A landmark church will step back from the brink of closure later this month when a leading priest makes a pilgrimage from Italy to celebrate Mass in Latin.
St Walburge’s in Preston, with its imposing 309-foot spire - the third tallest in the UK - looked destined to be decommissioned only months ago due to a dwindling congregation.
But now the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest has moved in to save the 167-year-old church by offering Catholics traditional services seven days a week.
The new mission will begin on September 27 when Monsignor Gilles Wach, joint founder of the movement, flies in from the Institute’s base in Gricigliano in Tuscany to celebrate Solemn High Mass.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said traditionalist Jim Aherne who is one of around 50 regular celebrants of the Latin Mass at St Mary Magdalen Church in Penwortham.
“To see the Institute take over the biggest church in Preston is wonderful. I’ve always longed for this day.
“The congregation at St Walburge’s have done their best trying to keep the church going, but there was no way this dwindling group of good people could keep it going indefinitely.
“The Institute were invited to a church in New Brighton and what they have done there is nothing short of a miracle. I have a feeling they will do the same to St Walburge’s.”
Msgr Wach, who founded the Institute with Canon Phillippe Mora from Gabon in 1990, will be joined by the Bishop of Lancaster the Right Reverend Michael Campbell at the inaugural service which startes at noon.
“The future of St Walburge’s came into very serious question in the light of much fewer people at Mass in this vast and yet most beautiful church, ” said the Bishop.
“The arrival and presence of the Institute at St Walburge’s will enable the sustainability and care of this magnificent church so that it can be open each day as a shrine or centre for Eucharistic devotion and adoration.
“There are some voices who tell me that the presence of the Catholic Church in inner Preston is finished. I cannot agree. We need to be here in a new shape and form and at the same time to strengthen our missionary presence and vitality.”
St Walburge’s was built in 1847 and its spire can be seen on the skyline for miles around.