by Gary Carter
MORE THAN 50 years of history could be lost after St Raphael’s Church was put up for sale.
Potential commercial developers are being invited to bid £450,000 for the Grade II listed building, on Huddersfield Road in Millbrook.
However, the Correspondent understands asbestos is likely to have to be removed before any work is done on the site.
It is believed the distinctive dome on the property is the main source of the substance, but patches are dotted throughout.
News of the church being put on the market by owners the Diocese of Shrewsbury has been met with dismay by locals, many of whom used to attend the church.
Opened in 1963, St Raphael the Archangel was built after Millbrook was made its own parish. It served an area that was formerly part of the parish of St Peter’s, Stalybridge.
Following a succession of well-attended masses celebrated in the canteen of Staley Mill, Millbrook, from 1946, Bishop John Murphy of Shrewsbury took the decision in 1958 to constitute Millbrook as a new parish.
He dedicated it to the St Raphael, one of the three Archangels named in the Bible.
That same year Father James Fraser arrived in Millbrook and began to celebrate masses, hear confessions and perform baptisms from a rented house and later from a wooden parish hall.
On October 14, 1961 Bishop Murphy laid the foundation stone and on April 25, 1963 his successor, Bishop Eric Grasar, solemnly blessed and opened the church building.
The neighbouring presbytery was occupied the following month and the primary school opened in February 1969. However, it closed in July 2011 after a repair bill of an estimated £250,000 could not be met, with several parishioners moving to St Joseph’s in Mossley.
St Raphael’s does hold a small place in Catholic history, however, as it was the place where Canon Anthony Kay – currently Vicar General in the Diocese of Salford and parish priest of St Mary’s in Manchester, known as The Hidden Gem – was ordained.
St Raphael’s was listed by Historic England for several reasons, notably its design and the large stained glass window by Pierre Fourmaintraux.
They say: “The internal planning of St Raphael the Archangel focuses upon an island altar, and while not having the fully developed centralised arrangement advocated by the Liturgical Movement, it clearly demonstrates a transitional period in the planning of Catholic churches, being a precursor of Vatican II (1962-5), after which such schemes were officially embraced.
“The church is a showcase for contemporary arts and crafts, being embellished with Pierre Fourmaintraux’s extensive figurative dalle de verre screen of Tobias and the Archangel whose brilliant colours and organic forms epitomise good 1960s ecclesiastical glass design and dramatically enrich the interior space, which is also imbued with a full set of bespoke ceramic stations of the cross and holy water stoops by Alan Boyson.”
According to details of the sale – which also includes the five-bedroomed Presbytery – all fixtures, fittings and stained glass windows may be removed by the seller before any purchase goes through.
Concerns the sale could lead to further housing development, in an area which has already seen several pop up, with one on the area between Stayley Cricket Club and Crowswood Drive yet to be built.
However, agents Fisher German, of Knutsford, Cheshire, do tell potential buyers of the property, which measures 621 square metres, or 6,695sq ft: “Prospective purchasers should make their own enquiries into possible change of use, bearing in mind the Grade II listing.”