Basil studied at Caesarea, Athens and Constantinople for many years. He became a professor of Rhetoric at Caesarea. After some few years he abandoned his successful career and wandered abroad visiting hermits and studying their way of life.
He returned to his estate at Annesi in Pontus and built a monastery. Many monks joined him there. Previously monks lived alone or in small groups; they had no organized rules or mode of life.
Basil set out detailed rules of work and prayer. The emphasis was on community and liturgical prayer and manual work. Alms were given to the poor. Guesthouses and hospitals were set up.
Present day Eastern Monasticism follows the pattern instituted at Basil’s monastery at Annesi. St. Benedict based his role on that of Basil.
In 370 Basil was appointed Archbishop of Caesarea and for nine stormy years he continued to preserve and propagate the Faith.
Gwladys is a person of mystery and legend. Very little has ever been written of her. It is believed she was a hermit who lived in the St. Woolos/Bassaleg area.
She devoted her life to prayer, fasting and alms deeds.
In 1102 Robert de Hay made a gift of land and money to help establish a Benedictine Priory at Bassaleg, dedicated to St. Basil. Roger de Berechrolles, who dwelt at Rogerstone Castle, confirmed a gift of land to the Benedictines. In 1213 a further grant of three acres was made by Isabel Countess of Gloucester.
The Priory Church of Bassaleg was given the status of a minor Basilica. It is believed that the Benedictines laboured for approximately one hundred and thirty years at Bassaleg. No record is found of them after 1235. Bassaleg was clearly associated with the Bishop of Llandaff who had a manor there in 1291.
It is probable that secular priests took charge of Bassaleg here the Faith continued to flourish until the dark days of the Reformation; in the middle years of the sixteenth century.
Three hundred years passed before the return of a centre of Catholicism, on land which was most probably part of the estates of the Benedictine Priory at Bassaleg.
The centre chosen for the site of the new church was a third of a mile to the south across the fields to St. Basil’s Bassaleg, and a third of a mile west to the ruins of Roger de Berecholles’ Rogerstone Castle.
The name ‘Rogerstone’ is derived from Roger’s town, after de Berecholles Lord of the Manor.
THE CHURCH OF ST. BASIL AND ST. GWLADYS
A small group of Catholics met once a month in a small house at Pye Corner, Rogerstone, where Father Alfred C Knight of St. Mary’s, Newport, celebrated Holy Mass. As more people joined the group overcrowding the house it was decided to build a church to accommodate everyone. The chosen site was a quarter of a mile west of Pye Corner at the foot of Plain Farm Hill.
The church dedicated to St. Basil and St. Gwladys is a cruciform structure built of blue Pennant Stone. It has been described as ‘an architectural gem’. A small bell tower surmounts the south wall of the church and a statue of the Madonna and Child stands in a niche in the wall close to the bell tower.
The Church was opened on Thursday, 13th October 1892. The Right Rev Dr Bishop Hedley of Newport and Menevia celebrated High Mass and consecrated the church. Rev Father Wilcox was deacon and Rev Father Bath sub deacon. Rev. Father Gibbons master of ceremonies was assisted by Rev. Father Knight.
13th October is the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor. Dr. Hedley gave a brief history of the saint. The Bishop stressed that the example of its laity was of foremost importance to the propagation of the Faith.
The Mass was sung by a ladies’ choir from St. Mary’s Newport. Father Knight sang the Litany of the Saints. The Te Deum was sung at the end of Mass. Mss. E. Driscoll, Newport, was the organist.
Father Alfred Knight was the driving force guiding the foundation of the parish of St. Basil and Gwladys.
Among the many benefactors of the church at Rogerstone were a number of people from Newport: The Misses Waddle, Rev. Father Hurley, the Sisters of St. Joseph; the Misses Clarke; Mrs. Hurley; Miss Hurley; Mrs. Capella; Miss Rotzinger; Miss Hudard; Mr. J. McCarthy; Mr. Ciceri; Mrs. Blake; Mrs. Rendy; Mrs. Amaral. The altar furniture was donated by Mr. Pinchin and the organ by Mrs. Derrett.
