The Diocese of Liverpool was established on 29 September 1850, stretching north to Lancaster and the Lake District, south to Widnes and Warrington, and including the Isle of Man.
On 28 October 1911, Liverpool was established as a Metropolitan See and became an archdiocese. In 1924 the Diocese of Lancaster was established, taking territory from the north of the archdiocese, with the River Ribble becoming the border between the two.
In the early years of the diocese and archdiocese, there was an emphasis on building up the expanding Catholic community with a programme of school and church building. The seminary at St Joseph's College was founded by Bishop O'Reilly in 1880 to train students to the priesthood.
Following the famine of 1847, the Catholic population of Liverpool grew substantially due to mass Irish immigration. Schools and churches were built for the new arrivals and many organised charitable efforts were put in place.
Monsignor James Nugent worked tirelessly to provide for the needs of the poor, building schools and orphanages for those in poverty. His work is continued today by the Society which bears his name - Nugent.
The early twentieth century was also a period of consolidation, developing and educating people in the Catholic faith. This was during the time of Liverpool's longest-serving Archbishop, Richard Downey, who had previously been a member of the Catholic Missionary society.
There was a long road to Liverpool's Catholic Cathedral. The first design was by Edward Welby Pugin in 1883, but only the Lady Chapel was built in Everton.
In 1930, Archbishop Downey commissioned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a new cathedral and the foundation stone was laid on 5 June 1933. The design was colossal, having a great dome with a diameter of 51 metres and an internal height of 91 metres. However, only the crypt was built - completed after the Second World War, by which time the cost of the cathedral had risen to an impossible £27 million. Adrian Gilbert Scott was commissioned to produce a scaled-down version of the Lutyens design but the project was ultimately abandoned.
In 1960, Archbishop Heenan launched a competition to design a cathedral, which was won by Sir Frederick Gibberd. Building began in October 1962 and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King was opened in May 1967.
In 2023, Pope Francis granted cathedral status to the Church of Saint Mary of the Isle based in Douglas in the Isle of Man. The announcement came following Douglas being awarded city status as part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022. The Church will be a co-cathedral for the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
The 1960s and 70s were a time of transition for the Church following the Second Vatican Council. After his arrival in Liverpool in 1976, Archbishop Derek Worlock set about implementing the decrees of the council.
Ecumenical relations were high on the agenda as Liverpool had a history of sectarian division. Many bishops and archbishops from both the Catholic and Anglican churches had maintained both public and private friendships, including Archbishop George Andrew Beck, Bishop Stuart Blanch, Archbishop Worlock and Bishop David Sheppard, culminating in the signing of a Covenant of Unity in May 1985.
The National Pastoral Congress was held in 1980 and Pope John Paul II visited the city's two cathedrals in 1982.
In 1996, Patrick Kelly became Archbishop of Liverpool, and his ministry among the people of the archdiocese was tireless. As the new millennium dawned, difficult decisions had to be made; the Catholic population had declined and an exodus from the city to the new towns led to church closures and amalgamations.
Archbishop Kelly also encouraged the Catholic population to look beyond the north-west of England. Projects were initiated with the Holy Land, and in 2008 a major conference of African and European bishops was held to heal the wounds of Liverpool's history as part of the slave trade.
In 2014, following Archbishop Kelly's retirement, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon came to Liverpool. He called an Archdiocesan Synod to be held in 2020 which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, met after four years of prayer and preparation in 2021.
The fruits of the Synod are a pastoral plan for life and worship in the archdiocese which is now being implemented with the aim of 'Becoming the Church which we are called to be'.
George Brown was born at Clifton in the Fylde on 13 January 1786. He studied at Crook Hall, Ushaw and was ordained to the priesthood there on 13 June 1810. He taught at St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw until 1819 when he was appointed Rector of St Peter’s, Lancaster.
