Brief history of the Parish

ST MARY MAGDALENE parish on Donegall Pass was part of the former parish of Belfast, anciently called Shankill. It was to provide an asylum for ‘penitent females’ with chapel attached and named the Ulster Magdalene Asylum and Episcopal Chapel. It was opened on December 1, 1839.  Built in basilica form with galleries and approached by steps, it had three apartments beneath as schoolrooms for boys, girls and infants.

A fire broke out in December 1898 after which the church was rebuilt and dedicated on October 20, 1900. It was built using Scrabo stone and numerous gifts to the parish were dedicated at the opening service. Worthy of mention is the brass eagle lectern which is regarded as being one of the finest in Ulster.

In 1979, thanks to the generosity of some parishioners, what was the church room became ‘The Chapel of the Holy Spirit’, and since then has been used for evening and lunchtime services. 

During the 1950s and early ‘60s, St Mary Magdalene was filled to capacity and was the social life of the local community. Girl Guides, Brownies, Youth and Badminton Clubs thrived and, of course, we are proud to be the home of the 1st Irish Boys’ Brigade Company, which began in 1888 until the present day.   Unfortunately, due to falling numbers, the 25th Guide Company is no more.

In 2007, faced with the dwindling number of parishioners in a sizeable minority of parishes, especially in the Belfast inner city area, the then Bishop of Connor Alan Harper decided that something had to be done to safeguard the existence of these parishes.   Negotiations began at diocesan level and it was decided to ask these smaller parishes to amalgamate consequently sharing the financial burden.

The Parish of St Mary Magdalene was earmarked for amalgamation with St Aidan’s, Sandy Row, resulting in what is known as a ‘grouping’ of the two parishes. Both churches continued to have their own services, select vestries and separate financial accounts, but shared joint ministry until December 2012.  At this stage,  Bishop Alan Abernethy broke with tradition and offered both parishes the opportunity to have ’their own’ part-time minister-in-charge.  Whilst all rejoiced in this new move, the friendships that have developed between both parishes will continue well into the future.

Our beloved church has been standing in Donegall Pass for over 100 years—let us hope and pray it stands for another century.  We have come through good times and bad, happy times and sad, but “the Magdalene” will always live in the hearts of all who have worshipped here.

If you are visiting in the area and would like to come and worship with us, you can be sure of a very warm welcome!

Our Parish

St Mary Magdalene washes Jesus’ feet

St Aidan

Photo Gallery

a full history of the parish can be downloaded by clicking on the link above

Church History (download)