Saint Charles Church

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St Charles Road
Image 1 - Saint Charles Church from Station Road.

The Catholics in Rishton have had several homes since its existence in the town came to be formed. Starting in the Hermitage on High Street, they moved to a building donated by the Petres of the Dunkenhalgh, taking the name of the Hermitage with them. Teachings had been held in the first Hermitage building for some time, mainly on Sundays. From the new Hermitage started a Roman Catholic Mission. This was run in the joiners shop at the rear of the Hermitage building (and was burned down in 1995), and was later known as Saint Andrews Mission. The house, the Hermitage, was lived in by nuns and the priest, each living in half of the property.

Back in the late 1800's the Catholic religion had a great deal of problems getting land for a church and school, so a committee was formed to help resolve this dilemma.1

They found the Hermitage in 1885, which from 1874 had been used as a joiners shop. The cost of turning a joiners shop into a school was met in part by Mr Thomas Seed, donating £100, and £50 from Mr Bernard Smith, as well as others.1

This building officially started teaching on the 11th January 1886, with 100 scholars, and at the time the catholic people in the town numbered around 800. This building was used as both a church and a school. A tea party and concert had been held on the 26th December 1885 to celebrate its opening.

Miss Houseman was the first head teacher, and was assisted by nuns.

The school hadn't been opened many months, when the bishop promised the blessing of having mass said in the school, which underwent many alterations to change the building into a school - chapel.1

It was some months later before the first mass was given here, being said by Father Harford, S. J., of Accrington, with prayers in the afternoon being said by Canon Dunderdale, of Saint Hubert's Church, Great Harwood, and Father Hothersall, of Enfield. This was sometime during October 1886.1

The Haslingden Observer and Times reported on Saturday, the 14th November 1896 that the previous Sunday had been a red letter day for the Catholics of Rishton. Bishop Bilsborough had opened their beautiful and commodious chapel, and the two sermons that he preached will not soon be forgotten. Both services were very largely attended and the finances of the Rishton mission must have benefitted very considerably from the bishops visit.

For some months after this young priests were sent for the weekend, by Bishop Vaughan. These included Father Mahony, who was the first priest, and father Rowntree, who was later canonised.

The first resident priest was Father Aukes in 18871. He remained here for five years, during this time raising £500 through a bazaar, and holding the first catholic procession through the town. He left in 1892.

Inside Saint Charles Church.
Inside Saint Charles Church in days gone by.....

It was Father Lathouwers who bought the land in Station Road before he left in 1895, having only stayed here for 3 years, and here was built the new school (incorporating the first real church) and the presbytery. Work finished on these in 1896, after Father Lathouwers had left the previous year,  and was opened on the 8th November that year. It was built at a cost of over £5,000.

In 1892 the new Church was dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, even though the Church hadn't been built! The Hermitage name and building would still be used for the next four years.

Charles Borromeo was born in a castle on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in Northern Italy in 1538. He was the son of a rich Italian nobleman, who owned the castle.

Charles was a relative of Pope Paul IV (who later made him secretary of State at the age of 21). He was ordained a priest at the age of 21. He was promptly made a bishop, and in the following year, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan.

He was a holy and hard working man, undertaking his tasks with thoroughness and devotion, and although rich due to his ancestry, he gave most of this away to the poor.

He committed many acts of kindness during his time, nursing through famines and sickness when all around deserted the needy.

He was to train many Priests in Rome as well, Edmund Campion and Father Edward Rishton, to name but two. Edward Rishton came from the Dunkenhalgh, and championed the religious cause with Father Edmund in this district on his return to the Country.

Charles Borromeo set about making many reforms in Italy, but not all were welcomed, one religious order hiring an assassin to murder him, but in this attack he was only slightly wounded. He remained in the main, popular with people, and his work, prayers, and holiness were an example to Priest and people around the world.

He died at the age of 46, in 1584, and was buried in the Cathedral in Milan.


When the Roman Catholics built a proper school in Knowles Street in 1896, the Church of England bought the old building and opened Saint Andrews Mission in May 1897. The picture here would now be impossible to take as houses have been built on the wasteland in from of the school. Also the tower on the entrance has been demolished and the school now has a flat roof entrance. A new two-storey block was built in 1962 on the left hand side to increase classroom capacity.

The school part of the buildings were on Knowles Street, with the entrance to both building being through the turret entrance. The Church had a South Alter, backing onto Saint Charles Road, and is now the school hall since the construction of the dedicated church building in 1938. The architecture of the church is still visible in the hall, with the window surrounds still in place, and the timber beams in the ceiling.

Foundation stone in latin.

The new Catholic school was first known as Hermitage Saint Charles, but the name was shortened in 1957 (School says 1959, verification needed) when it was apparent that this was confusing! The school was then known as Saint Charles. The picture on this page is taken from Knowles Street.

Father Fowler was the priest appointed by bishop Bilsborrow during the church schools opening, and from the hermitage took the alter, which had been gifted from Saint Josephs mission at Brindle, near to Houghton Tower.

