History of the Guild

The Guild of St. Stephen was founded at the begining of this century, about the year 1901. We do not know the exact date.
Its founder was Father Hamilton McDonald, who was chaplain at the Sacred Heart Convent in Hammersmith, London.

Like so many of these things, the Guild started because it was needed. Father McDonald wanted to raise the standard of altar serving, so he started regular classes for altar servers at the convent. The idea caught on, and soon he was holding meetings every month at the local parish church, Holy Trinity, Brook Green.

It was a great success. The Archbishop of Westminster, Francis Bourne (later Cardinal) was so impressed that he decided to start the Guild at Westminster Cathedral.

It was not long before Pope Pius X (later, Saint) came to hear of it. He gave the Guild his official approval in November 1905.

In 1906, the Guild of Westminster Cathedral was promoted to “Archconfraternity.” This meant that branches of the Guild in other parishes could be linked with the one at Westminster Cathedral. In that way they could use the rules and wear the medal of the Guild. From that time on the Guild of St. Stephen began to spread very quickly.

In 1914 the Great War exploded in Europe and raged until 1918. Millions of men joined the Army and Navy. Some of these were senior servers from the parishes. The result was that the Guild declined. In fact, it remained active in only one or two parishes.

But after the war a few of Father MacDonald’s “boys” came to the rescue. They worked hard at building up the Guild again.

In 1925, Cardinal Bourne gave his approval to a new constitution for the Guild. A Central Council and an Executive were established. Slowly but surely the Guild grew in numbers and in strength. Father MacDonald died in 1933; he had lived to see it firmly established.

Again during the Second Great War, 1939-1945, the Guild was not able to carry on its work as in time of peace. But this time the Central Council kept things going, and when the war was over the Guild once again began to expand and grow.

Many Bishops appointed a priest as Diocesan Director. A result of this was the formation in September 1945 of a National Council of Priest Directors to advise the National Director.

Travelling abroad then was not as common as it is today. So when in 1950 the Guild organised a pilgrimage of Altar Servers to Rome, it was a big adventure. And it was a great success. Since that time more Rome pilgrimages have taken place. These have varied in size from 100 to 350 servers.

Building on the woderful work of Father Hamilton MacDonald, a number of National Directors have served the Guild with great distinction. Among these Monsignor Edward Sutton, Monsignor Joseph Collings and Canon John Marriott will always be remembered.

In the forty years since the ending of the war of 1939-1945 the influence of the Guild has spread far and wide. There are now branches all over the British Isles. They can also be found in places as far away as Africa, Australia, Malaysia and the West Indies.

The Second Vatican Council of the Church ( 1963-1965 ) was a great challenge to the Guild of St. Stephen. It meant that the Guild had to think of Altar Serving in a new way. Most members took up that challenge with enthusiasm and dedication. In that way they have played their part in the renewal of the Church.

The changes in the way the Mass and the rest of the liturgy are celebrated, brought about by the Second Vatican Council, have had an enormous effect on the way we serve. The style has changed. Some people even say there is no need for servers.

This is where the Guild of St. Stephen can show there is still a need for good serving. It can take a lead which others will follow.

The Church works best when its members are ready and willing to serve each other. That’s exactly what the Guild of St. Stephen is there to do.