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Fr John Chatterton
Parish Priest 1956-1970

Fr John Chatterton

Father Oliver Heaney, Assistant Priest from 1968 to 1975, and then Parish Priest from 1981 to 1990, here gives his personal reflections on Father John Chatterton, St Joseph's second Parish Priest

John was born in Bristol on 14 February 1909. He spent his early years at Hove and Shoreham-by-Sea. His brother, Bernard, and his sisters. Marie, Lucy Veronica, Elizabeth and Catherine were baptised in St Peter's Church. John, as a little boy served on the altar when Bishop Peter Amigo blessed the new St Peter's Church in Hove in 1915.

At the age of eighteen he presented himself as a candidate for the priesthood and was accepted by the Bishop of Southwark. After seven years study at Osterley College and Wonersh he was ordained in 1935. His first appointment was to the busy parish of Tooting Broadway where he was sent to help out for a few months. He was then appointed to St Ann's, Vauxhall, where Bishop William Brown, Auxiliary Bishop of Southwark was his Parish Priest. Whilst there he served twice weekly as private secretary to Archbishop Amigo. He spent five very happy years there.

At the outbreak of the Second World War. Father John volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the Navy. He began service at a Naval base in Greenock and was chaplain on a ship during the Normandy Landings. His ship was torpedoed, and with the rest of the crew he managed to swim to safety to a Polish Destroyer. He served as Chaplain from 1940-1949.

After the war, still in the Navy, he was posted to Freetown and then to Hong Kong where he worked with Religious Sisters caring for recently released prisoners-of-war and helped to run soup kitchens for them.

When he left the Navy he returned home and served as a curate first in Richmond and then at Caterham. In June 1953 he was appointed parish priest at Tonbridge. The only thing that attracted him to Epsom in July 1956 was the chance of fulfilling a life-long ambition: to build a church.

Epsom in those days was a very big parish. He inherited a church which was far too small for a congregation of almost two thousand. The Presbytery, which was attached to the church, was totally unsuitable for four priests and an old barn on the site of the present hall was well past its sell-by date. He was very active in the building of the present Priests' House across the road from the church, the new parish hall. and the extension of the church, almost doubling its size. He was justifiably proud of his achievement and every time he entered the church his heart rejoiced at the exquisite care bestowed on the house of God. He managed to raise an enormous amount of money to pay off the debt. It was almost entirely cleared before his death.

Tadworth and Box Hill were part of St Joseph's Parish at that time. Father John managed to purchase a more suitable site for the building of a new church at Tadworth and it was eventually cut off from Epsom Parish to form the present St John the Evangelist Parish.

Masses were celebrated at Langley Vale and on the Wells Estate every Sunday and in five hospitals. In the late sixties there were twelve Masses each Sunday and fifteen Masses on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. The first Mass on Sunday morning was at 6.30am and there were three Sunday evening Masses. How times have changed!

Father John was a very popular priest. He loved the people and would do anything to help them. He had an open door to all comers - priests and people. There were always visitors coming and going and he often invited neighbouring priests to meals and was very generous with his hospitality. Josephine Rusch, his housekeeper, was a most devoted lady who took good care of him, especially when he became so unwell in 1969. He was in and out of hospitals, nursing homes and clinics for almost a year before he died on 25 May 1970. A few years later Josephine retired and returned to her home in Switzerland and is now living happily with her sister in St Gallen. Father John's sister Lucy has died, but four of his sisters and his brother are living in West Sussex and in The Midlands.

Father Chatterton is remembered with great affection in Epsom. He had many friends and so many people have such good memories of his ministry among them. May he rest in peace.

Father Oliver Heaney, 2001