A Short History of St Dunstan’s Church
The origins of the parish go back to 1893, when a retired priest, Father Michael Dolan, came to live in Springfield Road, Kings Heath, which was then still a village. He was given permission to have an oratory, or small private chapel, in his house, in which to say Mass, since there was no Roman Catholic church on the south side of Birmingham between St Anne’s in Bradford Street and the town of Studley, some ten miles to the south. To meet the needs of Catholic neighbours, his oratory was granted semi-public status; and, as numbers grew, he came out of retirement and was appointed as Kings Heath’s first parish priest in 1896. In the same year, he built a simple ‘iron church’ on the corner of Westfield Road and Station Road. Mass was first celebrated there on Christmas Day 1896 and the baptism of Arthur Gardiner, the first in the new parish of St Dunstan, was recorded on 7th March 1897. The church was formally opened by Bishop Ilsley on 25th April 1897. In his later years, Father Dolan had the help of two assistant priests – Father Francis Dwyer (1911-1913) and Father John Hughes (1913-1916). He retired for a second time in 1916 and was succeeded by Father Francis John Sumner (1916-1923) and Father John Francis Bromfield (1923-1929). The former initiated and the latter completed negotiations for the purchase of Kingsfield House, with its gardens and orchards. This is the site of the present church and community centre and two of the parish schools, St Dunstan’s Primary School and Bishop Challoner Secondary School and Sixth Form College.
Father (later Canon) O’Sullivan initiated the building of two parish primary schools – St Dunstan’s, built alongside the secondary school and opened in 1964; and St Alban’s, on Broad Lane, opened in 1969. He also carried through the plan for a new church and presbytery, which fulfilled the intentions of Father Bromfield when Kingsfield House and its extensive grounds were purchased in 1924. The foundations had been laid by October 1966 and the Church of St Dunstan was solemnly blessed and opened by the Most Reverend George Patrick Dwyer, Archbishop of Birmingham, on 30th November 1968. The subsequent conversion of the church hall into the present community centre was completed in 1973.
Father Albert Leo Kelly was appointed Parish Priest of St Dunstan’s in 1929 and served for the next thirty-three eventful years. On Good Friday 1941, the church in Station Road was destroyed by two delayed-action German bombs. For a while after that, Masses and other services were held in the Anglican church hall on the High Street, which was made available through the kindness of the Revd. Michael Parker, Vicar of All Saints’. Then two rooms on the ground floor of Kingsfield House were knocked into one and supplied the place of a church for some time. Since conditions were cramped, Father Kelly hired the assembly hall in Colmore Road School as a stop gap while further alterations were made to Kingsfield House. As the congregation continued to expand, a small brick church – Our Lady of Fatima – was built in Bell’s Lane on a plot of land owned by Birmingham Corporation in Druid’s Heath. This was opened in 1951, but when the lease expired in 1959, it had to be demolished. In the meantime, permission was sought to build a more substantial church on the Kingsfield House site. The late Archbishop Masterson insisted, however, that a school and church hall be built first. Bishop Challoner Roman Catholic School, the first secondary modern school in the archdiocese, and St Dunstan’s Church Hall were duly opened in 1953. Father Kelly continued to shepherd his flock there until he retired in 1962, when Father Eugene O’Sullivan was appointed as Parish Priest.
Canon O’Sullivan suffered from ill health in his later years, and his successor, Father Christopher Noel Fitzpatrick was appointed in 1988. He adapted the presbytery for modern needs by extending it with a conference room and other facilities and prepared the church for consecration by enlarging the sanctuary, closing off a Blessed Sacrament chapel with an engraved glass screen, and installing a new altar table and ambo. The ceremony of dedication was performed by the Most Reverend Maurice Couve de Murville, Archbishop of Birmingham, on the Feast of St Dunstan, 19th May 1993.
Further major developments in the parish have included the institution of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in 1996 and the building of a sports’ hall (opened on 29th June 2004) along with other modern facilities (including a fashion design centre, an auditorium, and a recording studio) at Bishop Challoner Catholic School and Sixth Form College. The College has been granted the status of Training School and specialised Sports and Science College and is now known as Bishop Challoner Catholic College.
Fr Christopher Fitzpatrick moved to become Parish Priest at English Martys in Rugby and Fr Philip Harrop was appointed as Parish Priest in 2013. Fr Philip was ordained to the priesthood at St Chad’s Cathedral in January 1996. Previous to this he had ministered for a few years in the Church of England in the diocese of Wakefield. Before going to Oscott, Fr Philip was based at St Patrick’s, Walsall, where he offered his first Mass. Shortly afterwards he was appointed as Curate to St Austin’s, Stafford. In 1998 he was appointed as Parish Priest of St Anne’s, Chelmsley Wood, and then, in 2002, became the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Angels, Nuneaton, and Dean of Rugby Deanery. Philip Harrop was, at the time he was at St Dunstan's, also the current Dean of South Birmingham. Fr Roger Peck assisted as Curate between 2013 and 2016 before becoming Parish Priest at Our Lady and St Hubert in Warley. Then Fr Simon Baker joined us as Curate between 2016 and 2020 before moving to assist as a Curate at St Austin's in Stafford.
Fr Philip Harrop Fr SimonBaker
In 2013, the Presbytery was refurbished. Included in this work was removal of the old garages and a new Conference Room built in its place. This quickly became an area that Parish groups used for their different activities. There was also a new garage block that was adjacent to church
During 2019, under the watchful eye of Fr Philip, St Dunstan's underwent considerable reordering work. This included new underfloor heating, an extended Sanctuary with new altar and ambo, the tabernacle was returned to the heart of the church, new lighting, a new sound system and a new extension at the back of church to incorporate toilets and a kitchen area. You can find more information on the work here.
In September 2020, during the Covid pandemic, Fr John Waters joined us as Curate. Fr John entered Priestly formation in 2011 - he was sent first to the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain and subsequently to the Venerable English College in Rome.
Fr John was Ordained a Priest in July 2019 by Archbishop Bernard Longley and offered his First Mass at All Souls, Coventry, where he had been baptised. In June 2020 he gained a license in Canon Law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and returned to the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
In September 2023, Fr John moved into to his next Parish, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Newcastle Under Lyme.