In Jersey, the Catholic church of St Matthieu will be 150 years old on Sunday 4th September. The anniversary is being marked with a High Mass concelebrated by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, Philip Egan and the Catholic Dean in Jersey, Rev Canon Dominic Golding. A relic will also be returned to the church: a crucifix used by the Jersey martyr, Père Matthieu de Gruchy.
The first Mass at St Matthieu was held on 4 September 1872. It was the first time that a Catholic Mass had been celebrated openly in the western parishes of Jersey since the Reformation, some 340 years before.
At the first Mass in the new church, the missionary Catholic Rector in Jersey, Père Jean-François Volkeryck, explained that the name ‘Matthieu’ had been chosen not only as a dedication to St Matthew the Apostle, but also in memory of Père de Gruchy, who had never been formally beatified.
De Gruchy, who was born on a Jersey farm in 1761, had an adventurous life: first as a smuggler and privateer, later captured by the French and imprisoned, where he converted to Catholicism in captivity. In due course he became a parish priest in the Vendée area of western France. During the Revolution he was expelled from his Parish, and he returned to Jersey, where he had inherited the family farm. He converted one of the rooms into a private chapel and converted a number of Islanders, to the high indignation of their relatives and the Island authorities.
He then returned to France with the Quiberon expedition and was given documents to hand to the leader of a Royalist rebellion in the Vendée. Having conducted that commission, he ministered to Catholics in the area as a fugitive and outlawed priest. He was trying to make his way back to Jersey when he was captured and executed by firing squad in Nantes.
The wooden crucifix that he had placed in his chapel at home in Jersey was preserved, Now, after it has been blessed by the Bishop during Sunday’s Mass, it will be placed in a side chapel at St Matthieu in a wooden, glass-fronted reliquary.