Sunday morning to chat to parishioners! The doctors attempted to correct his heart arrhythmia more than once but his condition continued to worsen.


On Easter Saturday and Sunday 2012 he was unable to take part in the celebrations and went into hospital on Easter Sunday where he was diagnosed with a lung problem. Fr. Denis Marmion and Mgr Christopher Lightbound, both retired and living in the parish, stepped in as caretakers. The parish had many Masses and prayers said for him over the following weeks. On the night of 19th May 2012, the eve of Ascension day, Fr. Gerry Courell died in Arrowe Park Hospital and we lost a beloved parish priest.


On Monday 28th May Fr. Courell’s body was brought home to St. Winefride’s and a vigil Mass was held. On Tuesday 29th May, the day of his funeral, the congregation was so large that a public address system was used to relay the service to all those who packed into the grounds at the front of the church. There was a large contingent from Ireland, his family and friends who had made the journey to be there. The manager of Tranmere Rovers Football Club, Ronnie Moore, also attended. He was laid to rest in the church graveyard to remain forever in the grounds of his home in England.


A Service of Thanksgiving for Fr Courell was arranged by the Anglican minister Rev Neill Robb at Neston Parish Church on 23rd June 2012, with participation by ministers from other Christian communities in Neston. The church was packed with people from all walks of life, all of whom had been touched by Fr. Courell’s warmth and friendship. It served to illustrate just how popular a figure he was in Neston and that he would be missed by many more than his own congregation at St Winefride's.


Fr Courell's Memorial MassThe St Winefride's Parish Memorial Mass for Fr Courell, was held on 19th July 2012 (the feast of St. John Plessington) on the initiative of the new parish priest, Fr Ravi Bosco. It was an occasion for the parish family to remember and celebrate Fr. Courell's memory. The buffet that followed, the photo exhibition and the luckily pleasant weather helped everyone to celebrate Fr. Courell's pastoral ministry at St. Winefride's to the full.


The beautiful headstone at Fr Courell's grave was placed there on 10th April 2013 and we are grateful to his family in Ireland and the Shrewsbury Diocese for arranging this fitting memorial, as a token of our love and gratitude.






First Anniversary Mass On the first anniversary of his death, Sunday, 19th May 2013, Canon Michael Gannon led the Parish in paying tributes to the memory of Fr. Courell and also blessed the headstone. We thank all those who helped in the Parish Eucharist Service on 19th May 2013, making it a warm and loving tribute from the Community.  We were pleased to welcome members of Fr Courell's family who had travelled from Ireland to join the parish in a packed church to commemorate his first anniversary. Some pictures from the Mass are below in the gallery.


Tributesto Fr Gerry Courell There were many tributes paid to Fr. Courell. A Memorial Mass was held in his home town in Mayo and the Stephenites club have renamed an annual trophy after him. Some tributes are below.


About My Area Tribute by Bernard Phelan


Neston Bids Farewell to Fr Gerry Courell


Shrewsbury Diocese Tribute


BBC Merseyside's Helen Jones tribute to Fr Gerry Courell.  Due to size it has been cut into parts some of which cover similar material.

Part One - Fr Courell talks to

Helen Jones (BBC Merseyside)

Part Two - Tranmere Rovers

Part Three - On becoming

a priest and Father Ted!

Part Four - In St Winefride's Church

The Jublilate Window

Part Five - Organ and Confessional

Part Six - Stories


Fr Courell section compiled by Judy Howard

Anniversary Mass


Some photographs from Sunday 19th May 2013 of the First Anniversary Mass for Fr Gerry Courell.