The first Mass in Rayleigh since the Reformation was celebrated on August 23rd 1931. It was offered in the presence of fifteen people at No. 54 London Hill, a house rented to serve as a Presbytery by Father James Hemming, whom Bishop Arthur Doubleday had appointed as parish priest. The previous Sunday Mass had been celebrated in a temporary Chapel at Eastwood, built by the Sisters of Charity of Leigh-on-Sea to serve as a Chapel-of-Ease to the parish that was about to be erected at Rayleigh. Rochford lay within the boundaries of the new parish and the hospital, previously served from Westcliff, was now looked after by the Rayleigh priest. Most of the Catholics in Rochford worked in the hospital and on March 29th 1932 Mass was celebrated for the first time in the hospital Chapel.
While the parishioners awaited the building of a parish church, the British Legion Memorial Hall at the top of London Hill was rented for the celebration of Sunday Mass. In July 1933 a site for a church on London Hill was purchased together with an adjoining house which was to serve as a temporary Presbytery until July 1970. On April 22nd 1934, Bishop Doubleday laid the foundation stone of the church of Our Lady of Ransom. Work proceeded on the church but lack of funds meant that it could not be completed. This did not prevent it from being solemnly blessed and opened by Bishop Doubleday on Monday, September 24th, the feast of Our Lady of Ransom.
From 1938 to 1945, weekly Sunday Mass was also celebrated in Rochford Hospital, and from 1946 to 1949, in the British Legion Hall. (The British Legion was obviously a good friend to this parish in difficult days!). A church dedicated to St. Teresa, and now replaced, was built in Rochford in 1949, and blessed and opened by Bishop George Andrew Beck on January 15th 1950. It continued to be served from Rayleigh until November 7th 1950 when Father Branney arrived to become the first parish priest of Rochford since Father Robert Wolfe was appointed there in 1515. In 1951, Father Hemming was appointed parish priest of Wanstead and succeeded at Rayleigh by Canon Thomas Smith, under whose leadership the dual purpose Church St. Pius X was built in Hockley on land donated by the late Mr. John English. In 1958, on his appointment to Brentwood Cathedral, he was succeeded by Father Andrew Dorricott, who was to remain until his retirement in 2004.
In 1963, work recommenced on Our Lady of Ransom Church. The East aisle, baptistry and sacristy were built and the narthex was enlarged. In 1965, the sanctuary was constructed and the High Altar and Blessed Sacrament Altars erected, the High Altar being the first permanent free standing one in the diocese. On the day the Second Vatican Council closed, December 8th 1965, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the first Mass in the completed church was celebrated. The church itself was consecrated by Bishop Bernard Patrick Wall on June 1st 1967.
In October 1961, negotiations with the Sisters of Mercy in Cobh, County Cork had begun. The fruit of these discussions was the establishment in Rayleigh of the Cloyne Sisters of Mercy’s first foundation outside Ireland. On land donated by Mr. Thomas Gunn Snr., in Little Wheatley Chase, and in the period before we qualified for a grant, the parish, helped by the Sisters, built the Primary School. The Sisters alone financed the building of the Convent. Both were opened in 1966 under the patronage of Our Lady of Ransom. The Convent was blessed by Bishop Bernard Patrick Wall on December 8th of that year, and the school, already well populated, was officially opened by him on May 7th 1967. In 1970, the school was enlarged, the extensions being blessed by Bishop Patrick Casey. In the same year, a new Presbytery was built.
Meanwhile in 1967, St. Pius X Church had been extended and adapted to meet the new liturgical requirements. The American Fathers of the Society of St. Edmund, based at Stock, and in charge of the Diocesan Travelling Mission, had from the early 1950’s celebrated Mass every few weeks in Hullbridge, chiefly in the Village Hall, until 1969. Then, after an interim period during which the Society provided Mass weekly, this commitment was taken over by the priests of the parish. From Easter 1970 through the great kindness of the local Anglicans, the Catholic community enjoyed the use of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church in Hullbridge. Mass was also celebrated in H.M. Prison and Young Offenders Institute, Bullwood, from its opening in 1962. The parish priest of Rayleigh served as the R.C. Chaplain to Bullwood Hall which was latterly used as an immigration detention centre before its closure in 2013.
July 1979 saw the opening of a new Parish Hall, named after Pope John Paul II and built on land provided by Mr. Thomas Gunn Snr.
The Bethany Room, virtually an extension to Our Lady Of Ransom Church, was opened in Easter 1998 replacing St Teresa’s Hall. The Bethany Room now serves a very useful purpose as a place for the Children’s Liturgy and a meeting room for small groups. There are facilities for the disabled.
The new Millennium initially ushered in a few disappointments. The remaining Sisters of Mercy were summoned back to Ireland and the Convent was closed but happily re-opened after a short time as the new headquarters of the Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society. Holy Mass continues to be occasionally said in the Convent Chapel. In 2004, Father Dorricott retired and was replaced by Father Martin Joyce, who took on the daunting task of looking after the parish without an assistant. By this time, Hullbridge Mass Centre had already been closed and later, in 2005, St Pius X Church in Hockley was transferred to Rochford parish. This was a sad blow for Rayleigh parish with an ironic twist after Father Dorricott had led a long successful campaign against a legal challenge over ownership of the land on which the church stands.
Father Martin developed his own mark on the Parish, working particularly closely with the young people and regularly visiting many of the sick and elderly. The Parish Garden Project is now completed and the new garden behind the presbytery was opened on 4th July 2010 providing a stimulating haven for all parishioners, young and old.
In April 2015 we bade farewell to Fr. Martin, who will be fondly remembered for his humility and great service to the parish during his ten years’ tenure as Parish Priest. We welcome Fr. Paul who comes to us from the parish of St. Mary Mother of God, Hornchurch and wish him many happy years in Rayleigh.
We thank God for all the graces and blessings this parish has received down the years since 1931. We acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to our many benefactors, living and dead. The great generosity of the Sisters of Mercy from the Diocese of Cloyne is warmly appreciated.