Not much is known about the church at Rogerstone after its foundation until 1917. The expected influx of Irishmen to work at the Guest Keen steel works and Nettlefolds nail factory did not occur.
Most of the men who came to Rogerstone were from Shropshire.
In 1917 Mr. and Mrs. J. Herlihy and their two small children, Clement and Mary, moved into the church house. Mr. Herlihy was an overman at Risca Colliery and, coal was in plentiful supply for the black tortoise stove. The church was lit by paraffin lamps which were attached to brass brackets on the walls.
1920/25 Rev Father Hart, St. Mary’s, Newport, was in charge of the Rogerstone church. He was a much loved and respected priest. Supporters of the parish still walked from Newport and the Gaer to attend the monthly masses.
Father Patrick O’Keefe came to Risca from Brynmawr in 1925. Shortly afterwards he was given charge of the Rogerstone church. Holy Mass was now celebrated every Sunday at 11.00 a.m. and on Holy days of Obligation.
1926 was the year of the General Strike. There was great unrest. Winston Churchill had ordered the troops to take up station at Tredegar Park to prepare to take charge of the coal mines of the Western and Rhymney Valleys. This cause much public anger and dissent. Eventually the troops were withdrawn; no action being taken.
The country was sliding towards the Great Depression of the 1930 s. The parish was desperately poor, church collections were a mere pittance.
Father O’Keefe depended on financial, support from his family in Ireland.
Most the children of the parish attended the local state schools. Only those children whose parents could afford the bus attended St. Mary’s School, Newport. There was no free Catholic Grammar School education throughout the County. Sisters of St. Joseph from Stow Hill, Newport, came every Sunday afternoon to take catechism lessons walking to and from the Church.
In 1927 the Herlihy family moved to Llantrisant. Mr. and Windsor and their children, Kathleen, Peggy and Billy, moved into the house in 1927. They were a very supportive caring, family – cleaning the church, caring for the altar, vestments, etc. At the same time paying rent for the privilege of living there. Mrs. Windsor’s sister, Miss Eileen Britton was Father O’Keefe’s housekeeper.
In 1936 the South Wales Electricity Board was installing electricity throughout the area. Installation was free for a limited number of lights. Four lights were placed in the house and one in the Church.
In 1937 the Church was licensed for marriages. Mr. Ernest Crabb paid for the licence. In July 1937 the first marriage in the Church was solemnized. The couple Kathleen Donelly of Rogerstone and Mr. Wilfred Sanders of Risca.
The statue of our Lady which stands near the sanctuary was donated by Mr. T. McCarthy in memory of his wife, Thirza. Mr. & Mrs. McCarthy were the parents of Mrs. Eileen Crabb of Cefn Walk of this parish.
In 1938 Guest Keen & Nettlefolds moved their steel mill and nail factory to East Moors, Cardiff. The dole queues grew and many people suffered the indignity of the Means Test. The Church and house were falling into a dreadful state of neglect. The floorboards were rotten; most of the chairs in the Church had collapsed – destroyed by woodworm. There was just no money for repair work.
Early 1939: Northern Aluminium Company took over the site of the former steel mills. About this time Mrs. W. Sullivan and children moved into the Church house.
The country was only beginning to recover from the dreadful slump when World War II broke cut.
1940: A bomb fell at High Cross – where the roundabout now stands – a number of houses were demolished, 7 people were killed.
1941: October 7th. A land mine fell at Church Street and Park Avenue. Many houses were demolished, 11 people were killed. This mine fell three quarters of a mile away from the Church. The statue of St. Michael, above the rood screen fell from its plinth and landed in the aisle. It wasn’t even cracked.
Now, had there been any money for repairs, they could not be done. All building materials were commandeered by the Government for bomb damage repairs. The church buildings continued to deteriorate.
