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The Dawn of a New Parish

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.

Laying the foundation stone, 1955
In 1955, the corner plot of land adjacent to the presbytery on Highfield Approach, was acquired and work started to build a permanent new church on that site. On October 29th, 1955, Bishop of Northampton, Leo Parker, laid the foundation stone of the new building and returned on June 1st 1956 to solemnly bless the completed church. Sadly, Canon Peacock who had played a major role in the founding the new parish of St Mary Magdalen, passed away on 7th May 1956 and never saw the completed parish church.

The first parish priest was Fr Gerard Conlon, a devoted man who worked tirelessly to establish the parish and build up the groups and organisations necessary for a thriving parish. A dedicated group of parishioners worked tirelessly at evenings and weekends to finish the church grounds, laying concrete, planting hedges and trees and decorating – to help reduce the overall construction costs.

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.

St Mary Magdalens circa 1963.(with grateful thanks to T M and J F Cleary for content and photographs)