Spen space relic to be auctioned

The Heckmondwike prayer that went to the Moon
The Heckmondwike prayer that went to the Moon

A unique religious artefact created by Heckmondwike pupils in the 1970s that travelled to the Moon will be auctioned-off in America.

Father Paddy Roche, who had been parish priest at Holy Spirit Church, Heckmondwike, attended the Apollo 16 launch in 1972, gifting pilot Charles Duke a prayer sheet.

This had been hand-painted by pupils at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School and is expected to fetch between £7,000 and £8,000 at the Aviation and Space auction in Boston, Massachusetts on May 15.

Peter Moreland, 67, chair of governers at the school, said: “Space exploration was new and novel and never happened before, so Father Roche helped the children compose a prayer for the astronauts and their flight.”

The prayer was kept safely in Mr Duke’s ‘Personal Preference Kit’ in the lunar module Orion, staying on the Moon for three days.

Mr Moreland said: “In some respects we might feel a bit upset about the auction, but it has brought to attention the prayer and the town, and what a great priest we had - otherwise, people might not know about Paddy Roche.”

Father Roche, became the chaplain to many astronauts, who he knew as early as the Apollo 10 mission, in the run-up to space launches after befriending them through American golfing contacts.

Mr Moreland said: “If he was around these days, his profile would be much bigger.

“To the wider community he was very well-known. He rubbed shoulders with celebrities, but he was so very down to earth and had a very great liking for the people of Heckmondwike.

“He was a one-off, a real gentleman,” he added.

Mr Moreland will be on BBC Radio 4 with host William Crawley to discuss Father Roche and the church’s history on Sunday May 11 at 7.30am, promoting its £100,000 donations appeal and speaking about a book which he hopes will boost the effort.

Researched by Mr Moreland, ‘Century of Change’ charts the parish’s history, and is due to come out in November to add to the £68,000 already raised in four years of contributions by individuals, local fundraising and support from businesses and other churches.

He said: “The main topic is going to be the prayer, and Paddy Roche and his contact with the golfers. It is fantastic - we have worked for four years to raise our profile and you can’t get a better opportunity than this.”

“We know we have to raise a significant amount of money. I’d like to think with a worldwide audience, someone will be listening who may contribute financially or materially to the church,” he added.