It was in 1970 that His grace, Archbishop John Murphy established the Catholic community on the Bettws Estate as a parish under the title ‘Blessed David Lewis’, but the church building had existed here since 1966 and the Church (a community of the Baptised) had begun as Catholic people began moving into new homes with the buidling of the Bettws Estate.
From 1963, Mass was celebrated for the Catholics on the estate by Fr. Tom Donovan then Parish Priest of Malpas) and Frs Mullins and Mc Auliffe and there being no church building, Mass was said, first of all, in what was the doctor’s surgery in Meon Close (the site of the old Merry Miller on Monnow Way) , then in the shed which housed the old Bettws Mill, in the canteen shed provided for the building workers employed by Land & Co who built the estate and in th Pentwyn Public house. Many are the stories of the primitive conditions in which Mass was said in Laing’s shed. Finally, it was celebrated in another builders shed – this time, in a shed which was sited in what is now the church grounds, while the church itself was being built. Just before Christmas in 1966 the small but growing community of Catholics rejoiced in having a worthy setting for the celebration of Mass. The building was designed as “dual purpose” and many social events were held in the church.
The church building was formally open by Archbishop Murphy in 1967 with Solemn Mass.
In 1970 some parishioners asked the Archbishop if Bettws might have its own Parish Priest.
The Archbishop consented and Fr Philip Mc Auliffe was appointed and moved from the Presbytery at St Anne’s to live in a Council Flat at 40 Lambourne Way. The Parish of ‘Blessed David Lewis’, Bettws was born.
These early days in the life of the parish were a time of setting foundations. In the first few years, as the estate grew so did the number of Catholics, many of whom moved from the traditionally “Catholic” areas of Newport, while other families moved here from Ireland to work on the construction of the Llanwern Steelworks. The Mass attendance is recorded as having risen from around 200 in 1970 to 385 in 1977. They were mainly young families in those early days and this is reflected in the number of Baptisms, which averaged around 30 each year.
Councillor Mrs Betty Clifford records that soon after the church was built it became the base for newly formed service to older fold on the estate. The Bettws Day Club for the elderly was started with the co-opertion of Fr McAuliffe, helped by Mr Mc Namara and met at the church unil the Bettws Centre was build and opened and able to accommodate greater numbers.
It was in 1970, that the parish school, also dedicted to Blessed David Lewis was open in Meon Close to verve the two parishes of Bettws and Malpas. Fr Donovan celebrated Mass in the school for the first time on the Feast of the Epiphany January 6th 1970. The school was officially opened by Her Worship the Mayoress of Newport in the presence of Archbishop Murphy on the 15th May 1970.
Fr Donovan wrote these words in the booklet published to commemorate the opening of the school:
“My dear Parishioners,
In a comparatively short period of time our school dedicated to Blessed David Lewis, a martyr priest who gave his life for our faith, has become a fact. This is due chiefly to His Grace the Archbishop, who has shown such a love for our children in th Archdiocese by providing the best and only the best for their education. His personal encouragment and his love for all people can be seen in this school and the many schools and churches now operating in the Archdiocese. Newport Education Aurhtorities have also been very helpful to see that our children have the finest facilities for their educational life. All the deparments deserve our thanks. Our teachers under Mr Duggan, are there to give you their unstinted service. May we ask you to be grateful to all who have helped and are helping the name of the school worthy of the name Catholic, which will be of great benefit to you and our children for many years to come. Much needs to be done in reducing the debt, but I am sure that you will all respond generously to this task in the knowledge that the Catholic eduation of your little ones is so secure When Blessed David Lewis was canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970, the dedication of the church reflected the event becoming ‘St. David Lewis’.
In 1972 a presbytery was built in the grounds and became, as well as the priest’s home, a meeting place for the Union of Catholic Mothers.
In March 1974 the parish had its first pilgrimage to Lourdes.
In 1977 the good priest decided that the time was right for a parish Mission and he invited two Redemptorist priests – Frs Tim Buckley and J Trenchard to come to preach the mission.
It began on February 27th and continued until March 13th.
