THE FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS
The present parish of Strathaven, comprising the districts of Strathaven, Stonehouse and Glassford, is one of the most extensive in the Diocese of Motherwell: it covers the area of the upper valley of the river Avon; the countryside is open, well-watered by numerous streams, and the greater part of it is 600 feet above sea level.
These topographical features were appreciated by the builders in the early days of the church. Records supply names of a number of churches and chapels, located on some tributary or promontory, within sight or sound of the community.
In Strathaven the Medieval church stood on the hill which is still the burial ground, called Strathaven Cemetery today. It was dedicated to Our Blessed Lady and called Saint Mary’s. In the deed of 1228, reference is made to the payment of dues from the four chapels to the chaplain at Saint Bridget’s in Kype: the names Priestgill, Kirkwood and Temple-land, common to this area, are all ecclesiastical. It should be noted that in the early part of the century, older inhabitants of Strathaven referred to Todshill as Tanswall, the tradition being that a Holy Well, dedicated to Saint Anne, mother of Our Blessed Lady, was located on the steep banks of the Pomillion, opposite Strathaven Castle.
In Stonehouse there is evidence of the activity of the early church. The name ‘Stonehouse”, no doubt, derived from the ancient stone church dedicated to Saint Ninian (+432). He was first mentioned in the Eighth century as being an early missionary among the Pictish peoples who inhabited the Scottish Lowlands.
The site chosen was on a high promontory on the right bank of the river Avon, commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country. It is known to date back to the ninth century. The foundations are still there, but all that remains of the building is the gable end of a pre-Reformation church.
The efforts of the local council to preserve this last link with Saint Ninian are very commendable. Stonehouse had a number of Holy Wells: they were dedicated to Saint Ninian, Saint Patrick and Saint Anthony.
The old churchyard of Glassford stands east of the village and marks the sight of the original church. The western gable and belfry still standing, closely resemble that in Stonehouse. It is highly probable that the original church was dedicated to Saint Ninian.
Until the sixteenth century, the valley seems to have been preserved from strife and political intrigue common in other parts of Scotland. The inhabitants laboured on the fruitful land, with church and chapel close by supplying all spiritual needs.
This happy existence came to an end with the coming of the Reformation in 1560. The rigid enforcement of the penal laws, as well as the stamping out of the Mass and Sacraments, slowly but surely transformed the religious beliefs, and in less than a hundred years, Presbyterianism was firmly established as the new religion of the area.
Almost three hundred were to elapse before the seeds of a new Catholic community were planted in Avondale.
THE NEW MISSION
About the middle of the nineteenth century Strathaven was a busy centre for the weaving industry and a number of Irish families began to settle in the neighbourhood. Driven from their own country in the time of the Great Famine, they readily accepted any kind of work in order to provide for themselves and their families. Their natural aptitude for all kinds of agricultural work, particularly drainage, was soon appreciated by farmers of the district, and by 1855 the
Catholic population in Strathaven was almost one hundred.
A mission was established in Hamilton in 1846, and for several years Strathaven, seven miles to the south, was one of its out-lying stations.
THE FIRST RESIDENT PRIEST
In 1859 Father James McCafferty, Assistant Priest in Hamilton took up residence in Strathaven, when it was established as a mission.
The Catholic Directory published 1860 reads: “Strathaven 1859: Rev. James McCafferty. Public Service every alternate Sunday. A new mission was established here last autumn. As of yet, there is neither chapel nor house for the pastor. The people assemble in rented premises. Here a Sunday School is regularly carried on, and instruction given to the
Father McCafferty lived in a rented house in Waterside Street and celebrated Mass in a building in Glasgow Road. He served his first mission faithfully for two years.
THE FIRST CHURCH AND SCHOOL
Father Joseph Small succeeded Father McCafferty. He was a native of Hamilton, perhaps this proved advantageous when requesting a site to build a church from the Duke of Hamilton. Father Small set about the building of a church and school, but he was transferred to Dunoon within a year and it was left to his successor to complete the work.
