On the first or second Sunday of August, in the parish church of Dolgellau in North Wales and other surrounding parishes, the anniversary of the death of Fr Francis Scalpell is mentioned. He died on August 6, 1970.
Fr Scalpell is remembered by the Catholic community of North Wales with great affection. On his tombstone the epitaph runs: "A Priest Of This Town".
Fr Scalpell, born in Valletta on August 27, 1895, and baptised Joseph Scalpello, joined the Franciscans and was ordained in Rome in 1921. Back in Malta he became a secular priest but was unhappy about the restrictions imposed on priests by the Curia at the time. He left the island and served for some years in Liverpool.
In 1938 he was sent to Dolgellau, where he found a small Catholic community, spread over miles of mountainous terrain. They were mainly poor. Fr Francis had nowhere to live, apart from a dilapidated barn, no means of transport, apart from a bicycle.
With the help of some Italian prisoners of war, he converted an old barn into a place of worship. But he aimed much higher. He dreamt that one day he would build a parish church in Dolgellau.
To collect the funds needed from his small community would have been an impossible task, so he personally wrote 25,000 letters and sent them all over the world. Money started pouring in, but Fr Scalpell was still short of a five-figure sum. One day a couple, who remains anonymous to this day, sent him £12,000.
The foundation stone for a new church was laid in 1963 and the church building was completed in four years. Seating about 250 people, the church, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, was consecrated by the Bishop of Menevia in September 1966.
The present parish priest of Dolgellau, Fr Pius Mathew, whom I met a few weeks ago, is now collecting funds to repair part of the roof of the church which is leaking badly. The sum needed is about £8,000. I promised to help him by publicising the extraordinary ministry of a Maltese priest.
Many Maltese people, in fact, contributed towards the building of the church in Dolgellau. Now help is needed to make sure that the church built by Fr Scalpell continues to serve the needs of the Catholic community in Dolgellau.
Any contribution, however small, will be appreciated and acknowledged. Cheques can be made payable to: Dolgellau Catholic Church (Reg. Charity no. 700426) and sent to Fr Pius Mathew, Our Lady of Sorrows, Meyrick Street, Dolgellau LL40 1LR, UK, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you wish to know more about Fr Francis Scalpell visit the Website by Ray Cutajar at www.geocities.com/franciscalpell/index.html.
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