A CATHOLIC church set up by Polish immigrants who fled their war-torn homeland for a better life in Bolton is set for a grand 50th anniversary celebration in September.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, in High Steet, Great Lever, will welcome the Rektor of the Polish Catholic Mission of England and Wales, Stefan Wylezek, to its special birthday service and dinner on Sunday, September 22.

Bought by its founding parishioners in 1963 for £20,000, the church still provides Bolton’s close-knit Polish community with a focal meeting point today.

The church’s chairman Christine Gorman, aged 53, said: “It’s hardly changed at all really, the feel of it is virtually the same as it was in 1963.

“We’ve modernised it in places but the traditional appearance of the church is something we like.”

Mrs Gorman married Kevin and christened her two children at the church, which her father Franciszek and mother Jozefa helped start after they left Poland in 1947 during the aftermath of the Second World War.

Her parents met in Bolton with the Polish community initially attending St Edmund’s Church before finding the money to purchase the former methodist church which is their current home.

Mum Jozefa still attends mass and the church’s day centre for the elderly — which has run since 1989 — every week at the age of 88.

She is one of about 20 existing parishioners who have been involved in the Good Shepherd since its formation.

While the original congregation has aged, Mrs Gorman said recent EU regulations have provided the church with a boost.

“The Polish community has actually grown recently because of more immigration so we have quite a few new younger members so our future looks pretty good,” she said.

The church has now had 14 priests throughout its lifespan, with the latest, Father Ryszard Zalewski, aged 50, having been in the job for six years.

Services are still conducted in Polish, despite most of the parishioners speaking fluent English.

“Many other Catholic churches hold mass and deliver sermons in English, so we need to cater for a different need,” said Father Zalewski.

In addition to his religious duties, the priest is integral to the church’s community work, even running games of bingo for the elderly at their Wednesday day centre.

“The scope for hosting events and making a difference to the community that we have is huge and I feel the church has delivered,” said Father Zalewski.

The Good Shepherd’s official birthday is on November 9 with the celebration brought forward to avoid cold weather.