The Haslingden Observer paper reported that the new Catholic Church and schools at Rishton were opened on Sunday previous by the Lord Bishop of Salford. The church, schools, and priest house are together estimated to have cost £4,000, towards which £100 had already been raised. The schools would accommodate 600 children, and the church 500 worshippers. On the Sunday morning mass was sung by Father Faille of Mold and several priest from Stoneyhurst took part. There was a crowded congregation. The Bishop said he had a special interest in Rishton and that is why he had sent Father Fowler - a priest who had made his name already. He sincerely hoped that a new epoch was dawning in the history of the mission.

When father O'Doherty took charge in 1899, the outlook was gloomy with heavy debts being laid upon him from the construction of the new church. He removed the Catholic club from over Rogersons smithy, to a new location in Noble Street. Father O'Doherty was buried at Saint Hubert's Church in Great Harwood, when he died in March 1903.1

Father Higgins took over in 1903, and worked hard to reduced the £4,000 debt to about £600 in his tenure of 21 years. His last great effort to clear this debt was held the week before he died in October 1924, when he held a great bazaar, his death causing great sorrow in the town.1

The Church school was built of Raven head rustic brick and terra cotta, with a sand face dressing,  with dormer windows glazed with cathedral tint glass, all in a gothic style. The main contractors being Messrs. James Whittaker & Co.

Alter in the church.

Four beautiful stained-glass windows, by Mayer & Co., were presented to the church by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Seed and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Smith. A side altar of carved oak, dedicated to St. Joseph, in memory of the late Mr. B. Smith, was given by his widow and family. Sadly, when the new church was built, it wasn't able to accommodate this side alter. Over the principal entrance was a bell turret. The church accommodates about 500, and the schools about 500 children, the whole making a very picturesque and pleasing block of buildings.

The cost of this new building was £9,000.

About 1935, while Father Michael O'Leary was rector, the catholic population of Rishton was about 820 people.

Farther 0’Leary was the power behind the building of the present church, which was opened on March 4th 1938 by the Bishop of Salford.

Captain Petre gave a donation of £200 towards the new church, and paid for a solid oak crucifix, still used in the church.2

Plans were submitted on the 10th September 1936, to the Council, for a proposed Church of St. Charles in Station Road, Rishton, by the Rev. M. O'Leary. The Council Resolved that the plan be approved subject to the drains being laid and constructed in a manner and in positions to be approved by the Council's officials.

The Bishop of Salford laid the foundation stone on the 24th April 1937. This stone is all wrote in Latin, and reads "

On the 14th November 1940, The Council clerk reported on an interview with Father O'Leary, with himself, Councillor Trengrove, and the council surveyor. The council resolved that as an implied agreement had undoubtedly existed between the council and Father O'Leary to compensate him for the setting back and building of the church boundary wall, that a payment should be made to Father O'Leary of £75.00. It was further resolved that before payment was made the council clerk should obtain the opinion of the District Auditor upon the legality of the payment.

Mr Bernard Smith left the church £1,500 in his legacy to the church to help clear the debts, a window which now stands in the South wall remains in his honour.

On the 17th January 1952, The Council Chairman and several members spoke of the passing away of the Rev. Father O'Leary, who for many years had been Priest in this district at a council meeting.

Clergy who have served the parish of St. Charles to date:
Name From To Date of Death
Fr John Mahony 1886 1886  
Fr. John Aukes 1887 1892 27th December 1909
Fr. John Lathowers 1892 1895 2nd April 1906
Fr. William L. Fowler 1896 1899 9th November 1916
Fr. James K. O’Doherty 1899 1903 29th March 1903
The annoucement of Father J. K. O'Doherty in the New Zealand Tablet, Volume XXXI, Issue 21, 21 May 1903, Page 27.
Fr. James Higgins 1903 1924 28th October 1924
Fr. William Drake 1924 1929 22nd May 1956
Fr. Michael 0’Leary 1929 1952 15th January 1952
Fr. James Elliott 1940 1948 3rd October 1993
Fr. Gerald Murphy 1948 1952 20th September 1981
Fr. James Turner D. D., P. h. D. 1952 1974 15th September 1981
Fr. Patrick Desmond 1974 1977 22nd June 2000
Fr. John F. McNamara 1977 1995  
Fr. Michael Waters 1995 1998  
Fr. Ian Farrell 1998 2000  
Fr. Martin C. Dowd 2000    

The church and school celebrate the 4th November, St. Charles Borromeo's feast day by focussing upon the fact that the congregation, and all Practising Catholics, "are people who pray," and will offer prayer to God for the needs of the whole Church, the whole world, those in special need, and the local community to which we belong. Since St. Charles Borromeo, an exemplary Catholic Bishop (of Milan) in the latter part of the 16th century, was especially noted for his life of prayer, preaching and care for God's people, especially those in need through sickness, etc., this seems a good way to celebrate his annual feast day and provide children with a role-model worth imitating.


Rishton on Record, The Festival of Britain 1951.

1 Salford Diocese and Its Catholic Past, chapter The Parishes Founded 1850 - 1950, Pages 157 to 159.

2 A Short History of Saint Charles' Parish, Rishton.

Father Martin Dowd.

Barrett's directory 1935 Introduction.