Landmark 150th anniversary at Comber church

Landmark 150th anniversary at Comber church

11 May 2022

THIS month marks the 150th anniversary of a landmark church in Comber.

A special service to mark the occasion will be held at Our Lady of the Visitation Church on Sunday, May 29.

The church was dedicated by the Most Rev Dr Patrick Dorrian on September 8, 1872.

Mass will be celebrated in the church at 3.30pm and will be immediately followed by an exhibition in the church hall.

The church’s history follows the conversion to Catholicism of Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte Jocelyn in 1855.

The widow of Richard Wingfield, 6th Viscount Powerscourt, Lady Elizabeth married Frederick William Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, in May 1846 at the British Embassy in Paris. Frederick succeeded his father as the 4th Marquess of Londonderry in 1854 and Lady Elizabeth became the Marchioness of Londonderry. 

Her conversion was described as being, in part, due to correspondence with Cardinal John Henry Newman and later, in 1868 the Marchioness of Londonderry donated land in Comber for a new Catholic church. 

The parish of Newtownards and Comber further benefited from its connection to the Londonderry family, when Lady Elizabeth, then Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry, also donated land and provided the funding to build St. Patrick’s Church in Newtownards.

Mortimer H Thomson was tasked with designing the church, one of many buildings he designed during his career, with building commencing in 1869 and completing in 1871.

For the dedication 150 years ago, an article in the Newtownards Independent noted that the County Down Railway Company ran special trains from Belfast for the occasion.

Since then, the church escaped severe fire damage in an arson attack in August 1992 but sustained considerable internal damage in an incendiary attack in January 1993. 

It had to be closed for six months for repairs and was rededicated, on its re-opening, in July 1993, by Bishop Anthony Farquhar.

Between 2009 and 2010 the church underwent a redesign and refurbishment by Consarc architects, resulting in significant changes, including the replacement of sections of its external stonework. Once complete, the church was rededicated in June 2010 by Bishop Noel Treanor.