Monks are praying one of Lancashire’s last religious refuges will not become the latest victim of a shrinking Catholic Church in the county.
Talks are going on to save the Tabor Carmelite Retreat in Preston which closed its doors in July due to a shortage of priests.
The only remaining Carmelite Friar, Fr Liam Finnerty, who is being relocated to Oxford, said: “Hopefully this will not be the end for Tabor.
“Negotiations are at an advanced stage with another group to take it over and run it along similar lines. We are praying it all goes through.”
Tabor was opened in 2001 in a converted farmhouse in Sharoe Green Lane, Fulwood. Over the past 16 years it has been used by all religious denominations as “a place of peace and transformation.”
Negotiations are at an advanced stage with another group to take it over and run it along similar lines. We are praying it all goes through.
It was one of only three such retreats in Lancashire - the others were at Whalley Abbey and Warton near Carnforth.
But the Carmelite Order now has only 11 priests in the UK and, with four retreats to run, has decided it can no longer staff Preston.
“It has been a really painful decision,” said Fr Liam. “It has been a time of grief for us. A very sad time.
“But to run four houses in the UK with only 11 priests is not really possible. I’m personally sad because I was here when we bought the farm and renovated it.”
The closure is the latest of a string of recent setbacks for the Catholic Church in the Preston and South Ribble area, with church closures and the departures of three separate orders of nuns from Central Lancashire after dedicated service dating back more than a century.
But it is also a blow for other faith groups who have used Tabor as a place to meet.
Ali Amla, a leading inter-faith worker in Lancashire, said: “It’s a real shame because it’s really important to have this type of space where groups can reach out and build bridges.
“I have used Tabor in the past to host events and it has been a great facility for all denominations. Hopefully it will be saved and will re-open again.
“We need more places like Tabor, not less.”
Announcing the closure a statement from the Discalced Carmelite Provincial Council said: “It is with sadness that we make this decision.
“The primary reason for the decision is that due to a lack of personnel we can no longer sustain a community there.”
A spokesman added: “The decision wasn’t taken lightly, but it was felt that we haven’t got the personnel to keep this Retreat House going.
“It is a pity as in just 15 years it has become a dynamic centre for spirituality in the North West of England. Our numbers are so low that one house in our English region had to go.”
Fr Liam said: “There are now olnly 11 of us in the country and we are getting rather old.
“We have taken great pride in the retreat at Preston. But we felt that if we tried to continue it with the staffing being what it is then our standards were going to suffer. We didn’t want to end up offering a shabby service.
“So we committed ourselves to identifying a Christian group who might continue doing this work.
“That’s where we are at the moment. We are in serious negotiations with a group and, assuming those negotiations are successful, Tabor could re-open, although that might not be until well into the New Year.
“It has been extremely providential that we have been able to find a possible buyer who we feel confident will continue what we started.”
The demise of the Catholic Church in the Preston area hit the headlines in 2014 when the Bishop of Lancaster announced two churches - St Ignatius and St Augustine - were to shut due to a lack of priests, a decision which prompted parishioners to stage an open revolt.
One worshipper even chained herself to the railings of St Ignatius in protest at its closure after 178 years.
With that row simmering, three separate orders of nuns, who had served the poor, sick and elderly of Central Lancashire for a combined total of 365 years, started to leave due to dwindling numbers.
The Winckley Square nuns were the first to depart after 162 years in Preston, followed by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mission who closed their Leyland base ending a 68-year stay.
The Little Sisters of the Poor also announced they would be closing their care home in Fulwood and moving on after 135 years caring for the elderly in Preston.
And two more churches - St Walburge’s and English Martyrs - have now been taken over by a Latin Mass group from Italy to save them from closure.
Bishop Michael Campbell told the Post back in 2015 the closures were “necessary surgery.”
He added: “It is sad, but Preston has too many churches for too few people.”