Pillar of Liverpool’s Catholic community moves on to new post after 17 years
ONE of the most long-standing and well-known figures in Liverpool’s Catholic community is moving on to a new posting after 17 years.
Brother Ken Vance has been a tireless champion for the parish where he was born, St Francis Xavier’s in Everton. He has also worked all over the country with the Jesuit Order of which he is a member.
After working as a youth officer in London for several years Ken returned to Liverpool in 1995 when the parish, known as SFX, was in the doldrums.
He helped breathe new life into the area by encouraging a large group of parishioners to become involved in caring for the Grade II* listed building in Salisbury Street.
Ken, 65, said he had seen SFX decline from being the largest Catholic parish in the country – due to mass Irish immigration – to a shadow of its former self after the slum clearances of the 1960s left it with just a handful of parishioners.
At one point the historic church was under threat of demolition and was only saved thanks to a massive campaign.
He added: “The church’s 150th anniversary in 1998 provided an opportunity to put on a series of activities, such as a reunion of former parishioners and a flower festival, which is when we turned the corner.
“There were activities taking place every month and this helped to attract other people.”
The flower festival is now held every five years, with last year’s event having a Titanic theme.
The parish has also gone from strength to strength thanks to regeneration schemes such as the £20m spent by Liverpool Hope University on refurbishing the former SFX school buildings next to the church to create a new “creative campus.”
Ken also helped to raise almost £1m to re-roof the church and to stage an exhibition of world-class religious artefacts during Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year in 2008.
Away from SFX he has chaired the Whitechapel Centre for more than 10 years and seen it grow to the leading homeless charity in Liverpool with a staff of 70.
Ken is leaving to take up a new position with Manchester University’s Catholic chaplaincy.
He said: “It’s a wrench to be going but 17 years is quite an unusual length of time to be based in one parish.”
A farewell Mass is be held at SFX church on Sunday, March 10, starting at 10.15am.
Historic figures associated with the church include the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins – who was a member of the parish staff for two years from 1888 – and Charlie Chaplin who spent a period at SFX primary school in the early 20th century.