Father Matthew Gerin
Commemorating a Remarkable French Priest who came to Farnham
Matthew Gerin was born in Lyons in 1851, growing up to become Father Matthew Gerin, a local Parish Priest. When in his 30s, he was dispossessed of his parish in the diocese of Lyons by the anti-clerical French Government. Leaving France, he arrived penniless in England.
It was the late 1880s. He was taken in by the Woodroffe family at their house at Frensham Place (now Edgeborough School). Here he celebrated Mass for the family in their little chapel. Soon the family opened the chapel for Mass to the faithful of the neighbourhood, calling it “The Chapel of the Holy Name”.
With the steady increase of Sunday visitors, Father Gerin decided to found a mission in Farnham. With Bishop Butt’s encouragement and his offer of help with diocesan funds, he purchased the old police station in Bear Lane in the centre of Farnham. On 26th January 1890, the Feast of St.Polycarp, the new church - named after the martyr saint - was opened in the upstairs room, becoming the first post-Reformation Catholic Church in Farnham. The following year St.Polycarp’s school was opened in one small room downstairs.
In February 1905, Father Gerin met with an accident that put an end to his active life. One morning he was coming home from the workhouse (later to become Farnham Hospital), having said Mass for the Catholic inmates, when a car in the Borough skidded, mounted the pavement and threw him through a plate glass window. He sustained grave injuries to his legs.
He never recovered and received no compensation as, in those days, not all motorists were insured. He retired as an invalid in May 1907 and, for a while, lived first in Fleet and then in Ash, finally moving to Littlehampton. His law suit failed and, in 1916, he was declared bankrupt.
Father Gerin died in Littlehampton on 2nd February 1918. He was buried there in an unmarked grave (it was the time of the Great War). Recently, Patricia Knight, author of “The Bear Lane Years of St.Polycarp’s School”, found the unmarked plot in Littlehampton cemetery. The Parish of St.Joan of Arc purchased the plot with funds donated at special collections and has erected a memorial stone to recognise their debt to this extraordinary man, his work and precious legacy.
On Monday 13th February 2017, Bishop Richard Moth led a graveside service of Blessing and Thanksgiving for the finding of Father Gerin’s grave.
Requiescat in Pace.
With acknowledgements to the St.Joan of Arc web site