A catholic ministry of priests has announced it is to leave a Wimbledon parish after more than 130 years serving the community.

Priests from the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, have run Sacred Heart Church parish in Edge Hill in Wimbledon since they were invited to the area by Edith Arendrup, a wealthy catholic resident, in the 1870s.

This week the order announced they would be handing over their responsibilities to the Archdiocese of Southwark in a year’s time.

Known for their work in education, the Jesuit priests have strong links with Wimbledon College and have invested heavily in the school over the years, a relationship which they intend to continue.

In a letter to parishioners Dermot Preston SJ, provincial for the Society of Jesus, revealed there were now less than 200 British Jesuits worldwide, compared to 1000 in the early 1960s, and the decision was made to maintain flexibility and respond to new challenges.

Stephen Pearce, a member of the Sacred Heart parish, said: "The number of Jesuits is dwindling and they don’t feel they are able to cover a parish like Sacred Heart and wish to work elsewhere.

"We have much appreciated what the Jesuits have done for the parish.

"They are still in education and are still going to be running Wimbledon College but it’s the Sacred Heart Parish that will be losing the Jesuits.

"It came as quite a shock.

"We see ourselves as a Jesuit parish and now we won’t be which is what is upsetting a lot of people."

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 in Rome.