THE congregation of Catholic priests who have lived at Fawley Court for 55 years have decided to put the imposing property on the market for £22 million.
The Marian Fathers currently use the property for regular mass for Polish Catholics as well as a retreat and conference centre. However, a decrease in followers and mounting costs mean that they have to relocate to London.
The congregation originally purchased the building and 27 acres of land from Scottish banker Edward Mackenzie in 1953, to build a boys’ school for the children of post-war Polish refugees. Eventually due to a decline in pupil numbers the school was closed in 1986.
“We didn’t know what to do after the school closed. It was the main purpose for our presence,” said Father Wojtek Jasinski, Superior at Fawley Court.
“Our founder, Father Jarzebowski, had been a teacher in Warsaw. After the war he wanted to help the children of Polish immigrants.”
The classrooms of the school were converted into basic accommodation for the retreat centre and conferences. Gradually the maintenance costs of the huge property and its surrounding 60 acres they had gradually acquired, became too much.
Father Jasinski said:“ For the last 20 years we’ve been trying to establish a reason to be here. The retreat centre could be enough, but we found that for the last ten years 60 per cent of people coming here had nothing to do with the Christian church. It was never our aim just to provide commercial facilities.”
Now only four priests live in the huge main building and the move has become necessary.
“Within the next few years we would have had to worry about the retreat centre shutting down as it deteriorates and perhaps wouldn’t meet health and safety regulations.”
The congregation will move to Ealing Broadway where the Marian Fathers have a large parish. Father Jasinski said it would be quite a change of scenery.
“It will be very different, being surrounded by traffic and concrete, but it is a change that was necessary for us.”
He added that despite its wonderful surroundings, Fawley Court had proved quite an awkward spot to reach for any parishoners who did not own a car.
“We can’t afford to send coaches so many people miss out on our activities for that reason,” he said.
“I will miss the area as it is a beautiful part of the country.It’s a wonderful building, but on the other hand this house was built over 300 years ago and we have been here only 50. We don’t own the history of the building.”
Currently the congregation’s weekly mass still draws crowds of 100 to 150 people a week. Father Jasinski said that the parishoners were sad to hear the news, but had accepted it as a necessity.
“It is a shame, but there are three other parishes for Polish Catholics in Reading, Slough and High Wycombe, so they are not abandoned.
“They wish it could be saved but understand it can’t be saved by wishful thinking.”
Father Jasinski said he would like to see Fawley Court remain accessible to the public, but understood there could be no bias when it came to the sale.
“It’s just a case of who approaches with a realistic offer,” he said.
The money from the sale will provide a huge boost for the congregation and Father Jasinski said he was looking forward to speaking to the parish community about new projects.
“The main positive of all this is that we will be moving closer to the people and that is what we want to do. “If people don’t want to come to us then we will go to them,” he said.
Fawley Court stands on a site that has been occupied for more than 1,000 years.
The name ‘Fawley’ comes from ‘fallow deer’, which used to roam the countryside in large herds.
After the Norman conquest, the manor was given by William I to his brother-in-law Walter Gifford, the first owner listed in the Domesday Book.
Following its ransacking during the Civil War by Royalists, the main house was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.
In the 1770s the grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown and the interiors redecorated by James Wyatt.
Knock a few noughts off the price and I’d buy it myself!
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