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The Catholic Parish of Crawley

St. Francis & St. Anthony


The earliest post-Reformation record of Catholics in the Crawley area goes back to 1582 when two parishioners were named as recusants (Roman Catholics who refused to attend the services of the Church of England).  In 1767, one papist was listed in Ifield.  It was only in the mid-nineteenth century, however, that the founding of a Catholic parish – by the Franciscans – in the Crawley area became possible.

In 1850, Fr. Louis of Lavagna, an Italian friar, stopped in London on his way to Canada.  It was here that a small mission was established and it marked the founding of a new English Capuchin Franciscan Province.  It was also at this time that the new Diocese of Southwark came into existence.  The first Bishop was Doctor Thomas Grant who had been Rector of the English College in Rome.

The first friars came to Crawley in 1859 at the invitation of the Hon. Mrs Montgomery, daughter of the first Baron Leconfield.  The Superior of the Community was Father Anthony Potenza of Monte Lupone, who, together with his companions, lived in a small cottage donated by Mrs Montgomery.  The first mass was, in fact, celebrated in the coach house in the grounds of “The Elms”, Horsham Road, which had been converted as St. Philip’s chapel.  The house, belonging to Mrs. Montgomery, was later renamed Buckswood Grange.  It lay opposite the entrance to St. Wilfrid’s Secondary school and no longer stands today.  Mrs Montgomery was both a financial benefactress and also actively involved as an interpreter for the Italian friars.  She also engaged a school-mistress, so that a start could be made – in that primitive coach-house chapel – of Catholic education in Crawley.


The Catholic Friary of St. Francis & (later) St. Anthony

The Catholic Friary of St. Francis and (later) St. Anthony was founded by Francis Scawen Blunt of Crabbett Park, at the wish of his mother, an ardent Catholic convert.  The Friary was built on a three acre site – part of the old White Hart Farm – and was constructed of brick and stone in plain Gothic style.  The buildings consisted of four ranges around a quadrangle with a tall church dedicated to St. Francis at the North end.  It was blessed and opened by Bishop Grant on the 12th October, 1861 and Father Anthony became the first parish priest of Crawley.

The friars’ religious habit was simple – sandals, brown tunic with a hood, girdled with a white cord.  The mission, including Horsham, stretched between Rudgwick and Copthorne in the North, and Nuthurst and Lindfield in the South.  The friars carried out much missionary work in the neighbourhood and also as far away as the USA and India.  In fact, the first Archbishop of Simla, India, was a former Guardian of the Friary – His Grace Anselm Kenealy of Abersychan.

On April 21st, 1872, Francis Scawen Blunt died at the early age of thirty three and his body was laid to rest in what was known as “The Blunt Chapel.”  A few months later, his sister Mrs Alice Wheatley died and she too was buried in the same place.  The Blunt Chapel was demolished in 1993 and their shared grave is now to be found in the secluded garden behind the church.
In 1880, Fr. Anthony died in Crawley and thirteen years later Mrs. Montgomery died in Naples, her body being brought back for internment. Today, these three – a Francis, an Anthony and a Frances now rest in the cemetery of the Church of St. Francis & St. Anthony – a church which in size far surpasses the simple but well-loved church of their time.  The Catholic community of Crawley owes much of its origins to their piety and initiative.

Structural weakness forced the demolition of the Victorian Church in June 1958.  The new Church was designed by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel and like the previous church of Franciscan austerity, was made of brick with patterned decoration and is not oriented.
The new church was opened and blessed on 18th November 1959 by the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev. Cyril Cowderoy – the centenary of the arrival of the Capuchin friars in Crawley.

In 1980, the friars left Crawley and moved their house of formation to Canterbury along with the friars responsible for it. The old Friary was demolished and the land sold.  The Friary parish was given to the pastoral care of the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton and Fr. Seamus Hester became the first parish priest of the combined parishes of St. Francis & St. Anthony with St. Bernadette’s, Tilgate.

In 1993 – 1994 extensive alterations to the Friary Church were carried out – providing a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, new sacristies and ancilliary space.  As well as opening up the main worship area, a new roof was put on the whole church.  The church was consecrated on 18th November 1994 by Bishop, now Cardinal, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Bishop of Arundel & Brighton.

Our Church today.

Today, the church of St. Francis & St. Anthony is part of the Catholic Parish of Crawley with a thriving congregation.  For further information on Mass times and on the many groups that are active in the Parish, please refer to the Parish Directory available from the front porch or the Parish Office.


After the Second World War, Crawley was earmarked as one of the satellite towns that was being planned to re-house the overspill population of London.  The Crawley Development Corporation was set up in 1947 with the objective of building a town large enough to house 50,000.  In that year, the town population was some 9,500 and by 1949 this had increased to 49,000.  There were nine original neighbourhoods:  Northgate, Southgate, West Green, Three Bridges, Tilgate, Langley Green, Broadfield, Bewbush and Gossops Green.  Today, there are thirteen neighbourhoods – with the addition of Furnace Green, Broadfield, Bewbush and Maidenbower.

The present population is in the region of 100,000 and the area is dominated by nearby London Gatwick Airport.
The earliest post-Reformation record of Catholics in the Crawley area goes back to 1582 when two parishioners were named as recusants (Roman Catholics who refused to attend the services of the Church of England).  In 1767, one papist was listed in Ifield.  It was only in the mid-nineteenth century, however, that the founding of a Catholic parish –by the Franciscans – in the Crawley area became possible.

Today, the Catholic Parish of Crawley has six Catholic churches, three Catholic schools, and five convents: two of which are Generalates for their respective worldwide orders.  In addition, the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton Christian Education Centre (DABCEC) and the Bishop's residence are located in the parish.



The Shrine of St. Anthony

The Guild of St. Anthony of Padua was founded on the 23rd November, 1896 and Crawley became the World Centre for the Guild until the Franciscan friars moved away in 1980.  The chapel is of coloured marble, onyx and alabaster and incorporates the altar and altarpiece from Mrs. Montgomery;’s private chapel in Naples, Italy.  For details of the Guild, please see the separate leaflet at the shrine.

The Blunt Chapel

The chapel is dedicated to the memory of the Blunt family through whose generosity there has been a Catholic Church on this site since 1861.  The alabaster carving on the tomb is the unique work of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and is an effigy of his brother Francis, the Friary founder, who died 21st April, 1872 aged thirty three.  He is shown dressed in the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.  The decorative tiles incorporated in the base are from the sanctuary of the Founder’s Chapel, which unfortunately had to be demolished during the renovations begun in 1993.

And Outside ….

The large and interesting cemetery has been left largely unchanged over the years.  In this peaceful resting place, there are also memorials to:

There are also two war graves and several of the friars have their last resting place here.
If you walk to the back of the church you will see, inscribed in the apex of the South wall, DEUS PROVIDEBIT – “God will provide.”

The Parish Hall
On the other side of the avenue facing the church.  It accommodates up to 300 people and is a focal point of many of the Parish’s activities.




Town Centre - 'Friary'