Roman Catholic Parish of Great Missenden: History

Whether you are visiting our church or have recently moved to the Parish, we are delighted to welcome you and would like to tell you something about ourselves!

Our Parish is called The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Great Missenden.  Great Missenden first supported a Catholic community when Missenden Abbey was founded in 1133; this was a religious house for over 400 years until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  Since then, Mass had been celebrated in Great Missenden as early as the First World War and from 1938 was part of the parish of Princes Risborough.  Sometimes Mass was celebrated in a room above a butcher’s shop and sometimes in private houses or the village hall!

In 1952, Fr Berthold Matthijs, a member of the Belgian Sacred Hearts Community, who was visiting the Kent coast, met the Bishop of Northampton, Bishop Thomas Parker.  Fr Matthijs was looking to establish a national centre for the work of the enthronement of the Sacred Heart in England and Bishop Parker needed Priests for his expanding Diocese.  Thus in July 1954, the new Parish of Great Missenden began in “The Old Surgery” purchased by the Dutch Province of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts Community and renamed Damien House after the order’s missionary leper Priest.  The present Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary was completed in 1964 and blessed by Bishop Charles Grant in July 1964.  Over forty years later, in the June of 2007, the Church was consecrated by Bishop Peter Doyle.

Formally part of the Parish of St Joseph, Aylesbury a regular Sunday Mass was first celebrated in Wendover during the Second World War; then in 1951 a small building on the London Road was blessed by Bishop Parker as a Church.  Although the Catholic community at Wendover was served by the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts Community it was only in 1958 that it became canonically part of the Parish.  Bishop Parker laid the foundation stone for the present Church of St Anne in 1961.  Funding for the substantial building project was raised with the assistance of St Anne’s Convent School, Ealing (London) in thanksgiving for the assistance provided when they were evacuated during the Second World War.  The spirit of ecumenism at St Anne’s Church culminated in 1987 when Bishop Francis Thomas signed an agreement to share the premises with the Free Church (this was subsequently extended so that today it is also the spiritual home of the Church of England).

The Fathers of the Sacred Hearts Community withdrew from the Parish in 1995 to re-focus on their missionary activities.  However, the Parish still has links with the Order and we continue to support their Parish and outreach projects in Acton and their mission in Mozambique.

We offer our sincere appreciation to Angela Carter who generously allowed us to edit the original text that had been written by her husband David.

Following the withdrawal of the Sacred Hearts Community the care of the Parish was handed to Diocesan Priests; firstly to Canon Michael Griffiths (who subsequently moved to Bourne End) and then to Canon Timothy Russ (under whose care the Parish remained until his death in 2013).

Hugh Wells describes the history of the Parish under Fr Timothy as more or less a time of “steady as she goes”.  During this period however considerable building work was undertaken at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the creation of a new Blessed Sacrament Chapel and a much extended Damien Hall.  During this same era at St Anne’s Church the now well-bedded ecumenical spirit deepened and matured and continues to be a witness to the real, albeit impaired communion, shared by all followers of the Lord.  The wide breadth of charities supported by the Parish continued to grow under the influence of the Parish Priest and now included the newly established Catholic Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi.  In total the Parish continued to support its principle four charities (Bega Kwa Bega, WorkAid, Friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice UK and the SSCC Mission in Mozambique); it also supported several other charities and regularly hosted appeals.

With his strong devotion to Mary, the Mother of the Lord Canon Timothy sought approval from the Diocesan Bishop in 2009 to resurrect devotion to her under the title “Our Lady of Missenden”.  Consequently the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary was sought for the first time since the Reformation under her ancient name: Our Lady of Missenden.  Thus the Parish traces its origins and patronage to the twelfth century and to one of the earliest monasteries (Augustinian) in southern England.  How appropriate that our sister church in Wendover should be dedicated to St Anne, the Mother of Mary!  Canon Timothy commissioned Nettie Mostyn to produce a new state of Our Lady of Missenden; the inspiration for which came from the ancient oval wax seal of the Abbey.

As a memorial to Canon Timothy Russ Bishop Peter returned to the Parish in October 2014 to consecrate a new mensa-stone for the Altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church; the marble was a gift from St Mary’s College, Oscott (where Fr Tim had trained for the Sacred Priesthood).  Worthy of note is the fact that the certified relics inserted into the mensa-stone are from the martyrs Saint Benedict and Saint Crescent; these relics were originally housed in a Church dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham and are accompanied by the following text:

 “On the 11th June of the Year of the Lord 1963, I Bishop of Northampton have consecrated this Church and Altar, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I have sealed in it relics of the holy martyrs Crescentius and Benedicta.  And to the individual faithful of Christ a plenary indulgence is granted today, and at the same time on the anniversary of the dedication, to those who visit (this Church are granted with) fifty days of indulgence according to the usual form the Church has granted.”  X Leo, Episcopus Northamtoniensis

In October 2013 Fr Wayne Coughlin was appointed by Bishop Peter Doyle as Parish Priest.

