Fr Berry

Documentary evidence of all that went on in the parish prior to 1965 is scarce. However, records, particularly the Parish Newsletters, commenced in March 1968, still exist making it possible to give a much more detailed account of the life of the parish in Fr. Berry's time. Moreover it has been possible also to talk to people who recall what went on in the parish in those years.

Richard Berry was born in Aden in 1911, where his father was an official of the Port Authority. When war broke out in 1914 he returned to England with his mother. They settled in Sheringham with the intention that he would eventually go to Gresham's School at Holt nearby. However his mother took instruction and she and her son became Catholics, and Richard became an altar boy at the local church. In 1925 he went instead to St. Edmund's College as a lay boarder, leaving at eighteen to work in an insurance company in London. Meanwhile his father, whilst still in Aden, also became a Catholic. Now the whole family, including a younger brother and sister, were united in the Catholic Faith.

In 1931 Richard decided he wanted to become a priest and went to Allen Hall. He was ordained in Westminster Cathedral on 6th June 1937. Fr. Berry was appointed to the cathedral becoming Prefect of the Sacristy, in addition to having some parochial duties. In 1945 he went as assistant priest to Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Bridget, Isleworth. Two years later he was posted to Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, which had been bombed. It was a somewhat chaotic, make-shift existence. The parish priest hired a disused church in Allen Street and Mass was said there and also at a local convent. Whilst at Kensington Fr. Berry started the Kensington Catholic Calendar, a monthly printed magazine. In 1956 he became parish priest at Our Lady of the Assumption, Potters Bar, and whilst there he built a school and introduced Planned Giving.

In 1966, not very long after coming to Watford, Fr. Berry hosted the first Parish Dinner Dance. The event was repeated in 1967 with Bishop Butler as the principal guest. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of Papal Medals to three long serving parishioners, Mr. De Luca received the Papal Cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" in recognition of his having been a sidesman for over thirty years. and a regular visitor to the sick and poor at home and in the local hospital, and for the help he had given as a translator to the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Angelo Carminati who was looking after the Italian community. The "Bene Merenti" medal was presented to Mr. Dunham who had sung in the choir almost since Holy Rood church was opened and to Mr. Stanton who had been organist and choirmaster for many years. Miss Doris Sheridan also received the Papal Cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" a few years later, as did Mrs. Rigby, who had been a teacher at Holy Rood school for twenty-six years, since 1948. Other parishioners who have received the "Bene Merenti" medal were Mrs. Dorothy Ryder who for over thirty years was counsellor and tutor to the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, Miss Dorothy Hearn for her work for the mentally handicapped pilgrimages to Lourdes and Mr. W. J. (Pat) Carney for his services to Catholic Education. Mr. Reginald Bennett was made a Knight of St. Gregory for all his work in connection with the Pope's visit to England, and his other work for the diocese of Westminster Fr. Berry also recommended to the Arch-Confraternity of St. Stephen that his Master of Ceremonies, Mr. John Wright, should receive the Guild's Gold Medal for having served on the altar for fifty years.

Fr. Berry was fortunate in inheriting a parish that had never been in debt. In fact, Canon Galvin had left a considerable sum in the bank. However, some repairs to the fabric of the church needed doing. The heating system needed improvement and a public address system was very desirable. Fr. Berry also had the interior of the church redecorated, although he was not well advised for the work seems to have been carried out in complete ignorance of Bentley's stated views. For example, the interior doors had been painted grass green instead of Venetian red, and the grilles and altar rails cream. All this ate into the parish reserve and Fr. Berry was much concerned at the huge cost of the proposed parish centre at a time of ever rising costs due to inflation, and the increased amount required by the diocesan authorities. In an effort to meet the situation, he sought to introduce a Covenant Scheme and Planned Giving, which he had introduced when parish priest at Potters Bar. Apart from producing the much needed extra income and the benefit of tax relief obtainable, it was a good way of convincing the bank, from which a substantial loan would be required, of the parish's ability to repay the loan.

Fr. Berry worked hard for the well-being of the parish and sought close co-operation with his parishioners. Unfortunately, from 1973 his health suffered and he had to go into hospital several times, sometimes for surgery. In the fifteen years he was parish priest, four Diocesan assistant priests and four Irish priests worked with him in the parish. Few priests look forward to retirement, many dread it, for the presbytery is their home, but through failing health and no longer being able to get about easily, Fr. Berry found himself forced to retire in 1980.

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