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Church Cats 4

Miss Mac, Ko-Ko
and Mungojerrie

of St Hubert's,
Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire

Church cat Miss Mac with Fr John Chaloner of St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire

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St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire

The church of St Hubert's is in the small village of Dunsop Bridge, in a beautiful and fairly remote area known as the Forest of Bowland in the northern English county of Lancashire. The parish priest, Father John Chaloner, had had several cats that came to unfortunate ends, either on the roads or in one case shot, and he wasn't seeking to repeat the sorrow of their loss by taking in another. However, things don't always work out . . .

Miss Mac

One morning in the summer of 1999, a white-and-black kitten was found stuck in a hedge close by the church. This was unusual, as it isn't the kind of area where cats often drop by. The family who rescued it had a dog and could not keep the kitten — so, in spite of his earlier feelings, Fr Chaloner found himself taking on a new church cat. Thought at first to be a male, it was named Macavity (having appeared from nowhere — see T.S. Eliot's Book of Practical Cats), but a check-up at the vet's showed otherwise, and so she became Miss Macavity, or Miss Mac for short.

The church, its yard and rural surroundings make an ideal spot for cats, and Miss Mac quickly made herself at home. She also started to take a full part in church life, loving to attend weddings, baptisms and funerals, and often attending Communion, when she would sit in front of the altar so that parishioners had to sidestep around her when they came forward for the sacrament. She liked to lap holy water from the stoop by the church entrance, and loved sleeping in the straw of the crib at Christmastime.

Church cat Miss Mac in the churchyard - St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge
Miss Mac - St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge

But Miss Mac was also very much a 'companion cat' and enjoyed joining her human for an evening stroll. The idea came for a book of her memoirs, as she had made herself so much a part of parish and church life; Fr Chaloner acted as her scribe and says the cat took a keen interest. 'She used to sit on my notes, sit on my lap when I was typing,' he said. 'I still have her paw-marks on my papers.' The result was a delightful small book in which we meet Miss Mac's friends and gain an insight into life at St Hubert's — see Feline Folios for details.

Shortly after the book had been published, one warm evening in August 2004, Fr John recalls seeing the feline author sitting on the stone wall opposite the church, but he thought it was a bit early to call her in for the night. He never saw her again. She had been with him for five years and a day. No one knows what happened. Possibly she was run over and the driver was too distressed to say; but a few days later a little bunch of flowers was left on the wall where she used to sit.

Fr Chaloner informs us that Miss Mac had left us another book, called The Cats' Family Tree, which was published in September 2009.


The next church cat was Ko-Ko, a very handsome tabby-and-white gentleman who happily took on Miss Mac's duties. He was born on a farm about 10 miles away, and was homed to Dunsop Bridge as a kitten, but was left behind when his owners moved. He was begging around the village, and the local gamekeeper was going to ask the RSPCA to take him in, but then thought of Father Chaloner. The rest, as they say, is history, and in November 2004 Ko-Ko moved in. He liked to summon Fr John to prayer at an early hour (and get his breakfast, of course!) and quite often joined him at worship. He went into the church during Mass, wrapped himself around the priest's feet or even joined him at the altar — or simply trotted in, sat on the pew next to him and purred! Here's Father John's account of one early morning:

Church cat Ko-Ko in contemplative mood - St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge
Church cat Ko-Ko, of St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge

'I awoke to the sound of a bang and something falling down. "Who's there?" I croaked, half asleep, yet trying to evoke the authoritative tone of a former policeman's distant past. "Who's there?" Silence. "Who's there?" Then came a faint reply, "Miaow". It was Ko-Ko, my cat. He emerged from the bedroom wardrobe, sat down amid the boxes that he had dislodged from their carefully arranged positions, and looked at me with the penetrating stare that only cats can give.