Just before Christmas 1984, Fr Mc Auliffe announced to the people that Archbishop Murphy had appointed him to the parish of St. John Lloyd in Cardiff and that he would be moving to Cardiff in January 1985. There was great sadness at the departure of a much-loved priest who had served the parish for 15 years. At the party held in his honour at the Bettws Club, Fr McAuliffe introduced his successor, Fr Sean Seddon, who was then assistant priest at Merthyr Tydfil. As parting gifts Fr McAuliffe was presented with a stereo by the school community and with new clothing by the Parish as a whole.
Fr Sean Seddon, a Chepstow boy, had been ordained and served as a curate of Merthyr Tydfil before coming to Bettws. He soon settled in to his new sphere of work and attached himself in a particular way to the work of the schools which served the parish.
Within a very short time, Fr Seddon with a group of parishioners set about re-ordering the church and providing a small meeting room. It was he who introduced Eucharistic Ministers.
The altar was moved to the centre of the south wall and the benches arranged in a semi-circle around it. As always happens, this pleased some and displeased others.
To provide a meeting place for parishioners, the original lobby and toilet area was transformed into a room where various committees and workgroups could meet and small social events could be held.
The Teaching Mission given in the parish by Fr Paul Southgate CMS from 3rd to 13th May 1987 proved to be a starting point for the introduction of the now familiar lay ministries In February 1989 there was another change. Fr Sean Seddon left the parish and was eventually appointed to St Mary’s Abertillery. After a wait of six months for a resident priest, Archbishop Ward appointed Fr Clive Loosemore (formerly of St Joseph’s Aberdare) as Parish Priest of Bettws. He took up his appointment on 26th August – the Feast of St David Lewis – 1989. He was formally inducted as PP by the Dean, the Very Revd Sean Kearney on 10th November 1989.
It is true to say that some priests are “originators” and other are “consolidators”. In many ways Fr Mc Auliffe and Fr Seddon were given the task of implementing at parish level, the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. In the area of liturgy, there was the introduction of the fully vernacular Mass and the increased participation of the laity. There was the introduction of the various lay ministers – Readers, Eucharistic, catechists, Pastoral Councils and Finance Committees. When all such ministers are in place, there begins the slower and in some ways more difficult task of quietly consolidating the parish in the “new ways”. The work of consolidation involves bringing about adjustments and restoring emphases where they have been shadowed during the originator stage. This task has fallen to Fr Clive Loosemore.
In 1992 the interior of the church was to see a return to its original ordering. A major redecorations of the church interior was undertaken and at the same time the Altar was restored to the east end of the church. Again this pleased some and displeased others.
At the end of 1994 the Meeting Room created by Fr Seddon out of the former lobby area was extended again to almost twice its size, providing a much larger area for the fund- raising and social activities of the parish.
The parish has always enjoyed a close and happy relationship with the Sister of St Joseph of Annecy, both at Llantarnam Abbey and at St Joseph’s Hospital. Notably, the parish gladly records the fact that Sister Berchmanns Josephine has been parish organist since the earlies days of the parish. At the age of 84 Sister was brought to St David Lewis for Mass every Sunday and she was always readily available for weddings and funerals. For a few years Sister Jane Frances worked in the parish, coming each day from Llantarnam Abbey and doing a great deal for the parish during the six month gap when there was no resident priest.
Fr Loosemore left the parish in October 1996 and we were blessed to welcome Fr James Thomas into of parish. During his ministry we saw our church extended, the porch was enlarged, enabling more space to greet everyone. To his credit he cleared the parish debt, Father Thomas remained in our parish as PP until he retired due to ill health in; a truly sad day for our community.
In 2007 we celebrated a new beginning as part of a larger community, as Archbishop Peter Smith suppressed the parish of St. David Lewis and we became part of the parish of ALL SAINTS, Newport.
In March 2016 a new set of stained windows was installed into the church. Commissioned under the theme ‘Faith, Spirit, Sacrifice’ the windows reflect the faith of St. David Lewis and the people of Bettws over the years; the Spirit in which the community moves forward to the future; and the Sacrifices that have been made to keep the faith alive in the community.