Some history

Some history of the Diocese

Introduction 1879-1921 1921-1939 1939-1978 1978-1993 1993-present

An Introduction

During the Reformation attempts were made to suppress the Catholic religion in this country and with the death of Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of St Asaph, in 1585 the old Catholic Hierarchy of England and Wales became extinct.

The Church was ruled for a time by an Archpriest and afterwards by Vicars Apostolic in Episcopal orders. At first there was only one Vicar Apostolic for the whole of England and Wales but from 1688 the countries were divided firstly into four districts, one of which was our Northern District, and then from 1840 into eight districts,one of which was our Yorkshire District.

By Letters Apostolic of Pius IX dated September 29th 1850 the English Hierarchy was restored and twelve suffragen Sees created including the Diocese of Beverley which covered the whole of Yorkshire. The Bishops of Beverley were:

  1. John Briggs consecrated Bishop of Trachis in 1833 as Coadjutor to Bishop Penswick, Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, whom he succeeded in 1836. From 1840 he was Vicar Apostolic of the Yorkshire District before transferring to Beverley in 1850. He resigned, due to ill health, in 1860 and died in 1861.
  2. Robert Cornthwaite (pictured) born 9th May 1818 was consecrated Bishop of Beverley on 10th November 1861. He transferred to Leeds in 1878 and died 16th June 1890.

photo of Bishop Cornthwaite


On December 20th 1878 Leo XIII divided the Diocese of Beverley into two:

  • the Diocese of Middlesbrough made up of the East and most of the North Riding, and
  • the Diocese of Leeds made up of the West Riding and part of the city of York.

Richard Lacy (pictured below) was born 16th January 1841 in Westmeath, ordained priest 1867, consecrated first Bishop of Middlesbrough on 18th December 1879, and died 11th April 1929.

photo of Bishop Lacy

In these early years of the Diocese there was a rapidly increasing Catholic population, especially in Hull and Middlesbrough. In response to this 38 new churches and 17 new schools were built. Many religious orders were invited into the new Diocese.

These included the Hospitallers of St John of God in Scorton, the Poor sisters of Nazareth in Middlesbrough, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in York, Hull and Teesside, the Marist Fathers in Middlesbrough and Hull and the Faithful Companions of Jesus in Middlesbrough.


Thomas Shine (pictured below) was born 11th February 1872 in Tipperary, ordained priest 1894, consecrated Bishop of Lamus and Coadjutor 29th June 1921, succeeded 11th April 1929, and died 22nd November 1955.

 photo of Bishop Shine

The inter-war years were a period of consolidation. the number of parishes continued to increase steadily and replacement churches were beginning to be built as well as new ones.

In 1926 the first public Corpus Christi procession took place in Middlesbrough, closely followed by ones in Hull and York.


photo of Bishop Brunner

George Brunner (pictured above) was born on 21st August 1889 in Hull, ordained priest in 1917, consecrated Bishop of Elide and Auxiliary on 25th July 1946, succeeded on 7th June 1956, resigned on 13th June 1967, and died on 21st March 1969.

William Gordon Wheeler (pictured below) was consecrated as Coadjutor Bishop in 1964 with the right of succession but was transferred to Leeds in 1966.

photo of Bishop Wheeler

During World War II many Middlesbrough priests served abroad as chaplains in the armed forces. The years after the war saw a considerable expansion in the provision of Catholic secondary schools; 14 of the 21 new schools built in this period were secondary with 5 of these being provided by religious orders. To finance the schools Bishop Brunner set up a system of school Taxes levied on Parishes according to their size.

John Gerard McLean (pictured below) was born 24th September 1914 in Redcar, was ordained priest in 1942, consecrated as Coadjutor on 24th February 1967, succeeded on 13th June 1967 and died on 27th August 1978.

photo  of Bishop McLean


photo of Bishop Harris

Augustine Harris (pictured above) was born in Liverpool 27th October 1917, was ordained on 30th May 1942, consecrated Bishop of Socia by Archbishop Beck on 11th February 1966, transferred to Middlesbrough on 20th November 1978 and retired in December in 1992.

 photo of Bishop O'Brien

Auxiliary Bishop Kevin O’Brien (pictured above) was born in Cork on 18th February 1923, was ordained priest on 20th June 1948, consecrated Bishop of Ard Cama on 8th December 1981 and retired August 1998. He died in December 2004.

In 1982 Leeds Diocese ceded to Middlesbrough the two parishes to the south of the river Ouse in York so that the whole city was once again united in one Diocese.

Because of a declining population in the centre of Middlesbrough it was decided to build a new Cathedral in the suburb of Coulby Newham.

St Mary's Cathedral

The new St Mary’s Cathedral was solemnly dedicated on 15th May 1988.


photo of Bishop John Crowley

The Rt. Rev. John Crowley (pictured above) was born in Newbury on 23rd June 1941 and ordained on 12th June 1965.

He was ordained titular Bishop of Tala by Cardinal Hume on 8th December 1986 and was installed as the sixth Bishop of Middlesbrough on 18th January 1993.

In May 2007 Pope Benedict XVI accepted Bishop John’s retirement on the grounds of ill-health.

Please keep Bishop John in your prayers.

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