The Jesuits are to leave the parish of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool after 175 years.
Jesuits in Britain announced in December that the parish will be served by a member of the diocesan clergy after Easter 2023, when the present parish priest retires.
The Church of St Francis Xavier in Everton (known as SFX) has been staffed by the Society of Jesus since it opened in 1848.
The society has had a presence in Liverpool since the sixteenth century.
The British provincial, Fr Damian Howard SJ, said that the society had been “privileged to share the lives of the people of Everton for so long and we will always keep the memory of our association with them alive in their hearts”.
Fr Denis Blackledge SJ, the departing parish priest of SFX, said his time there “has provided me with some of the best moments of my priestly ministry”.
“I love the people to bits, and they’ve given me far more than I could ever give them,” he said. “I’ve been part of a wonderful team amid wonderful people, and just wish I were 20 years younger to be able to stay on with them.”
Fr Blackledge, who turns 80 at Easter, garnered public attention last year when he staged a hunger strike in protest at government cuts to the foreign aid budget.
The church was originally built with funds raised by eight Liverpool businessmen and offered to the president of Stonyhurst, fostering the long connection with the Jesuits. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins served there for two years in the 1880s during his unhappy parish ministry.
Before the Second World War, when Everton was a densely-populated working-class district, SFX was the largest parish in the country, with 13,000 parishioners.
The Grade II* listed building has been diocesan property for some years. A declining population, driven by Liverpool council’s compulsory “slum clearance” schemes, led the diocese to attempt to demolish it in 1981 – though this was prevented by a national conservation campaign.