He was consecrated Titular Bishop of Bugia and Vicar Apostolic of the new Lancashire District on 24 August 1840, and appointed Bishop of Tloa in 1842. In 1850 he was appointed Bishop of the newly established Diocese of Liverpool and became the first member of the newly-restored episcopate to erect a Chapter in 1851. He died on 25 January 1856 and is buried at St Oswald’s, Old Swan.
Alexander Goss was born at Ormskirk on 5 July 1814. He studied at St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw and the English College, Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in Rome by Cardinal Giacomo Fransoni on 4 July 1841. He spent very brief spells on the missions at St Wilfrid, Hulme and St Peter and St Paul, Mawdesley and was appointed a canon in 1851. He was also Vice-President of St Edward’s, the junior seminary for the diocese until 1853.
He was consecrated Titular Bishop of Geras and Coadjutor Bishop of Liverpool on 25 September 1853, and succeeded Bishop George Brown as Bishop of Liverpool in 1856. He died on 3 October 1872 and is buried in Ford Cemetery, Liverpool.
Bernard O’Reilly was born in Ballybeg, County Meath on 10 January 1824. He was educated at St Finian’s, Navan, and St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw where he was ordained to the priesthood on 9 May 1847. He served at St Patrick, Liverpool until 1852 and was Rector of St Vincent de Paul, Liverpool until 1873. While at St Vincent's he built a large church designed by the architect E.W. Pugin.
He was consecrated Bishop of Liverpool on 19 March 1873. He established 42 new missions in the 21 years of his episcopate and estimated a 30-40,000 increase in reception of sacraments. St Joseph’s College Upholland was his masterwork. He also founded several Poor Law Schools to combat the terrible effects of the workhouse system.
He died on 9 April 1894 and is buried at St Joseph’s, Upholland.
Thomas Whiteside was born in Lancaster on 17 April 1857. He was educated at St Edward’s College, Liverpool, St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, and the English College, Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood on 30 May 1885 in the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. He was professor of Dogmatic Theology at St Joseph’s College, Upholland until 1893 and was appointed Rector in 1894.
He was consecrated as Bishop of Liverpool on 15 August 1894. With the establishment of Liverpool as a Metropolitan See on 28 October 1911, he was appointed Archbishop and Metropolitan. He died on 28 January 1921 and is buried in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Frederick William Keating was born in Birmingham on 13 June 1859. He attended Sedgley Park School, Douai, and St Bernard’s Seminary, Olton. He was ordained to the priesthood on 20 October 1882. He taught at St Wilfrid, Oakmoor until 1884, at St Mary’s College, Oscott until 1887, and at St Bernard’s College, Olton until 1888, when he was appointed Rector of St Mary, Wednesbury until 1898, and then Administrator of St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham until 1908.
He was consecrated as Bishop of Northampton on 25 February 1908 and was appointed Archbishop of Liverpool on 13 June 1921. In Liverpool, he inaugurated the cathedral building fund and raised £125,000 in six years.
He died on 7 February 1928 and is buried at St Joseph’s, Upholland.
Richard Downey was born in Kilkenny on 5 May 1881. He attended St Edward’s College and St Joseph’s College, Upholland where he was ordained to the priesthood on 25 May 1907. He served at the Beda College, Rome until 1911 and then as a member of the Catholic Missionary Society until 1926. He was then Dean of Theology and Philosophy at Upholland and Vice-Rector until 1928.
On 21 September 1928 he was consecrated Archbishop of Liverpool. On the centenary of Catholic Emancipation in 1929, he addressed the largest gathering of Catholics in England since the Pilgrimage of Grace in the sixteenth century. He acquired the Cathedral Site in 1930, formerly Brownlow Hill Workhouse, and laid the foundation stone on 6 June 1933.
He died on 16 June 1953 at Gateacre Grange, Liverpool and is buried in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
William Godfrey was born in Kirkdale, Liverpool on 25 September 1889. He was educated at St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw and the English College, Rome where he was ordained on 28 October 1916. After further studies in Rome at the Gregorian University, he was appointed curate at St Michael, Liverpool in 1917, moving in 1919 to teach at St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw. In 1930 he was appointed Rector of the English College, Rome.
