Being a relatively new parish, St Mary Magdalens is fortunate in having a complete record of all the clergy who have served and ministered in the parish since its formation, and parishioners still alive who have known all of them! Since its formation in 1954, the parish has been served by 10 parish priests and these are listed below in chronological order.
Fr Gerard Conlon RIP was the first parish priest to serve at St Mary Magdalens. He served the parish from 1954 to 1963, when was transferred by Bishop Parker to Luton - Ipswich being part of the Diocese of Northampton at that time. He passed away on December 12th, 1966.
Fr Conlon was succeeded in 1963 by Fr Alfred S Bull RIP. He served the parish for 14 years from 1963 to 1977, suffering increasingly poor health towards the end of that time. He retired from the parish to Thorpeness, and passed away three years later on December 20th, 1980.
Memorial prayer card for Fr Bull's Ordination Silver Jubilee.
The third parish priest at St Mary Magdalens was Fr Anthony Sketch. He succeeded Fr Bull in 1977 and was at St Mary Magdalens for 5 years until 1982, when he was moved by Bishop Alan Clark, the first bishop of the new Diocese of East Anglia, to the parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea at Lowestoft. During his time at St Mary Magdalens, Fr Sketch was responsible for the major transformation work that took place in the church. Fr Sketch passed away on 26th September, 2012.
Pictured in the parish hall at his farewell party in 1982, Fr Sketch cutting his cake.
Following Fr Sketch's departure, St Mary Magdalen church was served by Canon Edward McBride, Vicar General, from 1982 to 1989. Canon McBride passed away on on April 24th, 2011.
Memorial prayer card marking Canon McBride's 25th anniversary of Ordination, celebrated on 18th December 1968.
Fr Richard Healey, fifth parish priest, serving from 1989 to 1993.
Fr James Walsh, sixth parish priest, from 1993 to 2001.
Fr Michael Griffin, seventh parish priest, from 2001 to 2003
Fr Russel Frost, eighth parish priest, from 2003 to 2017.
During Fr Frost's tenure at St Mary Magdalens, the parish benefitted from the services of Fr Martin Orme who served as assistant priest until his retirement.
Canon Mathew George, who served as the ninth parish priest of St Mary Magdalens from 2017 to 2021.
Fr Paul Spellman, who was appointed as Priest Administrator by Bishop Alan Hopes, in November 2021, our tenth and current parish priest.
A selection of photographs taken in and around the church over the years. These are presented in chronological order. Dates and details have been added where known, or suspected. If you are aware of any inaccuracies or have any photos you would like added to this archive, please contact the webmaster.
The photos will automatically scroll through the library, but you can manually advance or reverse the images using the chevron buttons either side.
Following the Second Vatican Council, Vatican II, which concluded December 8th 1965, a number of major changes were made to the liturgy and administrative practices with the intention of making the Church more efficient and more acceptable to the 20th century world.
Most obvious were changes in the mass, which had previously been said in Latin, with the priest facing away from the congregation, often praying silently. After the Council, the feel of the mass changed drastically. It was now to be conducted in the language of the people and participation was encouraged in new ways, with new possibilities granted for music and singing, and women allowed into upfront roles as readers and Eucharistic ministers, as well as altar servers in some places.
To allow such changes to be implemented at St Mary Magdalens, major changes were required to the layout of the church built in the 1950s. The architect and driving force in carrying out these changes was Fr Anthony Sketch and, under his guidance, the church was re-modelled in 1978:
At the same time, the church was re-decorated in the papal colours, new robes were ordered for the altar servers and matching sacred vessels, crucifix, tabernacle, candle holders, processional cross, thurible, paschal candle stand, cruets, presidential chair and servers chairs were obtained - paid for by parish subscriptions. A second-hand pipe organ was acquired from Hadleigh church and installed into the new gallery.
The result was a very attractive church interior suitably updated to reflect the changes instigated through Vatican II. Following the re-modelling, the church was consecrated on the feast of St Mary Magdalen, 22nd July 1979.
The re-modelled church in 1979
Through a collaboration with our friends at the Hollesley Bay Colony, the original church pews which were very dark in colour, were stripped to bare wood and refurbished in 2016 and finished in a lighter colour. Also in 2016, a new sound system was installed.
In 2017, a new electronic organ was installed, funded as the parish project through the Diocesan Alive in Faith initiative, and the old pipe organ was re-homed to a church in Poland. The gallery, built as part of the 1978 conversion, was revised in 2018 with the curtain wall being lowered to improve visibility of the altar from the gallery and new wrought iron balustrade installed.
In 2019, the church lighting was upgraded to new LED fittings to reduce running costs and eliminate high level work required to replace lamps in the old units.
The latest works completed in December 2019 can be seen in the pictures below and include the re-instatement of the original 1955 stone font and matching lectern from the 1979 remodelling, both of which were removed in the noughties. At the same time, the opportunity was taken to refurbish and refinish the floor.
The church is wheel chair accessible and is equipped with an induction loop system for the benefit of hearing aid users. Male and female toilets are available in the Guild Room adjacent to the church, with baby change facilities, for use by both mums and dads, available in the female toilet. There is an accessible toilet, with access via a ramp, in the Garden Room.
The church is served by Ipswich Buses routes 9 and 10 with stops adjacent to the corner of Highfield Approach.
