Centenary of St. David’s Priory

St. David’s Priory celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in a civic ceremony and high mass on Sunday the 5th of October 1947. This was a hugely significant event for all local Catholics, as well as the town of Swansea itself. Certainly, from a Catholic standpoint the Priory had proven to be quite a successful venture. Up until this point the church had enjoyed a rich and varied history, and had successfully expanded its role in the wider Catholic community in South Wales through the establishment of its own school – which you can read more about here on our web guide. Benefitting from the effects of large-scale Irish immigration to the town and surrounding area, the congregation had steadily grown from the original foundation and the church now occupied a role as one of the focal points of Catholic social and cultural life in the town.

How did the priory see fit to celebrate their one hundredth year? The Richard Burton Archives contains a section of the St. David’s Priory collection dedicated solely to the 1947 centenary celebrations, which demonstrate how important the event was for the church, the wider Catholic community, and even the town itself.

Firstly, the parish clearly felt much had to be done prior to the celebration in terms of housekeeping. The Church Services Records held in the archive tell of the repairs, expansion and improvements to church equipment planned, for which estimated that £1,000 was required – or, just under £33,120 in 2014. The service of 15th June 1947 noted that the first donation received was £60 from one person. If that person were to donate the same amount today it would have cost just under £2,000![1]

Of course, the Priory realised that they could not rely wholly on individual generosity of this size – Swansea was still a largely working class area, and it was not possible for members of the congregation to contribute such a large amount. The Priory attempted to raise money through large numbers of small donations, and as an added incentive promised that ‘The names of donors will be included in a golden book and kept in the archives for reference’, which is held at the church today.[2]

Another way the Priory sought to raise the necessary £1,000 was through the production of a pamphlet, ‘Catholic Life in Swansea’, pictured here. It was sold for 2s6d, or two shillings and sixpence (about £4.00 today).[3]  An illustrated book telling the history of the church, it featured several photographs which you can see elsewhere on this website and in the Richard Burton Archives itself. A copy of the pamphlet is currently held in Swansea University library, and serves as a useful complement to the St. David’s Priory Collection:


By the week after the celebrations, the church services records reported that just under half of the money (£460, or £15,200 today) required for payment of the renovations had been raised – an impressive sum, given the relative wealth of the South-Welsh community.

In terms of the celebration of the centenary itself, a particular coup for the event organisers was the attendance of Cardinal Bernard Griffin, then the Archbishop of Westminster (which, as you can see here is one of the most senior figures within the UK Catholic hierarchy). The Archive collection contains correspondence between the Priory itself and Cardinal Griffin and his secretaries regarding the visit, which shed light on the arrangements behind the centenary celebration – it appears, for instance, that the centenary celebration was actually pushed back from the actual date of the church’s founding – September 8th – to accommodate the visit of the Cardinal.[4] The collection also holds correspondence between the Great Western Railway officials responsible for securing a private compartment for the Cardinal, as well as civic officials who gave permission for use of the Brangwyn Hall.[5] You can see below an image of the entrance card to the High Mass at St. Davids as well as to the Mayoral luncheon at the guildhall that took place on that day:


LAC/99/H11h, Richard Burton Archive, Swansea University – click for larger image.


LAC/99/H11i, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University. Click for larger image.

The Cardinal himself certainly viewed the centenary as a momentous achievement in the history of the Catholic Church within Wales – calling it the ‘centre of the revival of the Church in West Wales’ and discussed the history of the church itself – paying particular tribute to Father Kavanagh, both for his work in establishing the church and also for his volunteer work during the 1849 Cholera outbreak.[6] He ended the sermon on an evangelical note, reminding Catholics of their ‘duty’, ‘to be real apostles, spreading our faither and so helpingothers to enjoy the same priveleges we possess of the church’.[7]

However celebrations were not just limited to those within the priory itself. The centenary was reported in several local newspapers, such as the South Wales Evening Post, Western Mail and Welsh News Chronicle, over the course of the centenary weekend – and it was considered of sufficient importance to make the front page of the following Monday’s South Wales Evening Post.[8]


LAC/99/H11j, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University – South Wales Evening Post, 6th October 1947. Click to read the article.

Articles in the newspapers held gave details of the history of the Priory, including tributes to the founder, Kavanagh, the story of the original Catholic chapel founded by Abbe Sejean, refugee priest from the French revolution and Father Peter Lewis, who was the first priest to visit Swansea Prison following the end of the ban on visiting priests – some further details of which can also be found in the Priory’s financial records. The typescript copy of one article held in the collection, entitled ‘Swansea: 100 Years Ago’ discussed the role of Fr. Kavanagh in the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that its significance was known to other beyond those of the Catholic faith.[9]

The archive collection also contains a number of original press photographs taken during the celebrations. Here you can see one of these images, featuring the Cardinal with the Mayor of Swansea and members of their entourage in front of the Brangwyn Hall. The Cardinal is third from right, in the front row – standing next to the Mayor:


LAC/99/H11l, Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University. Click for larger image.

Examining the sections of the collection relating to the Priory centenary is an excellent way to gain an insight into the importance of the priory for local Catholics. It was not only a means of worship, but a fundamental part of their identity within the community. That figures central to their own history – such as Father Kavanagh and others – could be celebrated in a town-wide civic fashion, rather than solely within their own community served as a testament to the generally successful integration of Catholics into South-Welsh life. Meanwhile, the Cardinal’s prediction that St. David’s had been – and would be – a ‘centre of Catholic revival’ appear to have been borne out, as the Swansea area is now served by ten Catholic churches. [10]



[1] RBA LAC/99/C22 15th June 1947.

[2] RBA LAC/99/C22 15th June 1947.

RBA LAC/99/C22 6th July 1947.

[3] RBA LAC/99/C22 12th October 1947

[4] RBA LAC/99/H/11c 5th December 1946.

[5] RBA LAC/99/H11d

[6] RBA LAC/99/H11g

[7] RBA LAC/99/H11g

[8] RBA LAC/99/H11j South Wales Evening Post 6th October 1947

[9] RBA LAC/99/H11k

[10]F.G. Cowley, ‘Religion and Education’ in Swansea: An illustrated History, Ed. by Glanmor Williams (Swansea: Christopher Davies, 1990), p.176.


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