On 21 December 1938 he was consecrated Titular Bishop of Cius at the English College, Rome and was appointed Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain, the first Papal Representative in England since the Reformation. On 10 November 1953 he was appointed as Archbishop of Liverpool, and in 1956 he was translated to Westminster.
He remained Archbishop of Westminster until his death on 22 January 1963 and is buried at Westminster Cathedral.
John Carmel Heenan was born in Ilford, Essex on 26 January 1905, the son of James Carmel and Anne Heenan. He studied at St Ignatius, Stamford Hill, St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, and the English College, Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Brentwood at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Ilford, Essex, on 6 July 1930 by Bishop Arthur Doubleday. He served as curate at St Mary and St Ethlelburga, Barking before becoming parish priest at St Nicholas, Manor Park, Ilford in 1937. In 1947 he was appointed Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society.
On 12 March 1951 he was consecrated Bishop of Leeds by Archbishop William Godfrey, and on 2 May 1957 was appointed Archbishop of Liverpool. He built many new schools and churches in Liverpool and organised a competition to build ‘A Cathedral in our time’ which was won by Sir Frederick Gibberd. When the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King opened in 1967, he returned to Liverpool as Papal Legate for the opening ceremonies.
He was appointed Archbishop of Westminster on 2 September 1963, remaining there until his death on 7 November 1975, and is buried in Westminster Cathedral.
George Andrew Beck was born in Streatham, London on 28 May 1904. He attended St Michael’s College, Hitchen, and the Assumptionists House of Studies, Louvain, and obtained a BA Hons in History from London University. He was ordained to the priesthood on 24 July 1927. He taught at St Michael’s College, Hitchen and in 1944 he was appointed Headmaster of Becket School, Nottingham.
On 21 September 1948, he was consecrated as Titular Bishop of Tigias and Coadjutor Bishop of Brentwood in Westminster Cathedral. He became Bishop of Brentwood on 23 January 1951. In 1955 he was appointed Bishop of Salford and became Archbishop of Liverpool on 29 January 1964.
He was an expert in education, successfully leading negotiations with the government to better the position of Catholic schools across the country. For much of his time in Liverpool he suffered from ill health and resigned as Archbishop on 11 February 1976. He died on 13 September 1978 and is buried in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Derek John Harford Worlock was born in London on 4 February 1920. He studied for the priesthood at St Edmund's College, Ware, and Allen Hall. He was ordained to the priesthood on 3 June 1944. In 1964 he became parish priest of St Mary and St Michael's, Stepney, and between 1962 and 1965 he attended every session of the Second Vatican Council. He was ordained Bishop of Portsmouth on 21 December 1965.
In February 1976 he was appointed Archbishop of Liverpool. During his years in Liverpool, memorable events included the National Pastoral Congress in 1980, the Papal Visit in 1982, and the launch of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland in 1990.
Appreciation was expressed for his contribution to the work of reconciliation after the Toxteth riots and in the aftermath of the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough. In January 1995, together with Bishop David Sheppard, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool and was created a Companion of Honour in the 1996 New Year Honours List.
He died on 8 February 1996 and is buried in the St Joseph Chapel of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Patrick Kelly was born in Morecambe on 23 November 1938. He studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained on 18 February 1962.
He was Assistant Priest at St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster until his appointment as a lecturer in theology at St Mary's College, Oscott in 1966 and then Rector in 1979. He was ordained as Bishop of Salford on 3 April 1984.
He was appointed as Archbishop of Liverpool on 21 May 1996. He served as Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, chaired the Department for International Affairs and served on the committee for deaf people. He was the representative on the International Coordination for the Holy Land and played a significant role in Catholic movements for International Justice and Peace. He retired on 27 February 2013 and lives in retirement in Southport.