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St Anne's, Sutton
"The establishment of this Mission and Retreat is due entirely to the generosity and practical faith of Mr John Smith, a Railway Contractor of Sutton, St Helens, Lancashire." Thus begins the first Passionist record of the foundation of St Anne's, Sutton.'
John Smith, born in Windle in 1794 of an old Catholic family, was the son of James Smith, a shoemaker turned bricklayer of Smithy Brow, St Helens, and of Anne (Chisnall), who before her marriage had been a servant at Parr Stock. John Smith himself was married three times, first to Mary Ashton, next to Anne Berry and finally, in September 1849, to Ellen Nightingale. John Smith was also a perfect example of that Victorian paragon, a self?made man. As related by Father Ignatius Spencer, he "took delight in recounting how, after being brought very low by untoward circumstances, he had to begin life again, by going to work as a labourer, without a sixpence in his pocket, at the first making of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; how his employers, seeing he knew what he was about, enabled him to employ a few men under him; and how from this step he came to be a contractor on a small scale and at last to realize large sums." For Father Ignatius, John Smith was a gentleman who was "a most remarkable case of successful industry combined with noble generosity", for "he always wished to do something for his religion" and in 1849 he gave "twelve good acres of land to the Congregation of the Passion and built upon them a handsome Gothic Church with a tower and steeple, all in stone" and beside it "a portion of a monastery sufficient for the needs of the community at that time"'
In 1849 there were only thirty or forty Catholics in Sutton and Bold. Because they had no church or chapel in the area, in order to attend Mass or bring a priest to a sick or dying person they had to walk several miles to St Helens, Blackbrook or Rainhill in all kinds of weather and despite whatever other difficulties they had.' These were the people John Smith wanted to help.
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