' "Oh, it's you, Ko-Ko," I mumbled. "It's not time to get up yet. I'm going back to sleep." But it was not to be. Ko-Ko pounced onto the bed, tapped my face with his paw, and continued his penetrating stare, only now it was accompanied by a long purrrrr. Time to get up — at least, it was in Ko-Ko's scheme of things. Yet it was only 4 a.m. Down the stairs we went, he with his tail in the air as he tacked from side to side, and I, bleary-eyed, trying not to step on him or to tumble headlong down the stairs. He took me into the kitchen and, dutifully, I followed. "Miaow." It was time for his breakfast. "Ah, well," I said to myself, "now I'm up I'll make a cup of tea and then say morning prayer." '

Ko-Ko surveys his domain - St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire

Ko-Ko followed in Miss Mac's footsteps in more ways than one and also wrote a book: read a little about it in our Feline Folios section. He sounded a real character, but sadly he was run over near the church in November 2008. 'I still miss him very much,' says Father Chaloner.


Mungojerrie, the latest church cat at St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire

Fr John takes up the story once more:

'Mungojerrie came to Saint Hubert's on 15 December 2008. He's a male short haired cat, velvety black but with ever so slight a suggestion of a white clerical-style collar. He has a very distinguished bearing and almost sabre shaped upper teeth.

'He was found abandoned near a car park in a neighbouring village and was in a poor state, but a lady rescued him and took him into her home. Unfortunately for Mungojerrie she had a white terrier and for a while the situation was rather tense.

'I learned about him shortly after my cat, Ko-Ko had been killed on the road. I was told that the lady was looking for a permanent home for the cat, but at the time I did not feel able to help. However, I was later asked if I would be prepared to take him for three weeks over Christmas as the lady and her husband were going abroad. I knew that once he arrived here I would not wish to part with him. Of course, he has been here ever since!

Mungojerrie from St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge

'The first week here he seemed stressed and did not venture out of the house, but then gradually he discovered the church grounds and the wood and from then on he was completely at home. Like his predecessors he soon discovered the holy water font next to the door of the church and this has become a source of refreshment for him (even though a bowl of clean water is left at the side of his food every day). Similarly, following in the pawsteps of his predecessors, he comes to Mass frequently and often sits on a bench in the middle of the congregation, watching and listening to all that is going on, or crouches down near the altar, or has a wash, or sits on the altar server's knee, or sits on my knee, or even jumps on the altar from time to time.

Mungojerrie supervising kitchen decorations - church cat of St Hubert's, Dunsop Bridge

'He is tremendously agile and seems to think nothing of jumping on the roof of the back porch of the house and from there onto the window sill of the back bedroom (a height of twenty or more feet) and demanding entry into the house. He could, of course, much more easily gain entrance through his cat flap which he uses at times of his own choosing, particularly to bring in unwilling guests, such as rabbits and mice, most of whom I manage to rescue and return to their families and whenever I do so Mungojerrie's response is simply to have a wash.

'Most of his day is spent asleep in a variety of locations in the house. He has a habit of hiding himself and this causes me not a little anxiety until he appears again, as if out of nowhere. His evenings are usually spent asleep on the settee or on the floor in the sitting room, but more often than not he jumps up onto one�s knee, settles down and goes to sleep, and that gives great comfort and consolation to the owner of the knee. He is a most loving and affectionate cat and in a very short time here he has established a mysterious and wonderful bond.'

Update, late 2013
We're sad to report that Mungojerrie suffered the same fate as befell his predecessor Ko-Ko, and he was run over outside the church 'some time ago', Monsignor John told us. We offer our sympathy; it's very unfortunate that two church cats in succession were run over in a quiet village.

Very many thanks to Father John Chaloner for his help with this account and for supplying the photos of Miss Mac, Ko-Ko and Mungojerrie. More information about St Hubert's can be found at the church website, including photos of the church and village, and this area of the Forest of Bowland.

Note: as of 2010, we understand that the correct form of address for the former Father John is now Monsignor John Chaloner.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.

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