A Pastoral Letter to the Community of St Bernadette, Rothwell

Crest of Bishop David, Northampton RC Diocese

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Our parish churches are important to us. They remind us of those who went before us, filled with courage and commitment to set about building the church for us today. It is in our church building that the pilgrim journey of faith begins when we are brought to the church for baptism. During our lives, we encounter Christ through the sacraments, until our family and friends bring us here at the end of our lives, to commend us to God and to pray for the repose of our eternal soul. But the Church, which is the family of God, is bigger than our buildings.

Some years ago, my predecessors conducted various consultations throughout our diocese, with regard to future needs and pastoral provision for our communities. We have known for some years that it would not be possible to continue with as many church buildings and other properties. The numbers of people living out their Catholic faith by coming to Sunday Mass have been falling. The number of priests we have available for active ministry is also falling.

In Kettering, the impact of falling numbers of parishioners shepherded by a smaller number of priests has resulted in mass being said once a month in the three satellite churches of St Nicholas Owen, Burton Latimer, Holy Trinity, Desborough and St Bernadette, Rothwell.

Fr Gregory and Fr Ebin, as you know, are very committed pastors and they have tried to implement a routine that at a minimum keeps these churches open but they are concerned that under the current arrangements they are unable to provide the appropriate level of pastoral care across the four church communities of the Parish. I understand that Fr Gregory has shared his concerns with the  Parish committee.

Please be assured, no bishop wants to close down a church building. This runs contrary to our instinct to grow the life and pastoral ministry of our diocese. Unfortunately, though, the work begun by my predecessor must be continued by myself at this time.

It is therefore, with a very heavy heart, I am writing to let you know that the pastoral decision has been made to close the church at Rothwell this summer. Some of you may not be surprised at this decision whilst others will be very surprised indeed and will ask, why us?

Desborough is geographically the farthest town from Kettering, located on the edge of our diocese, (Desborough and Rothwell are just 1.5 miles apart), whilst Burton Latimer is a dynamically developing town and community to the south of Kettering. With two satellite churches, it will be possible to celebrate Sunday Mass twice a month in each town.

I have been assured that the Desborough community will warmly welcome all members of the Rothwell community. The new merged community will gather in the church in Desborough which will be called Holy Trinity and Saint Bernadette Church.

From September 2022, Sunday Masses will be celebrated as follows:

  • 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month – St Nicholas Owen, Burton Latimer
  • 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month – Holy Trinity and Saint Bernadette, Desborough

In order to commence the preparation for this change I have asked the Vicar General, Canon Michael Harrison together with the Chief Operating Officer, Tony McNiff and the Communications Director Neil Roseman  to meet with you at St Bernadette’s on Tuesday 2nd August at 6pm to discuss how the Diocese may be able to help the community as you make this transition to your new church.

It is with a very heavy heart that these words to you are being written. I know how devastating all this will be for many of you. Nevertheless, I take comfort in the central mysteries of our Catholic faith, the dying and rising of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This may seem like a very painful death at the moment, but we all pray that you will rally around Fr Gregory and Fr Ebin in Holy Trinity and Saint Bernadette Church and experience something of the new life of Easter in the months to come.

Yours devotedly in Christ,

Rt Revd David J Oakley Bishop of Northampton