By Pat Pearce

Mgr John Howell VG opening St Monica's

Mgr John Howell VG
opening St Monica’s

Before St Monica’s Church was built, Wivenhoe’s Catholics attended Mass at either St James’s Church in Colchester or St Sabina’s in Brightlingsea and then in Wivenhoe at St John’s Ambulance Hut, The Greyhound Public House or a room at the “Boys School” (the present Wivenhoe Library site). Mass was sometimes even celebrated in a small stable to the rear of the present church.

In 1908 the first Mass since the Reformation was said in Brightlingsea and just after the Second World War the priest began to travel from there to the old school in the Wivenhoe High St to celebrate Mass. This became a permanent Mass centre in 1958.

In 1960’s, with the population of the village growing so quickly, building a Catholic church was deemed desirable and on the 20 April 1967 this church building of St Monica’s was formally opened by the Vicar General, Monsignor John Howell. Our patron saint was chosen because it was felt that the relationship of St Monica to St Augustine was a parallel with the relationship of Wivenhoe to the university.

The land upon which our church and gardens now stand once formed part of the Corsellis estate. Zegar Corsellis was an elder of the Dutch Church whose son, Nicholas, bought the manor of Wivenhoe in 1657. Their family home, Wivenhoe Hall, stood at the North End of what is now the King George V Playing Fields and within its boundaries were a stable block (at the rear of our church), a summer house (which in the mid 1950’s became the site for the present Congregational Church) and a kitchen garden, upon which St Monica’s now stands. The estate gardener lived in the house opposite the church on the left of Cedric’s Garage forecourt. The family name of Nicholas Caesar Corsellis remained popular and the kitchen garden wall – now a boundary wall for St Monica’s – contains a plaque bearing the initials NCC 1834. In 1925 Wivenhoe Hall nearly burnt down and in 1927 was demolished. The land was purchased for £750.00 and in 1935 the George V Playing Fields were opened.

Our present church is constructed mainly of cedar wood. Fr Michael Butler, the Parish Priest, dedicated the railings and Millennium Gates at the front boundary in July 2000.

Fr Stewart Foster, the Diocesan Archivist adds: ‘Wivenhoe was served by the Diocesan Travelling Mission from 1953 to 1962, by Colchester from 1962 to 1965 and then by the recently-erected Parish of Brightlingsea from 1965 onwards.’

Much of above information was given by local residents and some taken from various books including Nicholas Butler’s ”History of Wivenhoe” for which I give all of them full credit.