Our Parish

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.

Now faced with a dwindling number of parishioners in a sizeable minority of parishes, especially in the Belfast inner city area, the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison decided that something had to be done to safeguard the existence of these parishes.   To this end the South Belfast Mission Area was formed in conjunction with ourselves and the parishes of St Aidan’s and St Simon’s.   We look forward to what the future may hold.

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!