News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool



Cath Pic Jubilee Issue-1 Cover September_Layout 1

Canon Anthony O’Brien – Cathedral Dean


September within the archdiocese could be summed up as a tale of two Bishops.  We begin the month with the ordination of Canon Thomas Neylon as our new Auxiliary Bishop.  

At the time of writing this we are in the final stages of preparation for the ordination on 3 September.  I’m sure it will be a magnificent celebration and we offer our prayers and support for Bishop Neylon in his future episcopal ministry within the archdiocese.  Bishop Neylon will be returning to the Cathedral on Sunday 19 September to celebrate the 11.00 am Solemn Mass if you would wish to join him on that Sunday you are very welcome.  Also, on Sunday 19th there is a short joint service at Liverpool Cathedral at 3.00 pm to commemorate key workers.

We celebrate our Annual Community Mass on Sunday 12 September which not only marks the beginning of the new term but also a return to our regular schedule of Masses and the reopening of the Crypt not just to return to using the Chapel for services but also reopening the Halls for visitors and events.  It has been almost 18 months since we last held a service within the Crypt Chapel and we are really looking forward to celebrating Mass there once again.

The month ends with another celebration when Bishop Tom Williams is conferred with the Honour of the Freedom of the City at a ceremony in the Town Hall on Thursday 30 September.  Part of the ancient privileges of being a Freeman of the City was that he had the right to herd his cattle and sheep through the town centre.  Bishop Tom has his Shepherd’s Crook but as far as I know hasn’t any intentions of herding any sheep through the city centre.  Congratulations to Bishop Tom on receiving this well-earned honour for the many years that he has ministered in the city of Liverpool both as a Priest and Bishop.


Liverpool’s first Auxiliary Bishop

by Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan Archivist


At the distance of almost a century, it’s difficult to say why Canon Bob Dobson was selected to become Liverpool’s first Auxiliary Bishop. Even his closest friend among his priestly colleagues acknowledged that he was shy, obstinate, naïve, over-sensitive and really rather hard on himself.  

Looking back over his 20 years as a Bishop, the guidance he had given to hundreds of priests, the service he had given to hundreds of thousands of Lancashire Catholics, he was still inclined to say, ‘I might have done it all a lot better’.

Born in New Orleans in 1867, just as the southern States were recovering from the American Civil War, Robert Dobson returned to his ancestral county and spent his early childhood in Lytham.  Following his education at St Edward’s College and St Joseph’s Seminary, he spent several years following his ordination as a priest in 1891 in the world of academia.  At the specific request of the college Rector, he taught Scripture and Church History at Upholland until 1898.  Following further study in Rome, he went on to be a professor at Ushaw and then returned to Upholland in a similar capacity.  If anything, this early training made him merely suspicious of academic discussion, but it taught him how to be clear and simple in speech and in writing.  As Father Alban Atkins said of him, ‘his concern was not so much to say what he thought as to make himself understood’.

Brought up in the Fylde, it may have been his affinity with the northern extremities of what was then part of the Diocese of Liverpool that helped in his appointment as Bishop.  Between 1907 and 1922 he was successively Rector of Fleetwood and Barrow-in-Furness, and then became Parish Priest at St Peter’s in Lancaster.  The newly-consecrated Archbishop of Liverpool, Frederick Keating, then applied to the newly-elected Pope Pius XI to seek the appointment of an Auxiliary Bishop, ‘to enable the Archbishop to cope with the very heavy demands of the Archdiocese’.  He was convinced that the ‘abnormal strain’ of leadership had contributed to the death of his predecessor, Archbishop Whiteside.  At this time there was a Catholic population of nearly 400,000 in the area covered by the Archdiocese.  There were some 50 charitable institutions and 74 convents, and the Archbishop foresaw ‘the provision of more churches, more schools, and more clergy in the near future’.  He was also preoccupied with the three projects that defined his own time as Archbishop, the fundraising for a new Cathedral, the expansion of the Seminary at Upholland, and the creation of the new Diocese of Lancaster.  He nominated Robert Dobson as his Auxiliary because of ‘his personal qualities and his record of service in the Archdiocese’.

Following his consecration, Bishop Dobson threw himself into administrative and pastoral work.  He became an enthusiastic supporter of the Cathedral building project (he is pictured with Edwin Lutyens at the Cathedral site in 1931) and, though appointed Parish Priest at St Clare, Liverpool, in 1922, and later as chaplain at La Sagesse convent and high school in Grassendale, he tirelessly undertook parish visitations up and down the Archdiocese, confirming an estimated 100,000 people between 1922 and 1938.  Perhaps he wished he still had his motorbike: an early adopter of the machine during his time at Upholland in the early 1900s, he was once stopped by the police while on holiday in Northumberland.  His speed of 23½ miles an hour had caused them concern.

When he died in 1942, he was buried in the small cemetery at Upholland.  Self-deprecating to the end, he recalled that ‘Many a priest remarked, when news came of my election – “Fancy Bob Dobson being made a Bishop”’.

Cathedral Record

He became an enthusiastic supporter of the Cathedral building project

005 Dean Tony O'Brien 3 Record