Liturgical Pioneers pull out

The Olivetan Benedictines are planning to leave Cockfosters Parish of Christ the King, in north London, it was announced on Sunday.

Bishop John Arnold visited the parish to break the news. He said in a statement: “the Abbot General of the Olivetans, Don Diego, with his Council, has determined that, regrettably, there are no additional monks available to send to Cockfosters, to assist in the parish. They further determined that Cockfosters does not at this time form a viable monastic community, being only two resident monks. Don Diego has therefore decided that the Parish here at Cockfosters must be placed under the direct care of the Diocese, and the monks withdrawn.”

Bishop John said that no dates were fixed but it was likely that Dom Bernard Akoeso and Dom Bernard de Smet would leave during the summer. He explained that no decision has been made yet about the appointment of a new Parish Priest, or the future of the monastery and other premises.

Bishop John said: “Archbishop Vincent and the Archbishop’s Council thought it right that I come to give you this news at the earliest possible opportunity. We will, of course, keep you informed about further decisions.

“I am sure that such news will be very unwelcome to many. The Olivetan Benedictines have served you well for many years and this is a vibrant community.

“There will be other occasions to reflect on and evaluate the history of this parish and the presence of the monks, and to give thanks. For the present, let us remember that the coming months will be a time of considerable change for all, and change is never easy. It will be a time of particular change for Dom Bernard de Smet and Dom Bernard Akoeso. Between them they have shouldered the very considerable demands of a parish where there was, until quite recently, a community of several monks who assisted both at the liturgy and in parish duties. Dom Bernard Akoeso has borne this alone in recent months as Dom Bernard de Smet’s energies have declined.

“Let us pray in these coming months for a smooth transition, in thanksgiving for all that the Olivetans have done and with hope and determination that that legacy will continue to bear fruit in the future.”

No one from the parish was available to comment this evening. Founded in 1936, Cockfosters Parish of Christ the King is situated in Enfield Deanery. The church was built in 1940.

The Olivetans are a monastic order formally recognised in 1344. They have formed the Olivetan Congregation within the Benedictine Confederation since 1960.

The parish of Cockfosters, on the fringes of north London at the far end of the Piccadilly Line, has from the very beginning been well-known for the forward-looking nature of its liturgies. It was staffed predominantly by Dutch monks, who were not afraid to make use of the full potential provided by the Missal of Paul VI. Their folk Masses were famous in the 1970s, and people came from all over London to take part in them. Also notorious were the wooden chairs in the plain concrete church, with their dramatically sloping backs that provided an unnervingly uncomfortable posture.

But the history of these Benedictines as liturgical pioneers goes back much further than 1969. This is the parish where they celebrated a true Dialogue Mass in the years before the Second World War, long before any other English parish (others started in the late-1950s).

The monastery also at one time included a community of Olivetan Benedictine sisters, who moved to Turvey Abbey in 1981:

The termination of the link with the Olivetans is the end of an era.

H/T to Independent Catholic News:


  1. I live in North London near Cockfosters and used to attend mass there reasonably often, less so in recent years. It’s a very friendly and active parish but I wouldn’t say it’s been particuarly liturguically forwarded thinking in recent years – no more than the average catholic church in the area perhaps. The fortnightly sunday evening folk mass with the church axis turned sideways always appeared a little odd in recent years when there was a sanctuary and proper forward facing altar at the head of the church and the music was perhaps a little stuck in time 1970s dated. The church isn’t particuarly beautiful and not very large at all, a plain flat roof almost pre-fabricated structure decorated with red/orange and plastic fittings (including altar and sanctuary). However, I’m surprised the monks are leaving. A couple of years ago there were 5 monks and a couple of novices and they built an additional monastery block. I don’t think much will change when the diocese take over, hopefully a sympathetic priest will be appointed.

  2. Dom Constantine Bosschaerts was a great pioneer of Liturgical reform in the early – mid 20th century. He founded the parish in 1936. I have been interested in him for a while and posted an article on my blog that can be seen by clicking the link Have a look at the Herald Archive here . . .

    1. Dom Placid Meylink was an inspiration to many, and a pivot around which the community revolved for many years. It is good to see his role acknowledged.

      Another whose name has not been entirely forgotten was Placid’s predecessor as Superior, Dom Edmund Jones, a liturgist with a gift for words whose talks and lectures were invariably inspiring, educative and amusing. He it was who supervised the departure of the Vita et Pax sisters to Turvey Abbey, and then decided to go with them as their first chaplain, much to the discomfiture of the Cockfosters parish community and indeed his own brethren.

      He once memorably expounded on the derivation of the word “parish”, going back to the Greek, παρоικια (paroikia) meaning “district” or “diocese,” which is derived from the Greek παρά (beside), οικος (house). The Greek term παρоικια, “district” or “diocese,” originally meant “sojourn in a foreign land” (in the Septuagint) or “community of sojourners,” with reference to the Jewish people in a foreign land, later with reference to earthly life as a temporary abode (1st century A.D.), and also in the New Testament”. Dom Edmund contrasted that concept of a pilgrim people on the move with the generally static nature of parishes today, with their set boundaries and established building complexes.

      Another unsung hero was Dom Willibrord Schlatmann (sometimes spelled Schlachtmann in the German fashion). He was an enthusiastic musician whose command of English occasionally let him down. At a Mass that he presided at during a post-Christmas Panel of Monastic Musicians’ Meeting at Douai Abbey, while obviously intending to say “Let us offer each other a Kiss of Peace”, his actual invitation ran “Let us offer each other a Piece of Kiss, no, a Keace of Piss, no, um, er….” The assembled company of monks and nuns and a sprinkling of layfolk embraced each other more joyfully than they had expected to do.

  3. My mother, Sally Heath, died recently, and talking about her with my husband brought fond memories of Dom Edmund. I’m delighted to learn his community at Turvey is going strong.

    On the other hand, it’s a tragedy that Cockfosters should be closed down. It was a centre of reference for many of us in the ’70s, not to mention the birthplace of Chicken Shed, now a recognised charity dedicated to integrated theatre.

    I’m glad to read of the continuance of the parish with Dom Placid and Dom Wilibrord, and I perfectly sympathise with the latter’s Spoonerisms :-9

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