St Anne's & St Joseph's RC Parish

——  Accrington • Diocese of Salford  ——

St Anne's & St Joseph's
RC Parish

—  Accrington • Diocese of Salford  —


Beneath the Mitre – Planting Hope

In the third of a series exploring episcopal life, the Bishop of Salford John Arnold offers environmental lessons to children, and solace to the dispirited.

At the age of six, I had my heart set on following my father into the law. I made myself a little office at home, with a toy plastic phone. “Good morning,” I’d say to my imaginary callers. “This is John Arnold. I’m a lawyer.”

I was born in June 1953 and, though my father wasn’t Catholic, my mother was quietly firm in her faith. She didn’t preach it, but she lived it by gentle example: lovely. She took meals to elderly people who were housebound. And, if a problem arose, she’d say: “We must pray about this.” That made an impact on me.
I went to Mylnhurst, a convent primary school, with the Sisters of Mercy in Sheffield, and then, aged 10, I was sent away to Grace Dieu Preparatory School and then Ratcliffe College in Leicestershire, run by the Rosminians. They discovered whatever gifts I’d got – spiritual, academic, sporting – and I owed them so much that for a time I thought I had a vocation with them.

After school came Trinity College, Oxford, from where I qualified with a degree in law. I lived in the chaplaincy in Oxford – the Old Palace, with its gloriously panelled interior – and the two chaplains, Crispian Hollis and Walter Drumm, were very good to me. I was called to the Bar in 1976, but by then I already knew I wanted to be a priest. I entered the Rosminians, later transferring to the Archdiocese of Westminster and, after seven years studying in Rome, where I specialised in canon law, I was ordained in July 1983.

As a newly ordained priest, I spent eight years attached to Westminster Cathedral. If asked what has been my proudest time as a priest, I’d say that that time at the cathedral was wonderful; transformative. I found I loved the challenge of preaching, and I especially loved confessional work. In those days, confession was offered 60 hours a week, so we chaplains all spent a great deal of time hearing confessions, and I found that both humbling and strangely encouraging.

I was ordained as an auxiliary bishop in Westminster in 2006. Because of health problems, I thought I’d be staying put in Westminster, so when, in 2014, I was asked to be Bishop of Salford, it came as a shock – not the best shock. I’d never been to Manchester, and I knew only four priests in the diocese, three of whom I hadn’t seen since seminary. It was a steep learning curve. Although geographically quite small, it’s a very Catholic area, and it was going through significant change. There had been a lot of Irish priests, but they were retiring, and church attendance was dropping, so there was a lot of amalgamation to organise, and a lot of big decisions to make. Many of these decisions touched people very personally, so that they found them difficult to accept. People were sometimes angry with me, understandably, and upset. That was hard – not least because, as a bishop, you don’t have the same social connection with people as a parish priest does.

Does it ever feel lonely to be a bishop? Yes, I think it does. There is a big element of being alone. Fortunately, I’m not a particularly gregarious type, so this doesn’t affect me as much as it might someone else. I live alone in Wardley Hall. There is plenty of activity during the day but it’s a big building, and I’d love to have a little community living there with me. If providence presented me with this opportunity, I’d welcome it.

But I love my work and ministry. Just after Laudato si’ came out in 2015, I took a phone call and was told: “You’re the spokesperson for the environment for the Catholic bishops’ conference of England and Wales.” It was, again, a very steep learning curve, but it’s become a large part of my life, and I feel strongly about it. I see the urgency of what we’re facing, environmentally, and trying to engage people in that urgency is a constant challenge.

Soon after I took on the appointment as spokesperson for the environment, somebody came to visit me and said: “Look at the enormous grounds you’ve got round Wardley Hall. You could really do something here.” So we set up the Laudato Si’ Centre, and it’s developing really well. It’s open to all faiths and none, and it’s a place where people can learn about our world, about growing things, about nature and biodiversity. Lots of children visit, and run around laughing and shouting and loving it. We try to educate them about the need to care for our common home, without frightening them. We have many parish and interest groups. It also serves groups of people with mental health problems. Coming to spend time in a garden and seeing things growing is wonderfully effective therapy. To have enabled this is one of the best things I’ve done, while the real work has been done by others.

And the environment is important in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious. Society has become very individualistic, with the result that many people are drawn away from a sense of commitment to church life. But if people can see that the Church cares deeply for our common home, then they might be more inclined to engage again with the Church. I’d love to think that would be one of the reasons for people coming back.

The abuse scandals have changed the way the Church is perceived. But I hope people can see that we’re doing our best to put the right procedures in place and to see safeguarding as a priority. We must be as generous as we can possibly be to victims of abuse. But we must have a ministry, too, to the priests who perpetrated abuse. We must not forsake them.

I will not be bored in retirement. I love walking, and I love travel, but I’ve made it a rule now that I don’t fly for recreation. I love reading, too: mostly spiritual books. I never want to take prayer for granted, and I want to keep on learning how to pray as well as I can. That will be a constant treasure hunt for me.
To whom do I look for inspiration? Mother Teresa visited my school when I was 17, and I was moved by her utter simplicity (I don’t like clutter: those TV programmes about hoarders turn my stomach). And among people still alive? Definitely Pope Francis. He’s a prophet for our age. I’ve met him a number of times, and found him humble, welcoming, encouraging. Every document he writes ends with hope. He can talk about the most dire climate catastrophes, but there is always a note of hope. With Francis at the helm, we cannot get depressed.

Bishop Arnold was speaking to Maggie Fergusson.


St Anne’s, Cobham Road,
Accrington, BB5 2AD.
Tel: 01254 232 920

St Joseph’s, Belgarth Road,
Accrington, BB5 6AH.


Rev Fr Francis Wadsworth (parish priest)
Rev Fr Robert Livesey (retired)

Parish Administrator

Mrs Siobhan Wood
Tel: 01254 232 920

Office Hours

Mon: 8:30am to 12:30pm
Tues, Thurs: 8:30am to 1:30pm