Parish History

Pope Pius X

Our beautiful church of St. Pius X is named after the Italian pope who was canonised a few years earlier in 1954. He was born Giuseppe Sarto into a poor Italian family in Venice on 2nd June 1835, the second of ten children. He died on 20th August 1914.

He became Pius X at the age of 68, one of the 20th Century’s greatest popes.

He is best remembered for his encouragement of frequent reception of Holy Communion. Up until then people received Holy Communion very occasionally. He was always mindful of his humble origin. He said ‘I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor’. He was uncomfortable and even embarrassed with the pomp of the Papal Court. ‘Look how they have dressed me up’ he said in tears to an old friend. To another he said ‘This is such a penance. I am forced to accept all these practices; they lead me around surrounded by soldiers, like Jesus when he was seized in Gethsemane’. Coming from modest circumstances, he would have much preferred a simple life. He encouraged Catholics to become more politically involved and had a keen interest in politics himself. He ended the veto in papal elections which some governments presumed. He did not write any famous encyclicals. However he spoke out against the ill treatment of Indians in Peru and sent humanitarian aid wherever in the world it was needed.

He had foreseen the outbreak of the First World War. ‘I would gladly give my life to save my people from this scourge’ he said. He died a few weeks after the war began.

‘He was a humble man with a gentle and warm personality, a man of compassion ‘who knew the hardships of life’,” as one historian puts it. ‘In the greatness of his heart he wanted to comfort everyone.’ His Feast Day is August 21st.

Prayer to St Pius X

O Lord, through the intercession of St Pius X, bless our parish.
Keep it in your loving care.
May our homes be places of prayer and love.
May our children grow up strong in faith and hope.
May we, your people, show each other the same compassion and kindness by which Pope Pius X lived
And in so doing may we build up this little corner of your kingdom.


Laying of the Foundation Stone

Feast of Christ the King, 28th October 1956

On the Feast of Christ the King, October 28th 1956, the foundation stone for the new church was laid. The event featured in several editions of the Derry Journal. As can be seen in the photo album that follows, the church had already been under construction for well over a year before the service took place. On that Sunday, Moville became the centre of the Catholic world as far as the Derry diocese was concerned. Bishop Farren’s arrival was greeted with the usual pomp and ceremony associated with the time but which would be considered totally exceptional now. The town was decorated with bunting and flags. An F.C.A. guard of honour was inspected by the bishop before he proceeded to the parochial house. Accompanying the bishop were numerous priests, several of whom were themselves natives of the parish. Music was provided by the church choir led by choirmaster, John McCabe and during the ceremony the choir sang Veni Creator. Overseeing the entire event was Fr. Dan Mc Laughlin, parish priest, the inspirational driving force behind the whole project. A feature of the ceremony was the handing over of the trowel by the architect Malachy Fitzpatrick to Bishop Farren for the formal laying of the foundation stone. The Journal extracts and photographs that follow feature some of the main events of that day.


The McGuinness family and the building of St Pius X

When Moville builder and furniture contractor John McGuinness was awarded the contract to construct St Pius X some 54 years ago, he was presented with the biggest challenge of his professional life. McGuinness’s were working on the second phase of St Finian’s Park at the time, but this was an undertaking on a whole new scale. The new chapel was completed in just over three years and John’s immediate family played a big part in the project. Here his son, Hugh McGuinness, and daughter, Sheila Meehan, recall the building of one of Inishowen most dramatic chapels.

In the first half of the 20th Century, Moville’s Catholics had the Convent Chapel as their principal place of worship. Compared to St. Mary’s in Ballybrack, the Convent Chapel was much smaller according to 71 year old Hugh, who was a teenager when work began on St Pius X. “I think the reason for wanting a new church was because the old Convent Chapel was so small. Back then confirmation had to be held in Ballybrack and around that time Muff Parish joined Moville.”

For the young Hugh, his first major job working for his father couldn’t have been more challenging. “I was given the task of marking out [the foundations] of the new church, I wasn’t long out of school and my father wanted to test me I think.” Hugh would be involved right to the finish of the work. His sister Sheila puts forward another reason for the desire to build a modern chapel at the heart of the parish. “It wasn’t really that that the existing chapel was too small, more that it belonged to the nuns.”

Construction would not be straightforward and, certainly, there were space restrictions on the new building. The site was boxed in by the road in front, the Parochial House on one side and the convent on the other. “Fr Dan McLaughlin, a Malin man, instigated the new church. He was the Parish Priest and a bit of a genius, both with his hands and his mind, and he would have been on site four days out of the seven, while the chapel was going up” said Hugh.

In 1954 plans for the new church were drawn up by Derry architects Fitzpatrick and Devine; in 1956 the foundation stone was laid. The project required funding on an unprecedented level in the parish. Local Curate, Fr William Rafferty, set about filling the coffers. “A big part of the money raised was done by Fr Rafferty. Anybody with any connections to the parish, from Shroove to half way up to Drung, was approached by Fr. Rafferty for the names and addresses of friends and relatives in America. He wrote to them and they responded very generously.

“He started the Moville silver circle at a shilling a week. It would have been a struggle for a lot of people but people supported it. People in America joined the Moville silver circle too.”

