A Bradford based Franciscan Friar has just completed a walk from Florence to Assisi in fundraising efforts to transform a disused Church in the heart of Bradford into a centre for a renewal of faith in the diocese.
Fr Gabriel Kyte, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, expresses delight that thanks to an ongoing renovation project, St Patrick’s Church has recently acquired a new roof. Bishop Marcus Stock, who's a strong supporter of the Friars' efforts to re-introduce Catholic worship to the city centre, is to visit on St Patrick's day in March for an opening Mass and dedication. Celebrating Mass there last March, in the middle of the building work, Bishop Stock commented: "This place looked tired, now it is going to be beautiful again. We are not just going to step back into the darkness quietly."
St Patrick’s was built in 1853, with a loyal Irish immigrant congregation, but now has just four Catholics living within the parish boundaries. “It’s a beautiful church and will be a hub for Bradford. We hope it will become a place where people can reconnect with their family roots from previous generations and also renew their faith,” said Fr Gabriel. Describing how the church was built "brick by brick" by Irish immigrants, he cites frequent comments from people that their grandparents were baptised in the church: “We feel like we’re carrying a legacy forward; the Irish started this off. We want to carry forward that heroic and generous spirit and bring Christ to people.”
Fr Gabriel’s walk in Italy was followed by taking part in the Three Peak Challenge in the north of England with a group of supporters, to raise money. He is delighted that one of the participants was a former addict who turned his life around with the help of the Friars. Not only that, but the man also raised the most funds of the participants and finished first, in nine-and-a-half hours: “He was ecstatic when he finished the walk, saying he'd never been so happy in his whole life. He was literally dancing with joy!”
The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal was founded in the Bronx, in New York. Up at dawn, the Friars pray for at least five hours a day and renounce all worldly goods. Since they arrived in Bradford thirteen years ago St Patrick’s has become a magnet for the most vulnerable. “From day one we have been operating a soup kitchen and we were struck by the poverty in the area; we want to share our faith and show the vitality of the Catholic faith” reflects Fr Gabriel.
The Friars moved in to a former Convent near the Church which was previously occupied for nearly 100 years by the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Passion. The Friars founded St Pio Friary there and rely solely on donations to keep the soup kitchen going and for the renovation project. They’re not daunted by the challenge they’ve taken on, describing the rejuvenation of St Patrick’s as an “Easter story;” their mission was featured in a BBC documentary last year.
The local area has changed massively in recent decades. The original Irish club adjacent to the church is now in use by the Sikh community and there are mosques opposite and behind the church.
Fr Gabriel is full of joy at what lies ahead for St Patrick’s: “It will be a great day when we can gather around the altar again; this church used to be packed on a Sunday and I think it could be again.”
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