In 1950 the Country was beginning to recover from the war years. New housing estates were being built at High Cross and Bassaleg by St. Mellons UDC. The number of parishioners grew quite some. Because St. Anthony and St. Clare, Risca, was the mother Church and St. Basil and Gwladys just a chapel of ease (the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved here) all the chief celebrations and functions took place at Risca – Baptisms; Confirmation; Easter Liturgy; Midnight Mass, etc.
In 1950 Father O’Keefe’s health was failing.
He died on November 26th 1950. R.I.P.
On the death of Rev. Father O’Keefe, Rogerstone Church was given to the care of Rev. Father Maloney, St. David’s Maesglas.
Rev. Father McBraety was appointed as curate to Father Maloney. Father McBraety was a happy, genial, kindly, round, little priest who endeared himself to everyone. He made frequent home visitations.
At this time Magor and St. Mellons Rural District Council had embarked upon a very big housing programme at High Cross and Bassaleg. A number of new families moved into parish.
The offertory collections improved.
The church was in an extreme state of disrepair. The floorboards were rotten and unsafe, particularly at the rear of the Church. The paraffin lamp brackets were still on the walls, the plaster was peeling and crumbling. The floorboards were renewed, the lamp brackets removed, the walls replastered and painted. The worst affected worm chairs were burnt.
The outdoor collection was reorganised and finances were beginning to improve. Balance sheets were presented on a quarterly basis. Weekday Masses were introduced to the parish for the first time. Benediction services were held on a Sunday evening.
On December 31st 1951, Rogerstone Church was returned to the Risca Church under the care of Rev. Father Dillon. Father John Dillon was a big, energetic, volatile personality and came in 1950 to Risca from Abersychan.
The task in front of him was daunting. Both Churches and presbyteries were very dilapidated.
Money was desperately needed for work to begin. He placed an advert in the Universe every week appealing for monetary gifts and clothing and gifts suitable for sales. The response to the appeal was excellent and funds began to accumulate.
In 1952 a Football Pools Tote Club was set up. For a number of years this was a highly successful venture. At the height of its success more than £200 profit was made each week, for church funds. Father Dillon worked hard and was supported by a band of hard working parishioners who assisted him in all his efforts. Father toured the parish in his newly acquired second hand car, collecting newspapers to be sold for recycling.
Father’s greatest ambition was to see all the children in the parish attending Catholic schools. Preparations were made for children to leave their schools and transfer to St. Mary’s School, Queens Hill. Dolan’s bus was hired to take the children to and from St. Mary’s school. At first the bus was funded from Parish funds. For some months Father Dillon badgered County Hall officials until they agreed to pay for the bus. This was a great victory.
In 1952 a Presidium of the Legion of Mary, Our Lady Health of the Sick, was established. The members assisted the Parish Priest with various tasks in the parish. The pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady at Penrhys and the grave of St. David Lewis at Usk were supported by the parish and organised by the members of the Legion of Mary in the parish. The Presidium was eventually disbanded due to lack of members.
The Ladies’ Guild was re-organised under the leadership of Mrs. Claudia Purnell. The ladies took charge of catering for functions, church cleaning, care of altar linen and the Altar Society. The Altar Society members paid half a crown a month to cover the cost of hosts and altar wine. The last worm eaten chairs were removed from St. Basil and Gwladys and benches, which had been obtained from a church where new benches had been bought, were set in place.
In 1953 Mrs. W. Sullivan was permanently hospitalised. Her children Dennis and Kathleen were asked to vacate the house. The house was unfit for habitation for no repairs had been done for years.
In the same year the church at Risca, St. Anthony and St. Clare was closed for a complete restoration. The Risca parishioners came to Mass at Rogerstone by coach every Sunday morning. When the restoration and refurbishment of St. Anthony’s was completed a new house was built in the church grounds. The old presbytery was then demolished. A beautiful grotto in honour of Our Lady of Fatima was erected in the gardens attached to the church.
