Holy Cross Church was opened by Bishop Amigo on 14 September 1904 – the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Originally serviced from Lewisham, the new church’s first parish priest, Fr Edward Escarguel, was installed on 7 January 1905. The church had to wait until July 1960, however, to be formally consecrated.
Holy Cross was one of over 20 churches built in the early years of the 20th Century under the financial patronage of Miss Frances Ellis (1846-1930), an heiress who converted to Catholicism and was received into the Church in January 1901. Miss Ellis inherited a considerable fortune from her parents, and dedicated her life to founding new churches, hospitals, hospices, orphanages and nursing homes. Her vision in building so many churches in South London, at a time of enormous population increase, created new parishes and facilitated attendance at Mass for thousands of people who otherwise would have had no local parish church.
It was her specific request that each of her churches should be small, simple and Romanesque in style. They came to be known as Miss Ellis boxes. The architect of several of them, including Holy Cross, was F W Tasker, and the building was described at the time in The Tablet as a plain and unpretentious structure. Since then the church has undergone several changes, including the addition of the sanctuary, sacristy and organ in 1924, and the porch at the front of the building in 1949. The interior has also seen many changes including the addition of stained glass windows, wall paintings, shrines and statues over the years, as well as the major refurbishing and reordering of the sanctuary in 1991, which produced the open, welcoming interior familiar to us all today.
The parish of Holy Cross has grown from its humble beginnings in 1904 to a thriving community of some 600 families today. Around 750 parishioners attend Mass each week, of all ages from tiny babies to those in their 90s. Over the years, the parish community has become richly multicultural, reflecting the growing diversity of the local population here in Catford.
Attached to the church is our thriving parish school – Junior, Infant and Nursery. Founded in 1975 by Fr Edward Fagan, then parish priest at Holy Cross, the school was desperately needed as the only Catholic school within the parish, and remains to this day permanently oversubscribed, being recognised by OFSTED as “Outstanding”.
Our parish community centre, Hartley Hall, opened in 2002. For years the parish had longed for a hall that would be fully accessible to everyone and accommodate the growing variety of spiritual, educational and social activities of the parish, as well as offering a welcome to the local community. The dream became a reality in 2000, when Mary Hartley died leaving her home to be sold to provide funds for the building of a new centre. She had been born and baptised into the parish of Holy Cross in 1908, and had lived here most of her life. Her long-term friend Canon Mark Diamond gave her home to the parish and, inspired by such an extraordinary gift, the parish raised the remaining money needed to build the centre from a combination of private gifts, grants, Mary Hartley from trusts and a variety of special fundraising events and activities.
Since 1905 there have been 9 parish priests. Consistent with his predecessors, the present incumbent, Fr Doug Bull, has encouraged and supported large numbers of parishioners to participate in every aspect of leading and delivering the Church’s Mission here in Catford. This remains a particular charism of the parish. At the heart of the mission is of course a meeting or encounter with God. The Spirituality of Stewardship which aims to express this deep mystery has for several years been enabling parishioners to develop their Christian life and the parish gained an Award from the International Catholic Stewardship Conference in recognition of the growth that has been achieved in this regard. Fr Doug proudly accepted the award in Atlanta, USA in September 2017.