A history of the parish
The beginnings of a Polish religious presence in England date back to the 19th century and was identified with two centres, London and Liverpool.
The Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales and was established in 1894. For the first 36 years it was situated in Shadwell in East London. As a result of the ending of the lease on the rented church it had to find a new location. In 1930 the Mission purchased a small church in Islington on what today is Devonia Road.
Prior to the Second World War the Polish community in London was small and the majority lived in East London. Thus the small church of Our Lady of Częstochowa and St. Casimir was quite adequate for the needs of the community. The situation changed dramatically in 1940, when following the fall of France, the Polish President and Government arrived in London to carry on the war at Britain’s side. With them arrived several tens of thousands of Polish troops. A second dramatic and long term change came after 1945 when some 100,000 Poles settled in Britain rather than returning to a communist controlled and Soviet dominated Poland. Many tens of thousands of Poles settled in London. It soon became apparent that a second Polish church was needed in west London. The search for a suitable object ensued. In 1955 the Rev. Kazimierz Sołowiej (1912-1979), one time chaplain in the Polish Army during the Second World War, was appointed to run the unofficial Polish Parish in Central London centred around St. Wilfred’s Chapel in Brompton Oratory, where the wooden relief of Our Lady of Kozielsk hung. Fr. Sołowiej’s specific task was to find a suitable church building which could be acquired for the use of the Polish community in central and west London, around which a permanent parish could be organised.
In February 1961 after much searching it was decided to purchase the recently closed down church of St. Andrew belonging to the Scottish Presbyterians in Shepherds Bush (Hammersmith). It was decided to devote the church to St. Andrew Bobola a 17th century Polish martyr from the eastern borderlands of the then Polish Commonwealth. Following a fundamental internal rebuilding the church was privately blessed by Prelate Bronisław Michalski on 8th December 1961 and the first holy mass said. Over 1000 faithfull attended the inaugural mass in the church whose capacity did not accede 600-700 people. On 26 May 1963 the Vicar General of the Diocese of Westminster Bishop George Craven officially blessed the church. That same year saw the relief of Our Lady of Kozielsk being transfered from St. Wilfred’s Chapel in Brompton Oratory to a specially built side chapel in the new church.
Throughout its existence and to this day, the Parish of St. Andrew Bobola in London has a dual role. On the one hand that of a normal every day parish looking after the spiritual and other needs of its parishioners and secondly as a religious and national centre. Many Polish national commemorations and celebrations took and take place in the church, until 1990 with the participation of the Polish exiled President and Government. In May 1970 the funeral mass for Gen. W. Anders (commander of the Polish 2nd Corps in Italy and victor at the battle of Monte Cassino) took place here.
The church contains stained glass windows commemorating Gen. Anders and the 2nd Corps, the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade, The Polish Air Force, the 1st Armoured Division, the Independent Parachute Brigade, the Provost Troops, the Army Engineers, the City of Lwów and St. Casimir. They majority were designed by the church’s interior architect Aleksander Prus-Klecki the remainder by Janina Baranowska. Also there are countless memorial tablets commemorating various Polish military units and formations, organisations, professions and individuals.
Next to the church is a columbarium where the ashes of many famous and distinguished Poles are interred – a veritable historical trail.
For further reading see:
Kościół św.Andrzeja Boboli w Londynie. Przewodnik – historia – informacje (The Church of St.Andrew Bobola in London. Guide – history – information), London 1990 [in Polish]
Kronika Kościoła św.Andrzeja Boboli w Londynie 1961-2011 (A chronicle of the Church of St.Andrew Bobola in London 1961-2011), London 2012 [in Polish]
A.Suchcitz, St.Andrew Bobola’s Polish Roman Catholic Church in London 1961-2011. English language summary in the above publication (no.2) p.393-403