Parish funds were low after all the work at Sts. Anthony and Clare was completed. Extra efforts for fund raising took off. The parish committee, chaired by the late Mr. John Quinn organised dances at Rogerstone and Bassaleg, raffles, whist drives, etc. The Football Tote Club was still bringing in quite good revenue but many supporters had dropped out.
In 1956 St. Basil and St. Gwladys Church was closed for complete renovation and extension. The Rogerstone parishioners now travelled by coach to Risca each Sunday for Mass.
After some months St. Basil and St. Gwladys Church was ready for reopening. It was completely transformed. We now had a beautiful new church. The walls had been cleaned of the old, crumbling plaster and completely re-plastered; a new roof was in place; a polished block floor had been laid in the sanctuary, sacristy, guild room and the body of the church.
A new font was installed in a small baptistery in the rear of the church. The varnish had been stripped from the Rood Screen. A set of Stations of the Cross had been commissioned. They were carved from wood and the cost was met by donations from families in the parish.
For some reason the old house had not been demolished. Probably because of lack of cash. It was still unoccupied and in a deplorable state.
Father Dillon said Mass on three weekdays and held midweek Benediction. He celebrated Holy Hour once a month. Corpus Christi processions were
held each year at Rogerstone with Benediction in the church grounds. The May Processions took place each year at Risca and the crowning of Our Lady of Fatima and Benediction took place in the church grounds.
Before a Senior Catholic School was established in this area, two girls Letitia Crabb and Josephine Bethel were accepted at Heathfield House, Cardiff, on the results of the 11 plus exams. One boy, Brian Curley, was
accepted at St. Illtyd’s College on his exam results. These acceptances were entirely due to Father Dillon’s efforts.
In 1959 Mr. John Pearson introduced the Covenant scheme into the parish and became the parish organiser. He went on to organise the Covenant scheme throughout the Archdiocese. The success of the scheme, which has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Archdiocese, is almost entirely due to the hard work and dedication of Mr. John Pearson.
He has visited most of the parishes in the Archdiocese explaining the scheme and encouraging parishioners to join it. The Rogerstone parish has received untold financial aid from the Covenant Scheme.
Bazaars and other social functions were still being organised. The Curran Manufacturing Co. of Cardiff gave Father Dillon hundreds of second quality enamelware goods – pails, bowls, jugs, casseroles, etc. They sold like hot cakes and brought in hundreds of pounds for the parish, In 1961 Father Dillon was moved to Dan-Y-Graig, Swansea. Because of his hard work, commitment and energy he left behind a thriving parish.
Rev. Father Madden came from the parish of Abersychan to take charge of Risca and Rogerstone.
Both parts of the parish were expanding rapidly. Risca Council were extending the Channel View Estate and a private estate – Ty Melin was being built above Ty Sign, Risca. The Cefn Wood estate was being built as one extension to the High Cross Estate. Court Gardens and Pleasant were private developments at Rogerstone. Mass attendance increased so did the offertory collection.
Funds were low after the work at St. Anthony and Clare, Risca and St. Basil and Gwladys, Rogerstone. A hall was erected at Risca, in the church grounds, for social functions and fund raising events.
In 1963 Father Madden approached His Grace Archbishop McGrath, requesting a grant for the demolition of the near derelict house at Rogerstone and the building of a new presbytery. The request was granted.
The greater part of the money for this project came from the Archdiocesan Covenant Scheme. Work began late in 1963 and was completed in 1964.
Both the Rogerstone and Risca areas of the parish had grown sufficiently for two parishes to be self-supporting. Rev. Father Madden conferred with His Grace the Archbishop and permission was granted for Rogerstone to become a parish in its own right.
In 1965 the house was furnished and the priest moved in. Father Madden became our first Parish Priest, After 73 years we were independent of Risca and were no longer the Cinderella of the parish. Mass was celebrated daily and three times on Sunday; 8.30 am; 10.30 am and 6.30 pm. Benediction was on Wednesday evening.
