The parish of St John Fisher was established from St Gregory’s, Farnworth in the early 1960s in anticipation of a large housing expansion into what was an area of coal mining and textile works. The site that was purchased included an extensive area of farmland overlooking the River Irwell valley. The current church, which was intended also to serve as a parish hall, and the presbytery were built in 1967-68, and there were plans for a school and a larger church to serve the new residential area.
Closure of the pits and the textile mills in the 1970s and 80s, however, led to the collapse of the local industrial economy, and the housing plans were abandoned. This left the parish with a very small population. Around this time the International Schoenstatt Movement (a movement within the Catholic Church with a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary) was looking for a site in the Bolton area to build a shrine, and the Right Rev. Terence John Brain, Bishop of Salford, offered the possibility of the land at St John Fisher’s for this purpose. The shrine was opened on 1 October 2000 and since that time a retreat and pastoral centre has been established by the Schoenstatt Movement.
The church/hall, designed by Desmond Williams Associates, is a brick building with shallow sloping roofs and a pattern of vertical windows. It contains a central worship space, which can be adapted for lectures, gatherings and events. There are subsidiary offices and smaller meeting rooms used for pastoral work and teaching, as well as a kitchen and toilets.
The shrine was built in 2000, and follows the design of the original Marian Shrine built at Schönstatt, near Koblenz, in the twelfth century. There are nearly 200 such shrines and retreat centres throughout the world. On the roof of the building is a special slate which has been highlighted. It is from the roof of the original shrine in Schönstatt and reminds visitors that every replica shrine has a special bond with the original place of pilgrimage. Similarly, below the threshold of the doorway, are buried a number of stones: from Mount Tabor and Bethany in the Holy Land; a piece from the floor of the ‘upper room’ in Jerusalem; a piece from the altar in the House Regina in Schoenstatt, where the founder of the Movement Fr Joseph Kentenich often celebrated Mass; from the concentration camp of Dachau where Fr Kentenich was imprisoned by the Nazis; a stone from the new shrine in Paderborn, Germany, which is the twin city of Bolton; and some soil from the first replica shrine to be built in Nueva Helecia, Uruguay and from the shrine in Bellavista in Chile. Inside the tiny building, many of the furnishings too have symbolic meaning, and the reredos and the altarpiece of Our Lady of Schoenstatt are replicas of those in the original shrine. Within the altar table are relics of St Vincent Pallotti, St Anselm, St Theresa of the Child Jesus and St John Bosco.