1828 - 1865

The Growth of the Catholic Community in Wolverhampton (part 3)

The growth of Catholicism

In 1830, when the Irish-born Patrick O'Sullivan arrived in Wolverhampton to take up duties as parish priest at Ss Peter & Paul's, he discovered that there were 382 communicants. When, in June 1866, O'Sullivan spoke at a Catholic tea-party, he recalled his years in the town and congratulated "the Catholics of Wolverhampton on the immense progress of Catholicity in the town", estimating that in his twenty years at the chapel, the figure had increased to 1500. [WC 20th June 1866] Thus, in a period when the town's population had doubled, the number of Catholic communicants had almost quadrupled. This trend was by no means a local one, but whilst the enlargement of the Catholic community as a whole at this time was partly the consequence of the nation's rapidly expanding population, it also owed something to the missionary efforts of the Catholic clergy. As towns increased in size and number, the priests found it easier to build up congregations which were free of landlord control. On one of his pastoral visits to Wolverhampton on Sunday 10 March 1839, Bishop Walsh confirmed around 100 persons. [WC 13th Mar 1839] Most of these confirmees were adults and this seems to indicate that the Revs O'Sullivan and Mostyn had succeeded in increasing the number of Roman Catholics largely through conversion.

There are, however, two main explanations for the rapid growth of the Catholic population in the period up to 1860. A number of contemporary Catholics, including Newman and Wiseman, saw it as a "Second Spring", a miraculous re-birth dating from around 1840, in which Catholicism had been uniquely successful in being able to find God in and "through an abundance of sacraments, sacramentals, rituals, blessed objects, saints, shrines, rosaries, medals, scapulars and Indulgences". [J.C.H.Aveling "The Handle and the Axe" 1976 p. 356].

Bossy, on the other hand, puts forward the more generally accepted view that "the Catholicism of modern England may be taken as a cutting from the Catholicism of Ireland transplanted by immigration into an alien land which had long ceased to have anything worth mentioning in the way of an indigenous Catholic tradition". [J.Bossy "The English Catholic Community 1570 – 1850" 1975 p.297].