Miss Kathleen Waters, Father Madden’s housekeeper: was an able musician. She became the parish organist and trained a girls’ choir. The choir achieved a very high standard and learnt to sing the Ordinary of the Mass; the Proper of the Mass and many Latin Motets. Each Christmas the choir presented a Carol concert. They visited the local hospital to sing for the patients and an elderly peoples’ complex – St. John’s Court.
Father Madden spent much time training the Altar boys who, not always keen to attend practice, learnt to serve well and respectfully in the sanctuary. The church and house were in a lonely isolated spot; a large expanse beyond the west boundary wall was divided into allotments. Wasteland stretched from the northern fencing to the railway line. In 1972 the whole area was cleared and a small complex of private houses was built. The church was no longer isolated.
In July a small summer garden party was held in the church grounds. The ladies of the parish prepared the gifts for the craft stall and made cakes for the cake stall which was the centre of attraction. One year the stalls were set and the fete opened. A sudden storm broke; the rain was torrential!
There was no time to clear or cover the stalls. The cake stall was awash and the gift stall ruined. That was our last summer fete!
In 1970 Mrs. Margaret Gettings, a tailoress recently moved into the parish, made a set of full-length surplices for the altar servers. They were beautifully made and took many hours of work to complete. Mrs. Gettings made red, tasseled, woolen girdles to be worn with them.
In 1974 a parish council was setup under the chairmanship of Mr. John Regan. This was a very able group of parishioners. Many fund raising events were organised. Supper dances were very popular. Mr. Tony Henderson’s Band played at all suitable functions. The Ladies Guild members had become quite expert caterers!
The 60’s Club was founded in 1974, organised and run by Messrs. David Page, John Pearson, Jim McDonnell and Tom Doherty. Mr. John Pearson retired in 1988 and work for the 60’s Club was continued by Mr. Page and Mr. George Walker. During this time £4,0O0-~5,OOO was raised for the parish.
The Sisters of St. Joseph were still being very supportive to our parish. The church cleaning and altar care was still in the hands of the Ladies’ Guild.
During Father Madden’s time the Annual Bazaar “took off” and became a very successful fundraiser. Mrs. June Regan undertook the floral decoration of the altar and church. Many hours were spent at Easter and Christmas preparing the altar. Her efforts were well rewarded; the altar decorations were a special feature of the celebration.
In the late Spring of 1976 the long, high, boundary walls were pointed – they had become a danger to public safety. Temporary repairs were done to the arch work above the entrance gates.
Father Madden’s health had been causing concern for some time. He retired to Bournemouth in September 1976.
Father James Mulvihill came to Rogerstone in September 1976, from Bromyard in Herefordshire. “Father Jim” as he was affectionately called by many, bears a marked resemblance in stature and features to His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
The Parish Committee was still very strong and arranged many fund raising functions. The members of the Ladies’ Guild assisted the Parish Councillors. Every June a jumble sale is held, the profits are used by the Ladies’ Guild to prepare stalls for the Annual Bazaar. The Annual Prize Draw is held in conjunction with the Bazaar and they are the chief money spinning events of the year.
For some time we were without a parish organist. Sister Therese Alphonse of St. Joseph’s Convent undertook this duty. She was a gentle, kindly lady and much loved by members of the parish. She brought a hand carved Nativity Scheme from the Holy Land, as a gift for Father Mulvihill. It is a treasured memento of Sister Therese Alphonse and is displayed in the church every Christmastide. In recent years Sister Christopher had become our organist and came on alternate Sundays.
Mrs. C. Vaughan and Mrs. G. Herritty organised and trained a group of Guitarists who played during Mass, when Sister Christopher was unable to come, at Midnight Mass at Christmastide. In 1985 Mrs. C. Vaughan and Mrs. G. Herritty organised a fun run to buy a new carpet for the sanctuary.
They raised a total of two hundred pounds. In 1989 Mrs. Herritty moved from the parish and in 1990 some of the younger members of the folk group went away to college. Sadly we no longer had a folk group.
