A Brief History of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Leicester
The area to the west of the City of Leicester was originally part of the parish of St. Peter’s, Hinckley Road. Substantial residential development in this part of the city led to the need for a separate parish to serve Catholics living in the area. In 1935 Bishop John McNulty, 6th Bishop of Nottingham, invited the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament to come to Leicester and help to establish and develop a new parish. Father Anthony Kaas of the Dutch Province of the Congregation arrived as the first parish priest in January 1936, taking up residence at 25 Rosamund Avenue. Sunday Mass had been celebrated at Braunstone Working Men’s Club since 1934, as a Mass Centre served by St. Peter’s, and this arrangement continued until 1938. At Easter in that year Mass was celebrated for the first time at a temporary church built on newly acquired land at the oval on Gooding Avenue. Leicester City Council had approved the use of the “Wooden Hut” for only five years and so planning began for a permanent church and priory almost immediately.
Lady Effie Millington Drake, the wealthy wife of the British Ambassador to Uruguay, had a particular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and offered to provide funding for the establishment of a shrine to the Blessed Sacrament in England. It was largely due to the generosity of Lady Drake that Bishop McNulty had been able to invite the Blessed Sacrament Fathers to come to Leicester and so establish the first Foundation of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation in England. Since funding for the priory was already available, and planning permission both sought and granted, the foundation stone of Eymard House was laid on 17th September 1938 with the work completed in August 1939. On 24th August members of the Dutch congregation began to arrive in Leicester only days before the outbreak of the Second World War. Father Kaas continued in the role of parish priest and was also appointed as superior of the community - now numbering eighteen priests and brothers.
With the outbreak of war no further progress was made with regard to the building of a permanent church although fund-raising continued. Financial support was also provided by parishioners to the Community at Eymard House, since support from the Dutch Congregation had ceased with the invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. On 14th February 1944 the American 82nd Airborne Division set up Divisional Headquarters in Braunstone Park prior to their involvement in the invasion of Normandy. The servicemen lived in Nissen huts in the grounds and Mass was celebrated by their own chaplain in the temporary church.
With the coming of peace, planning for the building of a permanent church resumed. In the summer of 1951 the parish and priory transferred from the Dutch to the American Province of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. In the same year Christ the King Primary School opened in Glenfield Road for Catholic children of the parish and other parishes on the western side of the City. It was not until Palm Sunday in April 1957 that work on the new church was completed and brought into regular use. The old temporary church continued for a period as a parish hall before a new building was blessed and opened by Bishop McGuinness in July 1974. In 1977 a number of changes were made to the boundaries of Blessed Sacrament and St. Peter’s parishes and these included the transfer of Kirby Muxloe from St. Peter’s to Blessed Sacrament.
In 1990 the Community of the Blessed Sacrament took the decision to leave Leicester after serving the parish for over 50 years. During this period most members of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation had spent time in Leicester, either as novices or as some part of their formation. Blessed Sacrament Fathers had served as parish priests and had been integrated into every aspect of parish life and so their leaving marked a significant change in the life of the parish. Eymard House was sold and a presbytery built in the grounds of the church and, in September 1990, Father John Joseph Maloney arrived as parish priest.
The parish has seen many changes since the leaving of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. We are now a multinational parish with large numbers of African and Filipino parishioners with others from Eastern Europe and many other parts of the world; around forty languages are spoken by our parishioners as their first language. Highlights of the liturgical year include the Fiesta Santo Nino and the Feast day of Blessed Cyprian Tansi. We also have a significant involvement with members of the local travelling community and the Bishops Mass for the Travelling Community is usually celebrated at Blessed Sacrament. The Friday Drop-In, first developed as a response to the new millennium, has now raised around £ 200,000 and all of it has been given away, either to charities working in the third world or to local causes. We have developed links with other Christian churches in the area and have been enthusiastic supports of a range of ecumenical initiatives.
September 2019 saw the retirement of our much loved parish priest, Father John Joe Maloney, and the appointment of Canon John Cahill, the parish priest of St. Peter’s, as the parish priest of both St. Peter’s and Blessed Sacrament. Under the leadership of Father Cahill we look forward to a period of continued growth as a centre of Christian witness.