Passion of the Crowdfunder: Manchester priest follows in Pope Francis’ footsteps to create heaven from home

A Manchester parish priest is following in the footsteps of Pope Francis and has renounced his spacious sanctuary in favour of converting it into a modest small flat.

Pope Francis has ditched luxury living quarters in favour of La Casa di Santa Marta, a hostel inside the Vatican walls.

In the same vein, Fr Andrew Stringfellow, 39, the parish priest of Sacred Heart and St Francis of Assisi Church in Gorton, has decided to downsize and will be donating the majority of the large presbytery to the community.

On top of the move, the priest has campaigned to help fundraise a major makeover for the building in order to help it become a specialist community hub – and to continue to boost the church’s image in the wake of Pope Francis’ appointment last year.

Fr Andrew Stringfellow said: “Pope Francis took the brave decision to live in a small apartment rather than a palace and, although the house is not a palace, it seems right to follow that example.

“This is an exciting time for the Church because lots of people are seeing what we are really about through some of the positive media attention that Francis has brought. Parishes up and down the country have done great work in the community for decades without any fuss.

“Often the Church is the only institution that stays in certain areas. People know that and in Gorton people instinctively know that the Church is here for them.”

The Gorton priest house was built in 1907 and originally housed three members of the clergy and a housekeeper.

In the last 30 years, resident priests have tried to maximise the use of the building by providing travelling priests a place to stay.

The renovation project has already surpassed its £15,000 Crowdfunder target and the Gorton resident hopes that donations will continue to flood in.

The current total stands at £15,945 and the estimated cost for the re-development is around £47,000, however, the parish has applied for a grant of £40,000 from the All Churches Trust.

And the priest has insisted that the scheme is here to stay.

“We always say that this is not a project because projects are usually done by people from the outside for a limited amount of time. This is a relationship, this is Gorton people working for Gorton,” said Father Stringfellow, 39.

“Gorton is one of the most socially-deprived areas in the country so what we are trying to do is respond to that by reaching out to people and help raise their aspirations, give them hope, let them know that we care about them and let them know that they are worth the effort that we want to put in.”

Current plans are to make the whole downstairs a public space with a conference room, meeting room, communal kitchen and dining room – which will be available to parish groups and local schools. 

The developments upstairs will change one of the large guestrooms into a living room and kitchen for Fr Stringfellow and a new wall will be put in so that upstairs will be effectively a small private apartment with a couple of guest rooms on the other side.

He explained: “We have established a recording studio here which is still in progress – it is part of our ambitious music project.

“Alongside that we have the cafe which is run by young people with learning and special educational needs alongside their staff from a local sixth from and we have the community garden which used to be wasteland and has been transformed now to grow food and flowers.”

Father Stringfellow insists that the recording studio in particular will ring in the sound of change for the Gorton with many benefits – even for those members of the community who cannot afford such privileges.

“The recording studio offers another focus point to gather around in an area that has very little. It also offers very practical opportunities for developing skills in singing, engineering and production. We hope that it will be commercially viable so that we can offer community use,” said the priest.

“Our plan is to have a volunteer system, so if you do a few hours of work in our café or community garden that earns you time in the studio. It’s important that anyone can access the studio regardless of their finances.

“But it’s also important for people to understand the value of things and volunteering does that alongside lots of other benefits such as socialising and increasing self-esteem.”

To donate to the fund click here.

Image courtesy of SAFE Parish House Project via YouTube, with thanks

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