In 1985 the new Rogerstone/Risca bypass roadways were started. The fields which stretched from Lower Rogerstone to Bassaleg were bisected by this new road. A mini industrial estate was built on the Bassaleg side of the road. On the completion of the bypass road, most of the traffic used it and left the road in front of the church very much quieter and gave safer parking for parishioners attending Mass. However, the pleasant view across the fields from the church was destroyed – the price of progress!
In 1985 the archway above the entrance gates was in a very bad state of disrepair. Large flakes of stonework were falling onto the footpath bordering the roadway. It was a danger to the public. It was debated whether to rebuild it or remove it. Happily it was decided to rebuild it. This was a costly business because the construction work was highly specialised.
The interior and exterior of both the church and the presbytery needed redecoration. Another generous grant from the Archdiocesan Covenant scheme covered the greater part of the cost of both these projects.
In September 1991 thousands of people turned out to see the felling of the cooling towers and chimneystack at the Rogerstone Power Station – an event which had been eagerly awaited by the villagers. The work was effected by controlled explosions~ Immediately work commenced on clearing the site, building roadways and preparing to build an extensive complex. Part of this complex is planned as a residential area of approximately seven hundred houses. There are sure to be new Catholic families moving into the area. Mass attendances are certain to rise.
In 1991 new fluorescent light strips replaced the electric lamps in the church. In 1992 a new carpet was fitted in the sanctuary, across the front of the church. It was a safety precaution because a number of parishioners had slipped on the polished, blocked floor. The carpet has reduced noise and made the church appear warmer.
In 1992 two extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist were commissioned by the Archbishop to help Father Mulvihill -Mrs. A. Edge and Mrs. J. Wadelin.
In 1992 a special committee, chaired by Mr. J. Regan, was set up to prepare for the centenary celebrations. Various events have been organised to raise funds to buy a new chalice and paten, two new pyx and to erect a permanent strong notice board in the church grounds.
Coffee and biscuits are served in the Guild Room after 9.30 a.m. Mass on Sundays. Three car treasure hunts, a dance, etc. have been organised.
Mr. John Regan, with Father Mulvihill, has been in conference with a representative from Gwent County Council and the Archdiocesan Surveyor.
It was decided that the approach from the entrance gates to the church must be renewed.
Mr. Jim Roche and his colleagues erected the new notice board on a stone plinth, rebuilt the drive walls in dressed stone, changed the gradient at the entrance and relayed the tarmac on the drive and around the Church. The bulk of the work was completed in time for the centenary celebration.
The Archdiocesan Covenant Scheme will grant a substantial amount of the money needed. A special Church Committee of Gwent County Council will also help with a grant. The parish will provide the balance of the money needed.
Father Mulvihill has been very faithful in his spiritual care of the sick and housebound in the parish. He visits them regularly taking them Holy Communion – his visits are very much appreciated by the sick.
On Sunday, 5th July 1992, a fun run was organised by Mr. and Mrs. G. Edge. £362.50 was raised for the African Famine Relief Fund.
His Grace the Archbishop requested that a Parish Council be set up on every parish in the Archdiocese. Each parish council will be represented at the Deanery Council. In turn each Deanery will be represented at Archdiocesan level. His Grace expected these councils to be set up by September 1992. The first meeting of St. Basil and Gwladys Parish Council was held on 6th August 1992.
His grace the Archbishop has consented to celebrate a special Mass at 7.30 p.m. on Thursday, 24th September to mark the centenary of St. Basin and St. Gwladys Church. At this service he will confirm seven parishioners.
The priests and parishioners of Risca and Rogerstone have always appreciated the help, care and interest shown for sixty years by the Sisters of St. Joseph. They continue to help us and we are very grateful We regret that Sister Christopher moved, in September 1992, to St. Joseph’s Convent in Taunton. She has been playing the organ and was very kind to our parish. She will be missed.
Our thanks are due, too, to our many hundreds of non-Catholic friends who have supported our fund raising events over the years; particularly our bazaars, prize draws and football pools scheme.
Countless numbers of our own parishioners have worked happily and willingly for St. Basil and St. Gwladys Parish which has the reputation of being a friendly one.