The Diocesan Coat of Arms: The motto reads ‘Under Your Protection’, referring to Our Lady.  On the shield appear lilies and choughs, which are symbols of the two patrons of the Diocese, and of the Cathedral – Mary Immaculate and St Thomas of Canterbury.

The Lily: For the Jewish people, the lily was the first sign of Spring which reminds us of the new age that began when Mary gave birth to Our Saviour.  For Christians, the lily is also a symbol of purity, reflecting the innocence of Our Lady in a sinful world. 

The Chough: This bird was part of the coat of arms of St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who escaped from Northampton castle to a six year exile in France, before being martyred in Canterbury on 29th December 1170. He is the secondary patron of the Diocese and of the Cathedral.

A Memorial to Canon Timothy Russ

Canon RussTimothy Vincent Russ (1th August 1943 – 29th June 2013), a Priest Remembered with Affection

Hugh Wells and others write of Canon Timothy: The future rhythm of the Sunday and daily Masses, religious instruction, charitable work and pilgrimages were all quickly established within a few years of Canon Timothy becoming Parish Priest.  His Sunday homilies were erudite which contrasted with his ‘snippets of wisdom’ at the weekday Mass, whereas his weekly contribution to the newsletter could be described as deeply thoughtful with flakes of humor!

Canon Timothy leant his full support (if not always his presence!) to all of the following: RCIA, “Enrichment in Faith”, catechesis, the S.V.P., the Christmas Bazaar and many other projects and initiatives too numerous to mention.  To think of this gentleman Priest is to always raise a smile; not least if one recalls his late in life discovery for dancing (particularly the ‘Charleston’) and the establishment of a vineyard in Little Missenden!

There were so many facets to the life and ministry of Fr Timothy that is seems a disservice to highlight any, however, he is perhaps best remembered for the “Philosophy Group” which he started in 2002 and which ran almost every week until his death.  As a seminarian at St Mary’s College, Oscott in the 1960’s Fr Timothy became fascinated with the writings of the brilliant theologian-philosopher Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian Jesuit and emeritus professor of the Gregorianum in Rome.  The young Timothy studied all of Lonergan’s work deeply and continued to do so after Ordination (alongside all the other great philosophers); the scholarly learning of Fr Timothy meant he soon found himself as the Canon Theologian for the Diocese!  He was subsequently invited to lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome) and at the Longergan Institute in Canada.

The “Philosophy Group” was his way of trying to give to other people some of the wisdom and learning he had acquired.  His philosophy talks were always extempore but based on ‘papers’ that he had previously written and distributed; this corpus of work has subsequently been collected together and published in a book entitled: “SHAPING THE SECOND ENLIGHTENMENT”.  Thus in many respects the “Philosophy Group” lives on!

We should also recall how Canon Timothy campaigned on behalf of the descendants of the (mainly Slovene) Catholic soldiers who were deported by Britain back to Yugoslavia in May 1945, after which almost all were executed; this had a profound impact upon him.  Canon Timothy had a deep love for the Sacred Priesthood and therefore readily welcomed Priests to stay at the Presbytery; this love for the ordained ministry stemmed from his own exercise of such ministry for over forty years and only grew with his fall into ill-health.

Bishop Peter Doyle spoke of “the great faith and equanimity” with which Canon Timothy received the diagnosis that he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer.  Canon Timothy was now counted amongst the sick of the Parish who were regularly prayed for and his determination to continue in his priestly duties only served to deepen the fondness with which he was held by many people.  Fr Tim (as he was known by many) died aged sixty-nine.

Canon Timothy’s body was received into the Church at Great Missenden on 9th July 2013 where he lay overnight before the Altar at which he had so faithfully ministered for seventeen years.  In a Church packed with brother Priests his Funeral Mass was celebrated the following morning and his mortal remains were interred in the Eyre Chapel at the Perrymead Catholic Cemetery, Bath on 12th July.

Subsequently an ecumenical Memorial Service was also held at St Anne’s Church, Wendover.  Canon Timothy has been described as a man of deep Faith; pious; generous to a fault; humorous, wise, vulnerable and intellectually brilliant.  May he rest in the peace of the Risen Christ and may Our Lady of Missenden (whose devotion he restored) and St Anne pray for him!