Cardinal Vaughan visited Halstead to deliver lectures on the Catholic Church. As a consequence, Mass was from then on celebrated once a month, in a room in Rosemary Lane. The Cardinal indicated that he wished a mission house to be started to support evangelisation in the surrounding area. As a result a congregation of Franciscan Sisters settled in Bocking, Braintree. Their chapel, serving as the Parish Church for the new Parish of Braintree which covered Halstead was carved out of the then Witham Parish.
On Christmas Eve, A Franciscan priest took up residence at the convent.
The Bocking Sisters were requested by the diocesan bishop to engage in pastoral work at Halstead. They started catechetical instruction of children.
A Mass centre was started and site for a Church acquired in Halstead.
A temporary Church (now the Church hall) was built in Colchester Rd. The first permanent priest was established in post. The cost of this was born by Madame Edith Arendrup, nee Courtauld, a convert lady.
The Parish Priest was incapacitated as a result of a road accident. After a number of temporary arrangements, Braintree again assumed responsibility for Halstead until 1942.
The Pallottine Fathers, due to the influx of Italian prisoners of war, took over the Parish in the December of that year.
A Mass centre set up in Yeldham, moving later to Sible Hedingham (in the Constitutional Hall) where it remained until Christmas Eve 1982 when it then moved to St. Peter’s, the pre-reformation Anglican Church in Sible Hedingham.
The house next to the Halstead Church was acquired by the Pallottine Fathers as the presbytery. On their departure from the Parish in January 2009, due to their decreasing numbers, the building was purchased by the diocese at a favourable price.
In October, the permanent Church of St. Francis was opened. Financed largely by Dr. Richard Courtauld, another convert, whose father’s cousin had provided the finance for the original temporary Church. This was the third Church this man had played a major part in establishing. The other two Churches being those built in Braintree and in Lexden. The latter is now used as the Parish hall there.
The Parish Pastoral Council established.
First phase of re-ordering the Church, as required by Vatican, II undertaken.
Second phase undertaken to make it compatible with the standard required by thediocese.
Due to advancing age and diminishing numbers the Franciscan sisters relinquished responsibility for religious education of the children to the Parish. This now became the responsibility of lay catechists. Children from the Parish seeking a catholic education are obliged to travel to the schools outside the Parish in Braintree, Chelmsford, Colchester or Sudbury.
St. Francis has an active Parish Pastoral Council, is involved at deanery level and represented on the Diocesan Pastoral council. It has an active social/fundraising committee and seeks to engage in adult catechesis through the RCIA programme. Ecumenical relations are very good, particularly in the town of Halstead and in the Hedinghams. St. Francis is represented at Churches Together in Halstead and is engaged in leadership roles for that body.
Our parish is predominately rural, although few of its members are engaged in agriculture. Most live along the line of the A1124 in Halstead, with clusters in the villages of Earls Colne, Colne Engaine, Sible & Castle Hedingham as well as Great & Little Yeldham. There are a few others thinly scattered in the remaining dozen or so villages that lie to the north of this road up to the Suffolk border from Ridgewell in the north-west through to Chappel in the south-east. It has a high number of retirees and a few younger families. With the distances involved and the small numbers, building community is an ongoing challenge. There are no Catholic schools that serve this area within easy range, e.g. nearest secondary school being St John Payne in Chelmsford or St. Benedict’s in Colchester with primary schools in Braintree, Sudbury or Colchester. The area served by the Parish is expanding with plans for new housing developments in Halstead and Sible Hedingham.