The story of the growth of the Roman Catholic community in the Brackley area in the last century has similarities to the growth of the early Christian communities after the death of Christ 2,000 years ago.
Nothing is known of Catholicism in Brackley before the First World War, but in 1916, Mrs Juliet Rush, of Farthinghoe Lodge, started a chapel in her summer house. Initially, it had a congregation of five, the other members being Mr. and Mrs. A. George, and Mr. and Mrs. W. Trevor, of Brackley. German prisoners of war also attended the services in those early days.
The congregation came from Brackley by bus, and worshipped at Farthinghoe. Any child who cried during Mass had to be taken outside in those days.
In 1940, converted stables in Meredith's Houses in Brackley began to be used. These premises belonged to an RC family at the time. They later became the British Legion clubroom, and still exist, now serving as the Band Club in Drayman's Walk.
Later, until the present church was built, the Women's Institute Hall became the "Mass Centre". By this time, the congregation numbered about 80 people.
In 1947, the new Church Building Fund was begun, with an allocation of £500 given by the Bishop from the legacy left to the Diocese of Northampton by Mrs. Rush. Money was raised by the parishioners, who held whist drives in the Town Hall. Refreshments were provided by the ladies, who also bought the necessary prizes. Much hard work went into the fund-raising.
The architect for the project was Mr. A. Comper, and the builders were Messrs. Simcock and Usher, of Northampton.
The new church, opened in 1957, cost £6,000, of which approximately £3,000 was still outstanding, to be paid off in the years following. The church was dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, and was consecrated on Sunday July 28th at a Low Mass offered by the Bishop of Northampton, Rt. Rev. Leo Parker. He was assisted by brothers from the Franciscan Friary in Buckingham including Father Henry Mooney, O.F.M., the Parish Priest, and Father Julian, a former Parish Priest. Father Julian was the Parish Priest in 1947 when the Church Building Fund was first inaugurated. There were problems with the new building, and a wall had to be demolished and re-built. The porch was added later.
During his address, the Bishop thanked all who contributed to make the new church possible. He dedicated the Church to St. Martin of Tours – The Good Neighbour – whose example, he said, they would do well to follow. The Bishop said he regretted that for the time being it was not possible for him to give the chapel the Blessed Sacrament – the parish would still, for the present, be served from Buckingham. When the residue of debt on the Church has been cleared off, it might be possible to have a resident priest. He urged the congregation to do its utmost to see that the money owing on the church was paid off as soon as possible. “We want 20 new Catholic churches, not to mention the schools” continued the Bishop, “and if we were to embark upon a building program we would need at least £1.5M.”
It was a measure of the interest taken in the new church and in the efforts of the Roman Catholic community within the Borough that the normal congregation was swelled by non-Catholics and members of other denominations to over 200, and every seat in the church was filled, while several more people stood in the doorway. This concern for the welfare of the community had been shown throughout past years when the money to begin the venture of building was being raised.
After the Mass, a reception was held in the Women’s Institute Hall, with refreshments served by ladies. Heading the official guests were the Mayor and Mayoress of Brackley (Councillor and Mrs R. J. Staniforth) the Town Clerk (M.H.H. Thomas) and a representative body of Aldermen and Councillors together with a congregation of more than two hundred who crowded into the small new church.
Mrs Staniforth, for many years a member of the Catholic congregation, was the first Mayoress of that faith in living memory, and she accompanied her husband.
Even now, Brackley has not got its own priest, but is ably served by Canon Dan Kiely, of St. Bernardine’s, Buckingham.
In 2011, the church was completely modernised. A new oak floor was laid, the pews were replaced by 100 chairs upholstered in bright red, with matching individual kneelers. The lighting and heating were brought up to date, and a new organ was installed. The old sacristy was rebuilt, with modern fittings, and a lavatory with access for the disabled, and baby-changing features, were incorporated. Wheelchair access to the church was provided
Thanks to Mrs Betty Vidler for much of the above information.