Our Lady of Lourdes Church
Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
From Belfast take M5 and A2 to Cable Rd in Whitehead
Turn right onto Cable Rd
Continue on Cable Rd to Victoria Ave
Turn right onto Victoria Ave
Destination will be on the right
The opening of the church took place on Sunday 25th April 1909. The Bishop of Down and Connor, Most Rev. Dr John Tohill D.D. dedicated the building to Our Lady of Lourdes before a congregation from Whitehead, Carrickfergus, Larne and Belfast. The music for the Mass was provided by the Ardoyne Male Choir, conducted by Hugh Werner.
It was the first church in Ireland to be dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and the following items were donated to the new church – the Altar, Sanctuary Lamp, Baptismal Font and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. When the church was being built, it was decided that something to associate it with France would be appropriate. Accordingly, a number of the floor tiles had a pattern of the Fleur-De-Lis (the flower of the lily) on them. The Fleur-De-Lis is the Royal Insignia of France.
On Monday 11th February 1957 His Lordship Most Rev. Dr. Mageean, Bishop of the Diocese, performed the solemn consecration of two bells for the church. The ceremony was attended by a large congregation and many priests from surrounding parishes. One of the bells would be used to ring out the Angelus and the other bell for calling people to Mass. The bells were a gift of Mrs. M. A. Devenny in memory of her late husband Mr. W. T. Devenny. His Lordship expressed deep appreciation of such generosity and noted how appropriate it was that that day, the feast of Our Lady or Lourdes, should have been chosen for the blessing and consecration ceremony.
The first Women’s World Day of Prayer service to be held in a Catholic Church in Northern Ireland took place in Our Lady of Lourdes Church Whitehead on Friday 3rd March 1972. The theme for the day of prayer (an international inter-denominational event) was All Joy be Yours. Around 750,000 women attended the services held across the United Kingdom that year. The Whitehead service was led my Mrs. S. McKenna and addressed by Sister Regina Sanning CP, Mother Superior of Drumalis Convent, Larne. A choir made up of women from all the Whitehead churches was conducted by Mrs. M. Thorne and the soloist was Mary Gilmore. The service was very well attended and the ladies of Our Lady of Lourdes Church provided supper for everyone afterwards.
The most recent (renamed) World Day of Prayer also took place in Our Lady of Lourdes Church. It was one of the last services in the church before lockdown, on Friday 6th March 2020. The theme on this occasion was “Rise! Take Your Mat and Walk.” People from over 120 countries and islands across the world took part this year. The service is written by a different country each year and Zimbabwe did all the preparations of the service for 2020.There was a big turnout for the service and everyone enjoyed a supper afterwards in the Pastoral Centre.
On October 19th 1998 work commenced on major renovations to Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The interior of the church was stripped of all its fittings except the main altar. Many of the original fittings were subsequently discarded as part of the refurbishment, including the altar rails and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. All the interior walls were stripped and re-plastered. New lighting, heating, audio, security and smoke alarm systems were installed and the original leaded glass windows were incorporated into double glazing units and fitted into new hardwood frames. The exterior of the building had a much-improved drainage system installed, new pathways, a ramp for wheelchairs and outside lights to illuminate the building at night. The two statues from Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, Our Lady and St. Bernadette were mounted on a plinth and located near the back of the church.
The church was solemnly blessed and re-opened on 25th April 1999 by the Most Rev. Dr Anthony Farquhar, D.D. Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor. It was exactly ninety years to the day since the church first opened on 25th April 1909.
The first event of the centenary celebrations, An Evening of Sacred Music, took place on Friday 30th January 2009. The church was filled to capacity for the occasion and the Very Rev Sean Dillon P.P. welcomed everyone to the event. It featured the distinguished Abbey Singers, conducted by Brian Agus, with accompanist Ruth Mitchell on piano and guest soloists, sisters, Claire Pollard and Maeve Maxwell. Ruth Dodridge was on trumpet and Mrs. Philomena Cunningham recited a poem “Angel of Dreams”. The evening was a great success and was followed by light refreshments in the Parish Hall afterwards.
The highlight of the centenary celebrations was the visit of the Bishop of the Diocese of Down and Connor, the Most Rev Dr Noel Treanor D.D. to celebrate Mass on Sunday 26th April 2009, 100 years plus one day from the opening of the church by his predecessor Bishop John Tohill. The Bishop was assisted by Very Rev Sean Dillon P.P. Carrickfergus and the Very Rev Dermot McKay P.P. Larne, a former curate in Whitehead. Among the large congregation were past curates of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as representatives from the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Congregational Church in Whitehead. The Liturgy of the Mass was greatly enhanced by the beautiful singing of the choir under the direction of Mrs. Maeve Maxwell with accompanist Aisling Boylan on the organ. Lourdes Primary School choir also joined in the celebration, accompanied by Mr. Alec MacDonald on the organ.
At the end of the Mass the Bishop dedicated a Centenary Plaque which had been designed, constructed and put in place by Mr. Tom Arkins, Carrickfergus, in memory of the priests who had served in Our Lady of Lourdes Church over the past one hundred years.
Extracts taken from the book “The Catholic Church in Whitehead – A short History” by P. J. O’Donnell.