The parish of St. Robert of Newminster was founded in 1930 under the administration of the Very Reverend Canon Newsham. Prior to that date Masses had been said each Sunday in St Aloysius’ School by the Cathedral priests. The new church (what we use today as the church hall) was blessed and opened by Bishop Thorman in August 1930, and the first parish priest, Fr. George O’Neill, was installed. The presbytery was built the following year.
The first parish priest, Fr. George O’Neill, an energetic man with a pioneering spirit, tended to the spiritual needs of the growing parish, and is commemorated by a plaque at the side of our current High Altar.
Fenham was experiencing a period of change as the area was developed for family housing by the Fenham Hall Estate. New roads were being laid-out, but the church was initially only accessible by foot, across open ground that became muddy during wet weather. Cinder tracks were later laid from Hadrian Road and Cedar Road, permitting easier access to the church.
The site of the present church was an un-landscaped garden, although the ‘Calvary’ was there from an early date and the area edged with tall poplars. The main entrance was on Bolbec Road and on either side of the inner doors were the holy water stoups, the positions of which are still marked. The High Altar was situated on two steps in the current position of the stage and the Lady Altar was on the right, beside the present emergency exit. Mass was said in Latin, of course, and the priest had his back to the people, who were separated from him by the wooden communion rail.
There were three aisles and the kneelers were not fixed, moving about freely and noisily. More noise came from the gas mantles which popped and spluttered in serious competition with the sermon. At the back of the church stood the harmonium and a small male voice choir.
For 25 years, the present hall fulfilled the dual purpose of Church and hall. The life-size solid oak statue of St Robert of Newminster which stands in the narthex dates from this period.
During these years tremendous efforts were geared to building up for a new church which was finally completed during the time of the second priest Fr. Joseph Leavy in 1955 and opened by Bishop McCormack on 17 December of that year.
The original layout had a pulpit on the left hand side and the baptistery at the back, at one time enclosed with wrought iron railings with the statue of St. Robert standing behind the font.
The church was redecorated in 1962 in preparation for its consecration, with alterations to the altar in response to the changes following the Second Vatican Council, involving the re-raising of the mensa on marble slabs. Consecration crosses were inserted in the walls and new strip lighting was put up into the sanctuary and sacristy. Finally, on 18 June 1963, Bishop Cunningham consecrated the church.
The organ was installed in 1980 by Harrison and Harrison for the parish jubilee.
Recent alterations include the Narthex, where St. Robert’s statue now stands, and the meeting room, built as an extension to the church and presbytery. The red carpet tiles, of course, are a very new addition, considerably improving the acoustics of the building