History of the Parish
The Sacred Heart Fathers originally founded the parish was founded in 1936 by the Sacred Heart Father, an order dating back to 1878 in France. The original church that they founded was situated in Dunstable Street, Ampthill, which was later sold to Neville and Co. Funeral Directors and is now used as their chapel of rest. In 1982, Saturday evening Mass was then transferred to St Andrew’s Church of England parish church, Ampthill and Sunday Masses to the new church in Flitwick.
The presbytery in Ampthill was sold and the money used to pay off the remaining debt for the new church in Flitwick, but a plot of land next to the presbytery was retained. This was sold in 1992 for £70,000 and the money used to pay off the debt from the new church at Flitwick. A timber church building had been built in Marston Moretaine to serve the community working in the brickworks and Mass was celebrated there at 9.00 am on a Sunday morning until 1993. The building was then declared unsafe and all Masses were moved to Flitwick. Fr. John Gaul, who was then the parish priest, made arrangements for parishioners to be provided with transport to and from Flitwick to attend Mass every Sunday, a practice that still continues today.
Since the founding of the parish, there have been seven parish priests of the Sacred Heart Order. In 1998 the Sacred Heart Fathers informed the bishop that they were no longer able to support the parish after Fr. Michael Walshe, who took over from Fr. Gaul, was elected provincial of the order. As an interim measure the bishop appointed Fr. Michael Griffiths as parish priest until Canon Frank Duane took over in July 1999. Our next parish priest was Canon Denis McSweeney who arrived in 2006 and remained until his death in 2015. Canon Bennie Noonan was parish priest here as well as parish priest in Shefford from Canon Denis’s death until October 2017. Since then Fr. John Danford is the parish priest at Sacred Heart. Flitwick as well as the parish priest at Sacred Heart, Leighton Buzzard.
About the Foundation of the Order
The Sacred Heart Fathers were founded by Leo John Dehon, a priest who born in La Capelle, Northern France in 1843. He worked tirelessly for social justice, for young people and for evangelisation. In 1878, he founded the congregation of theory ‘Sacerdotum Corde Jesu’ (Priests of the Sacred Heart) at San Quentin. At present there are almost 2,400 SCJs throughout the world. In 1998, Leo Dehon was declared Venerable and the cause of his canonisation is progressing.
The current church, located in Pope Close, Flitwick was designed and built by Hilson Builders. Consecrated in 1983, it incorporated a number of stained-glass windows. The windows came from Woodcote Hall, Newport, Shropshire, which was opened in 1949 as the Junior Seminary of the Province.
The college was the Sacred Heart Fathers junior seminary until the late sixties and then a residential youth centre until 1980. When this building was sold, the church at Flitwick was in the planning stages and the windows were incorporated into the finished building.
The donation of these windows has greatly enhanced the beauty of our church with one of the main features being the compilation of our windows depicting St Joseph, St Willibrord, St George and St John. If you look at St. Willibrord’s window, you will find the church at Woodcote depicted in the left-hand corner. In the right-hand corner is an illustration of Utrecht Cathedral where Willibrord is buried.