THE Rev Canon John Cunningham has taken over as parish priest at Holy Rood Church after the retirement of one of Swindon’s longest-serving community bastions.

Canon Cunningham, 56, replaces Monsignor Canon Richard Twomey, 76, who was assistant priest at the church, in Groundwell Road, for 15 years and parish priest for a further 25 years, as well as being heavily involved in local Catholic education.

Canon Cunningham, a former banker, said he had already conducted masses on two Sundays and he was pleased to serve in Swindon as it was here that he first “heard his calling from God” to join the priesthood.

He said: “It’s lovely to come back to the area in which I first felt I was being called to be a priest.

“I cannot fill Monsignor’s shoes, I can only be myself. I cannot fill somebody’s shoes, he had his gifts, hopefully I’ve got some gifts and I hope I can use them to the benefit of the people in Holy Rood in Swindon.

“I think it’s very wise to look at a parish for a few months before I make any major decisions, so I’m going to try and build on the magnificent foundations that are already here.

“The major challenge here is it’s so big. On a Sunday you have something like 3,500 in church, and it’s a mixture of nationalities as well. So it’s a multi-cultural parish. The challenge is just trying to know the people when you have got such a vast number of people in front of you.”

Canon Cunninham is a native of Trowbridge and went to St John the Baptist Catholic School in the town and then Trowbridge High School.

He went to work in branches of Lloyds Bank, firstly in Trowbridge and Melksham, then Highworth , and finally in Old Town .

In 1988, he left Swindon to start his religious studies at Bedar College, in Rome, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1992.

He was first an assistant priest at St George’s and St Teresa’s, Taunton, then became parish priest at St Augustine’s Church, Matson, in 1995, before returning to Taunton as parish priest. The Rt Rev Declan Lang, the Bishop of Clifton, appointed him to Holy Rood.

Monsignor Twomey has now retired to a home in Rushey Platt, but he said earlier this year that he would still help out in the diocese with religious duties, such as saying masses.

Reflecting on his retirement, he said: “I think it’s time to retire. I’m 76 in July and I’ve enjoyed my life as a priest, but I will continue being in Swindon helping out.”