The church hall and car park is on the opposite side of Highfield Approach. Parishioners and visitors are encouraged to use the car park rather than park on Highfield Approach, which gets congested and where parked vehicles restrict access to neighbouring properties.
The hall is available for private hire by people looking for a regular booking (subject to availability). If you are interested in hiring the hall, please use the contact form to get in touch with the hall booking secretary.
Before the parish of St Mary Magdalen was founded, Mass was said in the north west of Ipswich at various venues, in an attempt to gauge the Catholic support in this growing part of town. Support was such that Mass was then regularly celebrated in a variety of places - "the upper room" at the Suffolk Punch public house on Norwich Road was one such venue, others being the Castle Hill Community Centre and the Safe Harbour public house in Meredith Road. Masses were celebrated by Canon Augustine Peacock, parish priest of the parent St Pancras parish in Ipswich town centre, or one of his curates.
The presbytery at 468 Norwich Road, was acquired by the diocese on 6th October 1954. This property had a large side extension and this became known as the "Guild Room", initially being used as a chapel where Mass was celebrated daily during the week and on Sundays at 8:00. A second Sunday Mass was celebrated in the Safe Harbour at 10:30.
St Pancras primary school moved from the old hall in St Pancras church to a newly built property in Stratford Road, and was taken under the wing of the new St Mary Magdalen parish. The new school buildings, consisting of three classrooms, were blessed by Bishop Parker on March 21st, 1958. On October 12th 1961, two more classrooms and a new school hall were officially opened and blessed.
The next challenge for Fr Conlon was the building of a church hall. Land was acquired on Highfield Approach, on the opposite side of the road to the church, and the hall and car park were built on this site. The hall was officially opened in March 1963 and blessed by Bishop Parker, but this joyous occasion of the hall's opening was saddened when Bishop Parker took the opportunity to announce to the parish that Fr Conlon was to be moved to St Josephs, Luton. Sadly, Fr Conlon passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on 12th December 1966.
Apart from a thriving parish, another legacy attributable to him is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, mounted on the outside wall of the presbytery and visible to all passing by on Norwich Road. This statue was erected in memory of Fr Conlon's mother who passed away on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11th February 1960. The statue is surrounded by a climbing rose which routinely produces magnificent flowers in spring and summer.
The adjacent pictures show early views of the newly opened church, interior and exterior views. The exact dates of these photographs is unknown but they would both have been taken in the late 1950s shortly after the church was completed.
With grateful thanks to N C Andrews, T M and J F Cleary for content and photographs.
Do you have a vocation?:
Do you think God might be calling you to the priesthood or religious life? Speak to Fr Paul or contact the Diocesan Vocations Director by email - [email protected]
Fr Patrick Cleary on the occasion of his first Mass at St Mary Magdalens 17th December 1978, on the day after his ordination. To his right is Fr Sketch, parish priest and to his left is Fr Lane from the seminary where Fr Pat trained.
Souvenir prayer card from Fr Pat Cleary's ordination, 16th December 1978.
The Church of St Mary Magdalen, Ipswich 2020
St Mary Magdalen is the first Ipswich church that many visitors see, standing as it does on Norwich Road, the main way into town from the midlands and the north. Set back from the road, it has the presbytery beside it, a Madonna on its wall surrounded by roses.
It opened in 1956, to serve the rapidly expanding population of this area. Carved out of St Pancras parish, it retains the St Pancras Catholic primary school under its wing. This is a wide, mixed parish, from the pleasant well-to-do villages west of Ipswich, to challenging and deprived Whitton, Suffolk's poorest housing estate.
Despite the grandly herring-boned west end, it is the least architecturally significant of the five Catholic churches in Ipswich. But what it does have is a superb east end, with the finest coloured glass of any of them. In vivid reds, interspersed with contrasting panes, it represents the Sanctus of the Mass. A simple, beautiful crucifix hangs beneath.
Nearby, the foundation stone of the church records grandly in Latin that Leo, Bishop of Northampton, laid this stone to mark the beginning of the raising of the church dedicated to St Mary of Magdala on the 29th October 1955, when Pius XII was Pope. Latin does not ring around its walls as much as it did then, but this church remains a simple and beautiful place. (Text taken from suffolkchurches.co.uk)
St Mary Magdalens church, 2014. A pen and ink sketch by Elliott Garbett.
Mary Magdalen was the first recorded witness to the resurrection of Jesus, His most ardent and loving follower. She had stood with His mother Mary at the foot of the cross on that brutal Good Friday afternoon and had been by the side of Mary during those difficult hours. On Easter morning, she went with the other women to the tomb and it was there, in the garden near the tomb, that Jesus appeared to her. It was she who brought the news of the resurrection to the apostles, causing Peter and John to race to the tomb to see what had happened.
She was from Magdala, a small fishing town on the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Tiberias. She was known to be a "great sinner", a woman of the streets who heard Jesus speak of the mercy and forgiveness of God and subsequently changed her life completely. This tradition explains why Mary Magdalen was revered for centuries as the "model penitent". Her matter-of-fact witness to the resurrection moved Peter and John to go and see for themselves: "I have seen the Lord and these things he said to me". Jesus had chosen her to bring the news to them and she simply told them what had happened.
She has always been an example of great love and great forgiveness, one of those close to Jesus who grasped the truth of God's love for human beings and spent her life bearing witness to that love.