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DIOCESE OF SOUTHWARK (SOUTHWARCENSIS)

Suffragan of Westminster, England, comprises the south-eastern counties of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex south of the Thames, including the southern half of the administrative County of London. Southwark, the principal borough in South London, is the episcopal city. This diocese was founded on the restoration of the hierarchy in England in 1851, and when first erected included Berkshire, Hampshire, and the Channel Islands in addition to Surrey, Kent and Sussex. Previous to this these five counties formed part of the London District, which district was governed by a vicar Apostolic, to whom also was committed episcopal jurisdiction over North America and the Bahama Islands . In 1850 London, even at that time a comparatively small city, which, owing to the exigencies of the times, had previously been under the jurisdiction of a single bishop, was now divided between the two new Dioceses of Westminster (north of the Thames) and Southwark (south of the Thames), the newly-erected Church of St. George, Southwark, a stately and magnificent structure in the Gothic style designed by the elder Pugin, being designated as the cathedral of the newly-erected see. On 6 July, 1851 Right Rev. Thomas Grant , D.D., vice-rector of the English College, Rome, was consecrated as first bishop at the early age of thirty-five. He was succeeded 25 March, 1871, by Right Rev. James Danell, formerly his vicar-general. The next occupant of the see was Bishop Robert Coffin, who at the time of his appointment in 1882 was Provincial of the Redemptorists in Great Britain and Ireland. On his demise in 1885 the choice of the Holy See fell upon his auxiliary, Bishop John Butt, who governed the diocese for twelve years until his resignation in 1897, when he was succeeded by his coadjutor, Bishop Francis Bourne, who became Archbishop of Westminster in 1903.

The present bishop, Right Rev. Peter Emmanuel Amigo, was born at Gibraltar, 26 May, 1864. He studied at St. Edmund's, Ware, and St. Thomas's, Hammersmith; was ordained priest, 25 Feb., 1888; was for a short time at Stoke Newington, then professor at St. Edmund's from Sept., 1888, to July, 1892. He was then appointed assistant priest at Hammersmith from Sept., 1892, to June, 1896. He was afterwards at St. Mary's and St. Michael's , Commercial Road, first as assistant priest, then as rector from June, 1896, to April, 1901. He was then appointed rector of the mission at Walworth in the Diocese of Southwark, and remained there until his consecration as Bishop of Southwark, 25 March, 1904. He is strenuously engaged in carrying on to their fullness the various important works initiated by his predecessors by multiplying much-needed churches and schools in all parts of this important diocese, as well as endeavouring to pay off the enormous liabilities that in past years have had to be incurred in emergencies when there would have been the gravest danger of loss of faith, especially to the destitute little ones of the diocese, if the large and magnificently-equipped orphanages and poor-law schools of the diocese had not been promptly erected. In addition to the debts on the institutions there are also enormous debts incurred in the building of new churches and schools in new and rapidly-growing centres of population, which were necessary if work for the good or souls was to be adequately carried on in the midst of the huge population of South London and its environs. There is every prospect that the efforts of the present bishop in this direction will be crowned with complete success, as he has already succeeded in securing for the important work of safeguarding the poorer children of the diocese from loss of faith the united and cordial co-operation of not only the whole of the clergy, but also of every class of the laity, which is eloquently attested by the totals of the subscriptions and collections for this purpose, which go on steadily increasing from year to year. As a consequence of this united support of clergy and laity, joined with the establishment of a sinking fund for the gradual extinction of mission debts, Bishop Amigo looks forward to handing over to his successor at the close of his life a splendid array of churches, schools, and institutions, all entirely free from debt.

Southwark in many ways occupies a notable position amongst the dioceses of England. First of all, South London, with its enormous population of close on two million inhabitants (census of 1911, 1,844,310) is one of the largest cities in the world as well as one of the poorest. Being for the most part a place of residence for the salaried workers of London north of the Thames, where all trade and business is concentrated, South London, with its immense population, has scarcely a single hotel above the level of the third class to be found within its area. Outside the boundaries of South London proper there stretches towards the south a fringe of more sparsely populated residential districts, inhabited chiefly by the well-to-do professional and business people of the City of London, amongst whom there are very few Catholics. Between this residential zone and the English Channel lies, still further to the south, a pleasant well-wooded agricultural district that is also day by day becoming more residential in character, until the sea-coast is reached with its chain of watering places, girdling the coast line of Kent and Sussex from the mouth of the Thames on the north to beyond Selsey Bill on the south. These resorts are really suburbs of London by the sea, and in the summer months especially are filled by visitors drawn from all parts of London.

The County of Kent, one of the most important of the rural divisions of this diocese, will always have an interest for English-speaking Catholics of all times, as the district in which Christianity was first preached in the Saxon tongue by St. Augustine and his followers, who landed near Richborough on the coast of Kent in 597. The actual church in which the Apostle of England offered up the Holy Sacrifice is still to be seen to this very day at Canterbury, which, once the Primatial See of England, is now an unimportant and dwindling country town of this large diocese. The Diocese of Southwark, it may be noted, includes within its present boundaries not only the whole of the territories formerly belonging to the former Dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester, and Chichester, but also a large portion of the former Diocese of Winchester . The Church may also be said to owe the world-wide devotion of the Brown Scapular to this diocese, as St. Simon Stock , its propagator, was born in the Weald of Kent towards the end of the twelfth century.

Another striking characteristic of this diocese is the very marked increase shown in the numbers of churches, clergy, and Catholic population. Thus in 1882 the Diocese of Southwark comprised South London, the five counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, and Hampshire, and the Channel Islands. On the appointment of Bishop Coffin in 1882 the diocese was divided, and the Counties of Berkshire and Hampshire, together with the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands, were separated from the diocese and erected in the new Diocese of Portsmouth. Before the division Southwark had 148 public churches, chapels, and stations, with 247 priests. After the division the present diocese started afresh with only 93 public churches, chapels, and stations, served by 198 priests. The diocese now has 218 public churches, chapels, and stations, with a population of almost 120,000 Catholics whilst the number of priests attached to or working in the diocese amounts to 591, a higher total than any other English diocese. Besides the above-mentioned public places of worship, there are also 160 private chapels, either belonging to religious communities or in private houses, where Mass is as a rule celebrated daily.

As might be expected from the foregoing facts, he clergy of this diocese, owing to the encouragement they have always received from a succession of broad-minded and progressive bishops with high ideals and exceptional gifts of organization, have always been noted for their zeal, initiative, and gift of combination amongst themselves for the furtherance of every good work. It has always been their pride to have the most up-to-date and best-equipped schools in the country, and they led the way in the foundation of voluntary pupil-teachers' centres, for the training of the coming generation of teachers, before the work was made a public charge. The clergy of South London especially have also distinguished themselves by the active share they have always taken, with their bishop's hearty approval, in the great work of local government and administration, many of them having done splendid work for religion on public bodies such as the former London School Board, as well as upon the Boards of Guardians and the local councils. The South London League, a non-political body for the protection of Catholic interests in South London, with the bishop as president, bears witness to the very successful way in which the clergy as well as the laity of all parties have discovered the secret of successful organization on a purely Catholic platform, to the exclusion of party or national politics.

Ever since 1891, when it was first started, "Pastoralia", the popular little clergy review for the discussion of pastoral topics, has been edited by a committee mainly of South London clergy, and has a large circulation amongst the clergy of English-speaking lands. Its pages are full of interest as giving an insight into problems and difficulties the Church has to face in great cities, as well as the practical means by which new methods are evolved to meet present-day exigencies.


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