SHORT HISTORY OF ST BENEDICT’S PARISH MERTHYR VALE
Merthyr Vale in 1869 was still an almost rural community. True, there was the Taff Vale railway on the eastern side of the valley and the Glamorgan Canal was still in use, although it had ceased to be a major form of transport. Other than these arteries of communication, the valley sides and floor were largely wooded or given over to farming. Despite the fact that there were industries in the area, namely, the collieries at Perthgleision and Danyderi, they were too insignificant to alter the basically rural nature of the society. It was left to John Nixon to radically change the physical appearance of this lower end of the valley and the character of its community.
In 1869 John Nixon supervised the sinking of the first mine in Merthyr Vale.
This work took approximately five years to complete. By 1875 the colliery was in full production. From then until the turn of the century the development of the colliery attracted men searching for employment. With the influx of men into the district a large number of Irish immigrants were also drawn to the area in search of work. This is born out by the inscription on one of the headstones in the local cemetery. It reads, Erected by the Irishmen of Merthyr Vale in memory of their beloved friend Michael Hannighan who was accidentally killed on May 10th 1904. Aged 33 years.“
In this period the growing Catholic community attended Mass in Mountain Ash and in St Mary’s, Merthyr Tydfil. Both journeys involved a. walk of several miles. From 1892, however, Merthyr Vale was served by a Benedictine priest from St. Mary’s, Merthyr Tydfil who said Mass, at first, in 26 Taff Street and later .at the Rechabite Hall. Crescent .Street. In 1908 the parish priest of Merthyr Tydfil, Canon Bernard Wade decided that the Catholic community in Merthyr Vale was healthy enough to have its own church. This was built in that same year on the banks of the Taff, at the site of present betting Office. This first church which was officially opened by Bishop Hedley, was. an attractive stone building, the entrance of which was later surrounded by a fine avenue of trees. The church was dedicated to St Benedict. This church was to be the centre of Catholic life throughout the traumatic period of the First World War and the equally difficult years of the Depression.
In 1919 Fr Michael O’Donovan became the first resident parish priest of St. Benedict’s. A, few years later in 1926 Fr Arthur Jordan arrived in the parish. His ministry, covering twelve years, was the longest and one of the most productive. Within a short time of his arrival, Fr Jordan was confronted with the task of building a new church because the original St. Benedict’s was condemned due to subsidence. This new St Benedict’s, purchased with the help of the Powell Dyffryn Colliery, was officially opened on December 18th 1932, by Archbishop Mostyn.
In 1938 Fr F. Terrell Brown became parish priest. It was he who redecorated the sanctuary which remained basically unaltered until 1976. In 1939, an article by Peter Anson in a Catholic paper describes St Benedict’s:
“The interior of the little church, which in itself has no architectural interest, has recently been re-
It was at this time that Mass was first celebrated in Treharris. The small congregation would meet in the Perrott Inn overlooking Quaker’s Yard.
During the Second World War, Merthyr Vale had a number of parish priests. In the time of Fr Patrick Lenane ( 1943-
Up until the 1960’s the religious education of the children had been centred on the Sunday School. With the advent of. Catholic secondary education in the Archdiocese during the sixties, parents were encouraged to send their children to
St Mary’s School, Merthyr Tydfil and then transfer to Bishop Hedley Comprehensive School, Penydarren. A similar situation now exists in the Nelson area. Children attend St Michael’s School, Treforest and then transfer to Cardinal Newman, Pontypridd.
From 1919 to 1970 the priest of the parish lived in the presbytery on Cardiff Road. This house was originally known as Forest Cottage. Fr Kerrisk built the new presbytery alongside St. Benedict’s church as the former house had become uninhabitable due to subsidence. In 1976 Fr Clancy undertook the reconstruction of the sanctuary in St Benedict’s to fulfil the requirements of the revised liturgy: in December 1982, the parish celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the official opening of the present St Benedict’s church.
Changing pastoral circumstances led to the closure of the church at Treharris, and eventually the selling of the Merthyr Vale Presbytery, and the loss of a resident priest. St Benedict’s was then linked to St Mary’s Priory, Merthyr Tydfil.
In September 2012, Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff merged the four Parish of Merthyr (St Mary’s Priory; St Benedict’s, Merthyr Vale; St Illtyd’s, Dowlais; St.Aloysius’, Gurnos) into one pastoral unit, placed in the care of two Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey, Hereford: Fr Thomas Regan OSB (Parish Priest) and Fr James Norris OSB. An area once cared for by nine resident priests, now reduced to just two.
Pray for vocations!