The first Mass in Eastbourne for some 300 years took place on Ascension Day, 29 May 1867, in the Catholic Chapel in the basement of 42 Ceylon Place and was celebrated by Father Charles P King. Within a year, a chapel had been built in Junction Road, on the comer of Terminus Road and Terminus Place (near the present Barclay’s Bank) at the expense of Father King, which was named ‘Stella Maris’ and was solemnly opened on 1 April 1869.
Although Fr King stayed on at Stella Maris until February 1893, another temporary church was opened in rented premises, formerly a market hall, off Grove Road (now the Police Station garage) by Father Charles Stapley. The first Mass was offered on 14 August 1890 and the Church was dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom. Attempts to find a site for a permanent church were finally successful but not until after a Catholic voluntary school, St Joseph’s, had been opened in Whitley Road on 23 September 1895. A new church, together with a presbytery, was built by Fr Paul Lynch, the successor to Fr Stapley, on the comer of Meads Road and Grange Road, an important site opposite the Town Hall, and was opened on Sunday 15 December 1901 by Bishop Francis Bourne, later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. The dedication was still ‘Our Lady of Ransom’. In due course, extensions were built and the completed church was opened on Thursday, 11 February 1926 by Bishop Amigo. The debt on the church was quickly cleared, mainly by donations from generous benefactors, and the church was able to be solemnly consecrated on Thursday 8th July 1926. A new altar and refurbishment of the sanctuary were completed in 1995.
At first, Our Lady of Ransom served an area that extended as far as Hailsham and Hellingly but, over the years, other churches were built in Eastbourne and the surrounding districts and these eventually became parishes in their own right. One exception to this was St Gregory’s church in Victoria Drive. A temporary church was set up in March 1934 and a permanent church was opened in December 1966. This remains today as part of the parish of Our Lady of Ransom, St Gregory’s and St Agnes.
In January 1959, St Richard’s Secondary School at Bexhill was opened and took the senior children from St Joseph’s. In September 1973, St. Thomas a Becket Infant School opened and a Junior School, begun in March 1973, was opened in September 1974. St Joseph’s then closed and became the Catholic Centre for what was then the parish of St Agnes.
The Parish Today
Fr King found himself with a parish of 90 Catholics when he opened the first church. Today, with some 2,000 Catholics, the parish of Our Lady of Ransom, St Gregory and St Agnes is one of the largest in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton (separated from Southwark in 1965). There are Saturday Vigil Masses in St Agnes and Our Lady of Ransom, one Mass on a Sunday at St Gregory’s, two at Our Lady of Ransom and two at St Agnes. Mass is celebrated every weekday at Our Lady of Ransom, twice during the week at St Gregory’s and twice a week at St Agnes. The St Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of St Columba, the Catholic Women’s League, Catenians, Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, a Bereavement Group and Youth Clubs are some of the organisations active in the parish. There are also Eucharistic Ministers, Readers, Welcomers, Altar Servers, Catechists, Flower Arrangers, Cleaners, Receptionists in the presbytery and other opportunities for the laity to play a part in the parish. A newsletter is published weekly.