This book has no named editor and five people have contributed chapters, so there is no single author. It is published by Catholic Care and has no ISBN number. It is not for sale, but donations are welcomed. This book is, therefore, not the sort you will find on the shelves of Waterstones or in a university bookshop, but I hope that its lack of a named editor or single author will not mean it is ignored.
The book tells a story stretching over several generations of the ways in which the Roman Catholic Church has tried to provide for children and young people in need in West Yorkshire. It takes the story chronologically, with the first two chapters being contributed by Robert Finnigan, the Diocesan Archivist, and respectively covering the two half-centuries from 1850 to 1900 and from 1900 to 1950. Monsignor John Murphy covers 1950 to 1980 and Canon Peter Maguire the 1980s. Stuart Hanlon’s chapter is entitled the 1990s but actually goes up to 2012, and Carol Hill writes from 2012 when she was appointed as Chief Executive.
The story is one of considerable human endeavour, of growing concern for children’s needs, of fund-raising and the acquisition of properties, of changes in social patterns and consequently the need to change services, and of openings and closures as services evolved. It is a short book, only 72 pages, but it encompasses the whole changing picture of those years. It is essentially about people – the many children who received the services, the people who worked with them and the managers, the support staff such as administrators and the bishops who gave encouragement and leadership.
The concern which led to the development of Roman Catholic services for children and young people was that it was feared that they would be lost to the faith if they were brought up in workhouses or institutions run by other denominations or independent charities. Catholic communities in the latter half of the nineteenth century were often made up of poor Irish immigrants who had come to the West Riding and other parts of Great Britain looking for work and escaping the Potato Famine, and the homes for children were funded through weekly collections of pennies from families who had little to spare. Indeed the same pattern can be seen throughout the UK, as evidenced in Jim Hyland’s book on the Westminster Diocese, Changing Times, Changing Needs.
For many years large homes served the needs of destitute Roman Catholic children, but over time this model became dated, as children’s homes in the mid-twentieth century were modelled increasingly on families. The changes meant that in the 1960s the big old institutions were abandoned and small group homes were set up to cater for children in family-sized groups. More recently most of these smaller homes have been closed or adapted for other purposes.
But the changes were not only in the sizes of the homes. In the early years, the services were managed by clergy and largely staffed by nuns. In recent years, as exemplified by Stuart Hanlon’s appointment, lay people have taken over the running of the services and the provision of care, with Carol Hill as the first woman in charge of Catholic Care.
This book therefore provides a valuable cameo. It underlines our indebtedness to those who have gone before. In devising new approaches, too often we argue for new ideas by dismissing those of our predecessors, when it is on their shoulders that we stand. The questions posed by this history are where we should go next and, more ominously, what will they think of our contribution when they come to write about it in 2063?