After 137 years entrenched in Wimbledon society, the Jesuit community has handed over the reins of one of the biggest parishes in the country to a new priest.

The Sacred Heart Church in Edge Hill, Wimbledon, now falls under the Archdiocese of Southwark, in a move described as “less than once in a lifetime” by a parishioner.

More than 2,000 parishioners joined more than 30 priests, bishops and local dignitaries, including Stephen Hammond MP, and the deputy mayor and mayoress of Merton, Councillor John and Judy Sargeant at a mass on Friday, January 10, to welcome the new priest, Monsignor Nicholas Hudson.

John Symes, editor of Edgeways parish magazine, said: “The church was packed, there were people standing at the back.

“It was a very memorable service for an historic occasion.

“There was a lot of sadness that the Jesuits were leaving after so long, but there was a lot of optimism for the future.”

A church spokesman said it was something of a homecoming for Mgr Hudson.

The former rector of the Venerable English College in Rome was baptised, confirmed and ordained in the church, and was also a pupil at Donhead Prep and Wimbledon College, also located in Edge Hill.

The spokesman said Mgr Hudson is to be assisted in his new role by the recently ordained Father Samuel Davey.

The service, led by Archbishop Peter Smith, coincided with the eightieth anniversary of the death of the church’s founder and benefactress Edith Arendrup.

Now there are just 17 parishes in the UK – Wimbledon was the last in south London as numbers have dwindled over the years.

The handover was due to take place in the autumn of last year, but was delayed when Pope Benedict XVI resigned.

This had a knock-on effect to the parish in Wimbledon because all Vatican decisions were put on hold during an “inter-papam” until a new Pope was elected.