Roof lead thefts set back church’s historic restoration

Father John Abberton next to the covered staircase due to water leaking from the roof at Holy Spirit Chuch. (d07061202)
Father John Abberton next to the covered staircase due to water leaking from the roof at Holy Spirit Chuch. (d07061202)

A CHURCH congregation which has been tirelessly fundraising for a huge renovation project is being forced to dip into its savings after the roof was stripped of lead.

The metal has been ripped from the roof of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Heckmondwike, leaving rainwater pouring into the 98-year-old building.

Money that parishioners have worked hard to raise for the £100,000 renovation appeal – which will see the church brought back to its original glory for its centenary in 2014 – will now be used to pay for repairs.

Parish priest Father John Abberton said the thefts felt like ‘a kick in the stomach’.

He said: “We have had three or four in the last couple of weeks.

“They have taken a substantial amount from the front of the church causing major damage.

“Lead was taken out of one of the gutters and we are now having a very serious leak inside.

“We have plastic sheeting and a container down to catch the rainwater and the container fills within half an hour.”

Father John O’Connor, who sold his own art collection to help fund the building of the church a hundred years ago, was the inspiration for writer GK Chesterton’s Father Brown books.

Father Paddy Roche, who served at the church from 1963 to 1977, was chaplain to the Ryder Cup golf team. Through them he met the Apollo astronauts and gave the crew a blessing for their moon landing of 1972.

He also played golf with Bing Crosby – and it is reputed the singer even attended a service at the Holy Spirit Church.

Father Abberton said the much needed renovation work included repairs to the building and roof, replastering and redecorating. He said plaster was crumbling and there were problems with damp and condensation.

The church has been awarded £170,000 from English Heritage but members have to raise £100,000 themselves.

Father Abberton said: “We are doing whatever we can to raise money. It’s a shame that we have been knocked back by these thefts.

“We have a small group working very hard raising funds, and people have been very generous with donations for the renovation work. Sadly some of what we have been given will have to be spent on these repairs. That is very disheartening.”