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franciscan - January 2005

The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

Alverna, the House at Gladstone Park

Seven years ago, in response to an invitation from Fr Scott Anderson, Vicar of St Andrew's Willesden Green and St Francis of Assisi, Gladstone Park, brothers moved into the ex-vicarage of St. Francis, naming it Alverna.  Fr Scott records some of his thoughts as First Order community life in this part of north-west London comes to an end with the closure of the house on 31 December 2004:

They say time passes faster as you get older.  Yet it seems to me such a short time ago that the Franciscans moved into 110 Ellesmere Road.  When the Diocese of London asked me if I had any ideas for the use of the former vicarage, I called Brother Julian at Plaistow.  I'd been Rector of St Philip's, Plaistow, before coming to Willesden Green and had loved having the brothers and sisters just across the road.  Brother Julian suggested I write to Brother Damian:  I assured him that I wasn't looking for parish staff on the cheap.  I wanted - if the Society could see a way - to have a praying, living, Franciscan community here in NW10.  And that is precisely what we have had - and been so privileged to have. 

Brother Angelo adds some details from an SSF perspective:

During the first six months, until a curate was appointed, and during the following diaconate year, one of the brothers was 'seconded' to the joint parish as an assistant priest, undertaking much that this involved, which more or less became the pattern for successive brethren during the seven years from 1 January 1998.  Two of these were Damian and Angelo, at that time Minister Provincial and Provincial Secretary respectively, who while fulfilling these roles also continued with extensive ministries elsewhere of preaching, retreats, missions, etc.

With the passing of time the curate finished his curacy to be replaced by another deacon and Jonathan, at that time Provincial Bursar, joined the brethren, bringing three 'officers' of the province under one roof, which the Minister found very helpful.  Angelo gradually took on more within the parish, as well as in response to requests in the deanery and beyond, whilst also continuing to accept engagements in other parts of the country.  Jonathan began two years of accountancy studies at Wembley College and this pattern continued until both Damian and Jonathan returned to take up residence at Hilfield. 

Jason had joined the household and was working full-time as Pastoral Assistant at a city church.  He later left to join the Stepney house and was replaced by Augustine Thomas who, whilst working part-time assisting the Vicar of St. Augustine's, Highgate, and investigating possibilities for study, built up a widespread ministry of preaching, etc: as well as regular days at the Church School.

When he, in turn, returned to Hilfield, David Francis (then Novice Guardian) came to Alverna where he remains until its closure, though from January 2004 he has worked a five-day week at St. Thomas' Hospital where his nursing qualifications and experience have been put to use.

Throughout the seven years Angelo was the 'permanent fixture' giving continuity in the parish and deanery, and the house provided a base for the Minister General on his regular visits to the U.K. as well as for a brother using it to take a sabbatical.  Others including friends and family of brothers, and brethren from overseas have received hospitality for various periods of time.

Fr. Scott continues -

Of course, the parish has benefited through regular preaching, work in school, pastoral visiting, mass cover during holidays, administration, and so many other things, for each of the brothers has brought a ministry and gifts which they have shared so readily with us.  Perhaps for us parish clergy, it has been the cups of coffee and chocolate biscuits in the kitchen, laughter, listening when we were ready to explode, wise advice, and Christmas dinners, things which perhaps seem so ordinary to the brothers and just part of the life of the community.  Yet it has been these things which have so often restored our perspective, lightened our load, and given us hope. 

  Perhaps we shall only truly value what the brothers have given to this parish, to its people and clergy, when they have moved on.  We know they have to go but we shall miss them dreadfully.  We thank them for coming to the parish for these seven years and pray that the Lord may bless them and keep them. f


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