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Father Jones' return to St Mary's

15th August 2009

Fr. Jones arrives at St. Mary's after 50 years away.
After an absence of 50 years, The Rev. Victor (Father) Jones returned to his old church of St. Mary the Virgin in Caerau Wood on 15th August 2009.

Assembled to greet him was a crowd of about 40, including former parishioners, supporters, friends, local residents and their children, as well as members from St. Timothy’s where Fr. Jones was priest for four years in the late 1950’s/early 60’s. It was during those years that Fr. Jones inspired the heroic rebuild of St. Mary’s, now sadly returned to a ruin.

The occasion was organised by The Friends of St. Mary’s, assisted by Communities First, a Welsh Assembly initiative to support and develop local communities, and was blessed by the rain holding off and the sun intermittently shining. Delia Jay, Co-founder of The Friends, introduced Fr. Jones to the crowd gathered in the ruined body of the church.

Father Jones, standing in the still beautiful Chancel Arch, was visibly moved and needed to take a few moments to gather his thoughts. He then spoke of his time as Priest in Ely and Caerau and what had motivated him to rebuild the church, with the help of the late Charles Jewell and many local firms and people, including girls and boys from the Scouts and youth groups run by Fr. Jones. He had been deeply moved when he and Charles Jewell contemplated the original communion rail, miraculously standing after ‘wreckers’ had destroyed much of the old building. He was inspired also by the two stone crosses high on the, then intact, West Tower.

Father Jones is presented with a framed picture of St. Mary's.
Fr. Jones continued that it was very painful for him to see his beloved old church once again reduced to a ruin, but he was comforted by the fact that so much love and support still existed for this historic and holy site. He praised the work of the The Friends and other community groups and hoped they would continue. Father Jones recited the Angelus, which was particularly relevant to St. Mary’s on August 15th, being the day of the religious Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. The whole congregation then joined in The Lord’s Prayer.

Father Jones was presented by The Friends with a framed photo showing St. Mary’s at its beautiful best in the early 1970’s, before the return of decay and vandalism. He was also presented with six bottles of ‘vintage’ red wine bearing the picture of St. Mary’s on a label imaginatively designed by Cliff and Jean Evans, son-in-law and daughter of Charles Jewell.

Sue Brook, a local resident and Friends supporter, then spoke about her work with the children of Ely, some of whom were wearing Celtic costume for the occasion, as was Sue herself. Dave Horton, representing Communities First, spoke about their work supporting people and communities like Ely and Caerau and working with young people to instil a sense of local pride and ownership, in the hope of combating senseless vandalism, which unfortunately St. Mary’s still suffers.

Concluding, Delia thanked Fr. Jones for making this heartfelt return to his old church. She also thanked Cardiff Council Bereavement Department and helpers who had tidied up the site on the previous day, and the voluntary groups and church groups, particularly local residents, to whom the Friends’ baton must increasingly be passed, for protecting the site and holding regular ‘Tidy up and Learn’ days. Thanks were also due to the Ely Community Police Officer who attended the gathering, and to Ivan Woodberry and many other individuals, who give so generously of their time to visit St. Mary’s and remove brambles and debris for the dignity of the small graveyard, which is still visited by many relatives of loved ones buried there.

Supporters listening to the speeches.
Afterwards, people enjoyed picnics they had brought, and Dave Horton, assisted by Darren Bradley from St. Tim’s, served tea and coffee from a well organised gazebo tent. The crowd mingled freely, chatting to one another and reminiscing with Father Jones.

Father Jones confided later that he had wondered at the last minute whether he had the strength for this emotionally draining return, but was so glad he had seen the site again and met all the people of Caerau and Ely who had so kindly come to welcome him back after all these years away. Although now living elsewhere, his heart remains here in his old Parish and especially on the wooded hill of St. Mary’s, where he intends his ashes to be scattered.

The only sad note of the occasion was that Rosemary Lewis, Co-Founder of the Friends, was unable to attend due to the serious illness of her husband, Geoff. We send our love and best wishes to Rosemary and Geoff.

Many thanks to all who came and supported the welcome to Father Jones. Our next formal site inspection will be on St. David’s Day March 1st 2010 and we will let you have the details of this early next year. There will be other events, including the periodic “Clean Up and Learn” days, and we will post details of these when available.

Delia and Rosemary
The Friends of St. Mary’s
See more photos in our gallery...

Cliff Evans's video of the event.
See coverage in the South Wales Echo.