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The History of the Catholic Church at Water Street/ Church Street

A short history of St.Joseph`s church Aberavon./Aberafan

It must be made most clear that the following description of the History of St. Joseph`s Church Aberavon, is from the work of Mr. James O`Brien J.P.
He was a pillar of strength to the Catholic Church Aberavon and to the people of the town.
Later you will see a whole section on this Web Site devoted to this man.

.The History of St.Joseph`s edited by Allen Blethyn. June. 2006.

During the early 1800s. 1800-1848. the fortress of the Catholic faith in this part of South Wales, was at Brecon.
It was at Brecon that the Havard family supported the Catholic`s and supplied them with a few excellent Welsh speaking priests during the revival.
Moving nearer home, at Swansea it was the Jesuit fathers from Bristol, who came three to four times a year to look after the needs of the few Catholics there.

In 1803 Mass being taken in a part of the old Castle, before the first chapel was built at Nelson Place in 1813, and then having a resident priest from 1824, it was to here that the catholic people of Aberavon travelled to for their main church needs, like the baptisms of children and marriages.

Between 1846-50 during the Famine period the Catholic population of Aberavon grew in number, and so in 1849 the Catholic`s of Aberavon requested of Dr.Brown, Vicar Apostolic of Wales to supply the town with its own priest.
He agreed and instructed Father.Charles Kavanagh of St. David`s Swansea to say Mass at Aberavon.
To start he came monthly to offer the Holy Sacrifice, this took place in the front room of a cottage in Pleasant Row [ Cradoc Place ], and sometimes at a house near The Ship Inn.
Later on Mass was taken at the Skittle Alley at the rear of the Railway Tavern.
But sometimes many still walked to St. David`s Swansea crossing the river Neath at Briton Ferry by the ferry boat there.
Fr. Kavanagh in 1852 put the number of his flock at Aberavon as about 240.

All the time the Aberavon people preyed for a real home of their own at Aberavon.

In December 1852 Father. Antoine Genzwiowski a Polish priest was appointed as the first resident pastor of the Misson at Aberavon. He first continued to hold services in the Skittle Alley, but soon Capel Moriah at the top of the Causeway became vacant and was then rented by the Catholic`s.
Capel Moriah having been built by the Baptist Denomation in 1821, the Catholic`s remained there for eighteen years, that being 1860.

When in 1853 Father. William Marshall took over the parish, he for the first time started keeping records of all baptisms and marriages, these previously being kept at St.David`s Swansea.

It was around about this time that a man by the name of William Jones and his brother Thomas Jones, builders living in Green Park, Aberavon, came to the aid of the catholic`s of Aberavon.
They were of old burgess stock, but very considerate towards their Irish Catholic Neighbors, and so were prepared to sell them some land, for a possible Church to be built on.
It was those two brothers who were responsible for the carpentry and seating in the new church, when it was eventually built.

By 1856 the freehold of the land enclosed within the old church boundary was purchased for £240.from the above two brothers.

For many years the struggle went on, until on Sunday, June 22nd.1862 the Church was finally formally opened.
The architect and builder being a member of the congregation Mr.John King.
The Aberavon Catholic`s at this time numbered between five and six hundred.
The people of Maesteg and neath also made use of the church until Maesteg had a church of their own in 1872 and Neath likewise in 1889.

Over the the next seventy years the Church continued to serve the people of Aberavon, but in time it became increasingly overcrowded, with many remaining on the outside at the services.
However it was not until 1930 that enough funds had been secured to proceed with the building of a new church under Canon Kelly.
The last Mass in the old church was said by Father.Gavin on March 3rd.1930, and then the church was demolished within a month.
Messrs Knox and Wells of Cardiff were to be the builders of the new church for a sum of £12,864.
The foundation stone being laid on September 11th.1930. by His Grace Archbishop Mostyn.
At the ceremony to name but a few were, Canon Kelly. Fr.Ganin. senior parishioners of the time including W.Greenway. James O`Brien. David Murphy. James O`Brien J.P. John O`Donovan. Timothy and Edward Madden. Joseph Kenure. Gustav Wehrle and Dan McCarthy.
The new church was opened on the 29th. of October,1931.
The first marriage taking place on Saturday, 31st.October,1931 between Margaret O`Brien and ArthurThomas.
And on the Sunday the first four babies were baptized.

More to follow on this page when we shall talk more about the catholic people, both of their prominent leaders and the ordinary town folk.

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