Infant of Prague is perhaps an unusual dedication for a small rural church in England. But
why such a dedication? Syston in Leicestershire is a long way from Prague and there appears no obvious connection with the
capital city. The story though is a strange one. One of hard work, faith and an
It was in
1611 that German Lutherans first began to build the church of Panna Maria
Vitezna, the home of the Infant of Prague statue.
Nine years later the church was given to the Carmelite nuns after the Catholic
Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II won the battle of the White
Jezulatke – the Czech name for the statue of the Divine Infant – was donated to
the sisters in 1628 by the Spanish bride of an important Prague family. Situated about half way along
the nave of the church on the right hand side is an altar and above that, a
glass case houses the small wax statue of the Divine Infant framed in silver
and gold. And according to the liturgical season the sisters change the tiny
robes to the appropriate colour.
Back in Leicestershire
it was as early as 1899 that Father Hendricks first opened a Mass centre in
Hendricks had served in several missions and wherever he went he set up a
shrine to the Divine Infant of Prague. Not surprisingly, his mass centre had
though was short lived, for after only 12 months he left for Melton Mowbray,
some 10 miles distant. The Mass centre did remain open but only for a further
year. With hindsight it would have been interesting to have asked him why the
Divine Infant had been so special. Had he perhaps been to Prague as some point as a missionary? It was
to be 21 years later that Fr Keating, a Rosminian, began to say Mass one Sunday
a month in Syston.
the Rosminians from nearby Ratcliffe
College began to say Mass
regularly in the village Assembly Rooms. The arrangement continued until 1943
when Syston was served by the then new church of St Theresa’s
at neighbouring Birstall. During the early years of the Second World War, many
priests came to say Mass in the Assembly Rooms. However, Father Horgan is
credited with building the churches at both Syston and Birstall and indeed many
of Syston’s older parishioners contributed to the building of St Theresa’s.Father
Horgan was by all accounts a skilled fundraiser and he wrote many letters to
far flung parishes and convents in an attempt to obtain the money needed for
the war years the Assembly Rooms were used for dances which were attended in
part by the American servicemen stationed at nearby East
Goscote. The Italian POWs too came from the camp close to
Thurmaston village for Mass, although it was unlikely that the latter were able
to offer much in the way of financial contributions.
Father Horgan also had a great personal devotion to the Divine Infant of
Prague. And interestingly, he did not appear to have known Father Hendricks’
previous dedication of the earlier Mass centre since he never mentioned it to
any of the parishioners at that time.
1940’s a disastrous fire gutted the Assembly Rooms and during the cleaning up
afterwards a broken statue of the Divine Infant of Prague was found amongst the
was so amazed at this discovery in a secular building that he took it as a sign
and decided that this would be the dedication of the new Syston Church:
The Divine Infant of Prague.
the material used for the building of the church seems to have been reclaimed
from local bomb sites. Today such recycling would be commended but the motives
then were more financial.
Horgan went to America
on one of his many fund raising trips and it seems that whilst there he bought
the Stations of the Cross with money given to him by the parishioners. He
returned to Syston for the official opening and blessing of the church on the
28th of November 1949 by Bishop Ellis of Nottingham. The
Rosminians continued to look after the Parish until Father David Forde was installed
as parish priest in 1964 and Syston became an independent parish, separate from
nearby Birstall, Rothley and Sileby.
in 1964 the Catholic population of the parish was recorded as being just 500.
The church in later years has been extended and refurbished with the addition
of two stained glass windows, new altar furniture and a new statue of the
Divine Infant for the entrance porch.
parish’s Catholic population is 750, still small, but the church is a tribute
to the Divine Infant and all those who worked to make it a reality.
Infant of Prague is widely venerated throughout the world and in Britain at
least, a practice seems to have evolved of placing a coin beneath the Divine
Infant’s statue to ensure the prosperity of the devotees.