It would become the new Church of St. Oswald and St. Edmund Arrowsmith, sometimes described as the most beautiful Catholic church in England. The church was also built at a time of great local economic hardship.
Canon James O'Meara, a feisty Irish priest, engaged an architect to design a new church to replace one that was too small for the local Catholic community and too expensive to repair.
John Francis, who leads guided tours of the church, told CNA: "When the old church was pulled down and the new church was being built, it was a time when the miners were all out on strike. The anecdotal evidence says that they came and did the laboring for the stonemasons, who were the Howe brothers."
Visitors to the church can see the miners' handiwork if they look closely at the stones.
"The stone is either from Darley Dale in Derbyshire or locally from Parbold," Francis explained. "They are both sandstone but of different colors. So every stone that was laid was alternated. They were all hand-shaped, so they still have all the original chisel marks on. They didn't smooth them down to get rid of the chisel marks."
The church, which was opened in 1930, has stained-glass windows by master craftsman Harry Clarke and a reliquary containing the hand of St. Edmund Arrowsmith, a martyr hanged, drawn and quartered in 1628. It is thought to be the only church in the French Romanesque style north of the Loire River in France.
The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as "ambitious" and "impressive." But aside from its beauty, it shows how the Church can both advance its mission and provide work for the needy in times of economic crisis.
Summing up the achievement of Fr. Francis Gilbert in Essex, Foster said: "All in all, Our Lady of Lourdes, Leigh-on-Sea, is a monument in stone not only to one priests' devotion to Our Lady under her title of Lourdes, but also a remarkable witness to how in time of economic hardship the Church was able to utilize local labor in order to create a building of great beauty."
This article was originally published June 15, 2020 on CNA.