Fr Dan had played a part in the design of the chapel in St. Columb’s College at Bishop’s Street in Derry, so St. Pius X was not as daunting a project as it might have otherwise been. With its box shape and austere design, St. Pius X differed from a lot of chapels in the country. Instead of a spire there is a decagonal lantern, above the gallery to let light in to the main gallery.

“It’s plain, but then Fr Dan was a plain country man.” “Fr Dan’s interest in architecture had a big say in how the building would eventually look. It’s quite a dominating building, isn’t it? The Chapel was designed that way, to get 1000 people in it,” adds Hugh. When the Old Convent Chapel was demolished, some of the statues and seats went to Ballinacrae church and some of the original seating was used in the new church, in the main gallery, for example.

Construction in the 1950s was a lot different from today, recalls Hugh “The foundations were four foot wide and eight foot deep, but there were no track diggers, it was all spade and shovel work. The scaffolding wasn’t like modern scaffolding either.” Two types of stones were used for the chapel. The main walls, except the front, are brick. For the front façade Fanad Granite and Prehen Limestone were used.

Hugh remembers that the Altar, also made from Fanad granite, was a special find. “It was quite an effort to get the altar stone, because the altar had to be in one piece. The rock was got down at the beach in Fanad Head. The original piece of rock was about two and a half times the size of what it is today. It was shaped with chisel and hammer down at our workshop in Quay Street.

A Monumental Sculptor from Derry named Robert Bradley trained three men to help him sculpt the altar. One of them was my brother, John Joseph, John Farren and Manus Gillen.”

Several other intricate pieces of stonework, such as the granite cross above the main chapel door and the altar rails all done by hand were also fashioned at McGuinness’ Quay Street base. Down at the workshop there were times the men couldn’t keep up with the demands placed upon them for new stonework. Due to the relentless nature of the work the sculptors would often have to run up to Neil McDaid’s blacksmiths at Malin Road, to have their tools tempered.

Sheila assisted her mother Elizabeth as a secretary, although she never held the title. “It was a family business. My mother would have been more of a secretary than anyone.” Sheila and her mother filled out order sheets from the all-important bill of quantities –the itemised list of materials, parts, and labour required to construct the Moville mega-structure. There were no photocopiers in those days.

Aside from Hugh, Sheila’s other brothers, John, Dan and Ned, were also involved in the construction of the chapel in many capacities. The people who worked on the chapel were bestowed the honour of havingtheir names being placed in a pocket in the foundation stone, but not Sheila’s or her mother’s. “Women didn’t get that sort of honour in those days,” she joked.

Eighteen workers in addition to the McGuinness family toiled continuously on the site. There were also sub-contractors on site at different times, for example the crew that put the copper on the roof. Work ran Monday to Friday as well as most Saturdays up to 1pm. The project was blessed. No one was killed over the two years of construction, although John Joseph fell 26 feet and hurt his shoulder on one occasion.

“My father and Fr Dan were terribly close. They had a great respect for each other. Fr Dan was pleased to get a local contractor and local labour after the project was put out to tender,” added Hugh. The men worked in all kinds of weather, from searing heat of the summer through to the icy winter of ’57. Through it all John McGuinness made countless trips up and down Moville Main Street from workshop to building site. There were significant time pressures put on the builders towards the end.

“It was a panic, there was a lot of overtime towards the end. If the workshop was busy you were in there doing joinery. If it wasn’t, you were at the site building so you were both a builder and a workshop joiner each week.

“The seats were the big push at the end and the workshop went back to making furniture, which it hadn’t done since the Second World War due to timber shortage. We worked through the night, for several nights before the official opening,” said Hugh, who added that all the woodwork for St Pius X was done at McGuinness’ workshop.
During the construction of the Chapel an army-style hut was put up at the back of the Parochial House so that Mass could be held in the years of construction. The corrugated iron hut later became the town’s youth club.

Fr Dan commissioned Derry artist Sheila McClean (McGuinness) to paint the Stations of the Cross, a task which she took great pride in fulfilling. As for the naming of the church, Pius X had just recently been declared a saint. “There was only one other Pius X Church build in Ireland at that time. It was in Dublin. They claimed they were the first in Ireland to be called after the saint, but Fr Dan wrote to them to inform them in no uncertain terms that Moville’s chapel was the first in Ireland to be called St. Pius X,” said Sheila.

The chapel was opened on 26th October 1958

Sheila married Tony Meehan in the new chapel and they were one of the first couples to get married there. They got married in June 1960.

The feast of Christ the King is a date that keeps cropping up when St. Pius X is discussed. The foundation stone was laid on the feast of Christ the King 1956 and the opening was on the Feast of Christ the King 1958.

“Fr Dan took very ill with cancer. They thought he would have died two weeks before he did, yet he held out to the feast of Christ the King October 26th 1964.

This year the Golden Jubilee celebrations will be on the feast of Christ the King.

Today the chapel is much the same as it was on its opening day back in 1958. Some changes have occurred however. The Altar was originally up against the wall at the back and the priest stood with his back to the congregation. In addition, the nuns’ confessional, (the top confessional on the left-hand side which used to be accessed via a corridor so the nuns were never seen going to confession by the public) has been closed off. John McGuinness died in 1973.