Priests Past & Present

Fr John O’Brien, June 1999

Fr Kevin Knox-Lecky, 1992

Fr Eric Foxwell, 1988

Fr Bernard Carpenter, 1978

Fr Vincent Ryan, 1976

Canon John Supple 1957

John Alphie Supple was born in 1921 in Youghal Co Cork to parents William and Louise. He was one of 3 brothers and 7 sisters and his younger brother Dan was also a priest in the Diocese of Clifton.

He was ordained on 4 June 1944 and arrived in Chippenham on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on 11th February 1949.

At this time Corsham was a Mass centre, attached to St Mary’s Parish in Chippenham. The catholic community, who were mostly Irish, lived in war-time prefabricated bungalows, having settled in the area during the 1939-45 war.  It was at this time that the disused Pickwick School and grounds, later used in turn as a gas mask factory, a glove factory and a private house was purchased for £1600 and fashioned into a Church dedicated to St Patrick. It was in a very bad state of repair but with Canon Supple’s faith and determination and the help of the parishioners it was turned into a permanent Mass Centre.

He left Chippenham in 1953, for Christ the King, Knowle, Bristol, hoping and praying that one day, St Patrick’s, which was now growing rapidly, would become an independent Parish. In 1957 his prayers were answered and Bishop Rudderham appointed him as the first resident Parish Priest. He stayed with Mrs Eden along the road in Pickwick, then moved in with Miss Sheppard before moving into the old School House attached to the Church. He was still in his thirties and full of health and zeal so in his own words – “there was no excuse but to go ahead wholeheartedly towards building a catholic community”. He completed various projects e.g. enlarging the church to take in the whole ground floor of the old school and altar rails, pulpit and carpets were acquired, built a presbytery and erected a temporary hall which lasted until about 12 years go. He then concentrated his energies on the thing that he considered most essential in a Catholic parish, namely a Catholic School. He came up against many obstacles but this did not deter him. One of the main objections, put forward by the Bishop, was the lack of pupils but Canon Supple spoke to the Melksham parishioners who agreed to send their children to the Corsham School, a practice which still exists today. He bought a piece of land on the Lacock road in 1961, negotiated an interest free loan in Ireland, built the School and asked a number of orders of nuns to teach in it. The Presentation Sisters accepted and arrived in 1966 and it is good to see them represented here today.   The school, quite rightly, was his pride and joy and he worked tirelessly to raise money to ensure that pupils and staff had the best.

After 5 years as a curate and 19 years as Parish Priest he reluctantly left in 1976 for St Patricks in Redfield, but this was not a happy time for him. Next he was off to St Gregory’s in Salisbury where he was well known, a very visible figure about town, known to all. Canon Supple welcomed many new Christians through the RCIA programme, and many others were received into full communion, the youngest was received at age 5 with his mother, the eldest 95, and he encouraged the laity to be involved at every level. He once said he hoped he’d die in his active ministry, a wish that was not to be, but the thought of retirement was not one he really entertained until ill health forced it. His housekeeper Doris, also a convert, died in 2012.

Canon Supple spoke often of his family, the good faithful Christian upbringing. He loved Salisbury but always reminded them of his days in Corsham. Everyone who met him will remember his dogs, Prince, a boxer and Tina, a corgi which went everywhere with him.

When ill health started to catch up with him he moved to Nazareth House in Cheltenham where he was Chaplain until he could no longer carryout the duties. He passed away peacefully on Friday 4 January 2013.