In 1860, the first bishop of the Diocese of Salford, Bishop Turner, invited the Jesuits to make a home in Manchester. As well as the growing middle-classes, Manchester was home to a large and expanding population of Irish Immigrants, lured by cotton manufacturing and the consequences of the Great Irish Famine. In the area known as Little Ireland (a stretch of low grade amenity terraces built to serve the urban poor in the centre of the city), perceived un-godliness was a growing trend. The Parish of St Mary’s, Mulberry Street was unable to cope; in the previous 20 years, 13 priests had succumbed to Typhus, whilst working amongst the city’s poor.
The Jesuits had a formidable record of outreach and missionary work, and this was put to good use. They were also used to combat the spread of bells and smells Anglo-Catholicism, in answering the controversial claims of the Church of England to be the successor of St Augustine. Whilst at the Holy Name Fr Vaughan took part in a famous series of debates with the Anglican bishop of Manchester, over the rival claims of both parties to be the Catholic Church in England. In their jubilation at Vaughan's triumph, the young men of the Holy Name pulled his carriage from the city centre all the way to the church.
The building's dimensions and proportions are on the scale of a fourteenth century cathedral; it is 186 feet long east to west and 112 feet wide. The architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom (who gave his name to the Hansom Cab) based the building on Frankish gothic styles of France. Pevsner described it as ”… a design of the very highest quality and of an originality nowhere demonstrative.... Hansom never again did so marvellous a church.” Although mediaeval in appearance, it is a counter-Reformation church, designed to teach the faith through its external liturgical and devotional manifestation. It gives maximum exposure to the solemn celebration of the Mass (a raised altar near the congregation with no rood screen, and a shallow, broad sanctaury), the cult of the Eucharist (the eye is first carried to the tabernacle and the expositon throne above), preaching (a large pulpit to place the preacher intimately in the congregation), and the hearing of confessions (the whole north side is taken up with confessionals designed for long hours of priestly ministration). Consequently, the pillars in the church are unusually slender, accomplished by making the roof of the church from hollow terracotta tubes.
Although built in brick it was clad in brushed Warwick stone. It has been suggested that Hansom’s original design originally called for a broad steeple 73 feet high (although how seriously this was considered is disputed). In 1928 the tower was built, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, and is similar to his tower at the Anglican cathedral at Liverpool and his iconic red telephone box. The church structure itself is sixty years older than the tower, and the stonework doesn’t match, one part looking much fresher than the other (which is the result of recent cleaning and pointing work to the body of the church).
In total, the nave can accommodate 800 worshippers. Small chapels adorn the left hand side, along with the baptistery towards the west. On the north side of the building are confessionals, each with its own fireplace. Between each of the confessions and the chapels are the Stations of the Cross. Throughout the church there are devotional statues and images, always with candles burning before them.
The Masses at the Holy Name are celebrated in English and towards the east ('ad orientem' - the priest and people all facing the rising sun, offering their prayers as a pilgrim people). The extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, or Tridentine Mass, is celebrated at the Holy Name on Sunday afternoons. At the Holy Name both Latin and English are used for the celebration of Mass. In the years following the Second Vatican Council, it became the almost universal fashion for Mass to be said in the vernacular tongue at the exclusion of Latin, with the priest and congregation facing one another rather than in the same direction towards the crucifix. This celebration was often accompanied by 'folk music'. Nevertheless, Latin remains the official language of the Roman Rite, and the typical editions of all liturgical books are to this day released in Latin. Both Latin and the ad orientem posture are permitted in the Novus Ordo and are practiced at the Holy Name. These celebrations of the liturgy are very well attended, despite the church not being a parish (the church forming a distinct part of the parish of St. Augustine, Chorlton-on-Medlock).
The celebration of the liturgy is designed to be catechetical and attractive, with solemn ritual, beautiful music, popular hymns and a familiar preaching style. It is also user-friendly; given the solemnity of the celebration, still the Solemn Mass never lasts more than an hour.
Weekday Masses are designed to suit the work patterns of the busy city population - 7am and 5.15pm. They are celebrated at the small and more intimate chapels in the church.
Each lunch time there is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, during which confessions are heard. They are also heard from 4.45pm - 5.05pm before the weekday evening Mass, and on Saturday 11.30am - 12.30pm, 3pm - 4pm, 7pm - 8pm.
The music for the Solemn Mass follows the recent decrees of the Vatican, and utilises Gregorian chant and polyphony on Sundays (with well known congregational English hymns), and for major solemnities there are classical organ and orchestral settings from the 17th - 21st centuries.