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Holy Cross, Leicester: a Vision for Renewal

Monday, August 05, 2019

Holy Cross, Leicester: a Vision for RenewalFr David Rocks OP, Prior of Holy Cross, Leicester, explains the original vision for this 200-year-old priory, and new plans for its future mission

When Fr Benedict Caestryck OP looked out of the window of his Dover Street chapel in Leicester in 1819, he saw the realisation of his vision just across the road: the small but striking buildings that would house the beginnings of Holy Cross Priory rising, beautiful both in their aesthetic and in their humility.

For the first time since 1538, the Dominican Order would have a suitable place to live in Leicester, and the opportunity to lead the Catholic faithful in prayer and mission in a worthy environment. Simple though it was, the foundation was brave and ambitious. That Catholic Emancipation was still almost a decade away would pose uncertainty and risk. The spirit of the preceding centuries served only to secure Caestryck and his brethren in their resolve.

Early Growth

The decades would move quickly. By 1824, school buildings needed to be erected beside the Priory Church; by the 1840s, the original church building had to be extended, and was beautifully redesigned by Hansom; that same decade saw the development of the church and school mission to St Patrick's in the Belgrave Gate area of the city, necessitated by the increase in Irish immigration.

The development of our Dominican mission in Leicester was always expansive, and that original vision is still being fulfilled. Today, our mission in Leicester is still with some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society – preaching and evangelising through our schools, universities, hospitals, our prison chaplaincy, and through our church and parish apostolate.

Holy Cross Today

Fast forward 200 years and the needs remain great. Looking out of the windows of Wellington Street and New Walk today, the challenges might be different, but the vision remains the same. Our mission to 'preach the good news to the poor' is still a vital requirement on the streets of our city.

But fifty years on from the call to renewal of the second Vatican Council, we found ourselves in difficulty. The venerable and beautiful old buildings were showing their age. Decades of ambition and achievement were declining into faded dreams and visions, and the financial circumstances of the church and priory were in serious jeopardy.

Holy Cross, Leicester: a Vision for RenewalFr David Rocks OP, pictured with some of Holy Cross's parishioners

Inspired by our Dominican charism and the founding vision of Fr Caestryck, we developed a renewal programme – On Firm Foundations. This allowed us to put together strategic plans to address our financial problems and restore our ageing buildings through uniting our whole community behind a common vision. We began a listening process, and gathered together in an Assembly Day, to see how we could tackle the issues that were before us.


Lots of hard work and commitment have gone in since then. Living facilities in the priory itself have been upgraded to a suitable standard, and proper lighting installed to enhance our beautiful church. We've addressed the most pressing financial challenges, so things are moving forward. Most importantly, we're growing as a welcoming, missionary community of disciples rooted in the Dominican tradition.

There's still more to do. As we prepare to mark the 200th Anniversary of the first celebration of Mass at Holy Cross in September 2019, we are seeking to consolidate our renewal and expand our vision. The Frassati Centre for Preaching and Evangelisation is our big dream, so that the old buildings of our parish centre can be opened up and filled with new life while continuing to serve our core mission in Leicester.

Encouraging one another to be renewed in our discipleship, we want to face the next 200 years with courage and ambition, enriching the lives of others with the good news we are sent to preach. Trusting in God's providence, we have been able to achieve great things in Leicester. What other wonderful success might he give to the work of our hands?

If you would like to support the development of Holy Cross, please click here.

Holy Cross, Leicester: a Vision for RenewalPlans for the Frassati Centre include a complete redesign of the upper floor (pictured above), with a lift, rooms for meeting, study and pastoral needs, and a small chapel. This will allow for current and future groups to be supported well, and allow for additional uses such as conferences and retreats.

Holy Cross, Leicester: a Vision for RenewalBlessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Lay Dominican and inspiration for the new Centre at Holy Cross, which will be established in the halls created out of the original Holy Cross church.


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