The priest who was appointed to succeed Father Small in Strathaven was Father Edmund Sheedy. The Directory entry for 1864 reads: “A respectable chapel-house and neat school now adorn a beautiful site.” The mission extended over a great stretch of territory including Larkhall, Blackwood, Lesmahagow, Douglas, Stonehouse, Quarter and Glassford. This entailed heavy work on the priest, as Mass was said in various stations. There were Sunday Schools are Strathaven and Larkhall, with around seventy children in each place, Quarter and Lesmahagow. In 1866 Father Sheedy fell a victim to acute rheumatism and his right hand had to be amputated.
THE STRATHAVEN MISSION CLOSES
Father Joseph Conaghan came as assistant for a year, and was followed by Father Duncan Gillis. Father Gillis took sole charge in 1868 and served Strathaven for the next four years. This period saw a considerable increase in the Catholic population in Larkhall, and in 1872 the mission in Strathaven was closed. The Directory in 1873 reads: “A beautiful Chapel has been opened in Larkhall, where the priest in charge of this district now resides. Strathaven. Attended from Larkhall.”
In 1875 Father Donald McKay succeeded Father Gillis and Mass was said in Strathaven on alternate Sundays. We are confident that the Catholics of Strathaven found the six miles to Larkhall, by the old road through Glassford, no obstacle to hearing mass every Sunday.
THE CHURCH IN STRATHAVEN REOPENS
In 1878, Father Patrick O’Gorman, reopened Strathaven as a separate mission, but after a few months he returned to Larkhall. Among the priests who attended Strathaven were the following: Fathers Paul Pies, Thomas Kearney and John Crawford. In 1884, Strathaven was once again reopened as a separate mission under the care of Father William Hallinan. Ill health compelled him to retire within a year. His successor Father Van Baer was transferred to South
Africa after a few months.
Father Daniel Donnelly took up duty in 1886 and served for a period of ten years, a record for Saint Patrick’s Parish. During his ministry the building of railways and a water-works attracted a large number of Catholic labourers to the district. A local branch of the Irish National Foresters was formed, and chiefly due to their
efforts, a wooden hall was built on the ground between the presbytery and the chapel school.
A NEW CHURCH BUILDING - THE PRESENT CHURCH
Father John Cameron was appointed in 1879, and after a year’s residence he was succeeded by Father John Hickson. The first important event during his ministry was the enrolment of all Catholic children in the chapel school. On the 12th of September 1898, sixty Catholic children were accommodated in the chapel school and wooden hall, with the priest acting as School Manager. Father Hickson soon realised that the church existing building was inadequate for his
congregation, and in a short time, work was begun on a church.
The cost was borne by His Grace Archbishop Eyre, from his own private resources. The Solemn opening of the Church took place on Sunday the 14 th of July 1901: Father Rochead was the celebrant at High Mass, and the sermon was preached by Bishop Toner of Dunkeld, then Dean Toner. The preacher in the evening was Father Cuthbert OFM. Father Gisbert Hartmann who had been appointed Parish Priest, was Master of ceremonies. It should be noted that all the contractors in the building works were local and non-Catholic.
THE GOLDEN JUBILEE
Father Hartmann served in Strathaven for just over four years and was succeeded in 1906 by Father Daniel Horgan. Father Horgan was eight years in Strathaven, and the Golden Jubilee of the parish was during his tenure. A few months before the outbreak of the First World War he was transferred to Baillieston, his successor being Father Joseph O’Leary.
Although unswerving in their loyalty, the people were a little unsure of their new pastor at first, since for most of them it was their first experience of an Englishman. Very soon, however, his friendly nature overcame these initial difficulties. Unfortunately, within two years he suffered a severe breakdown in health, and until his transfer in 1918, Strathaven was covered by curates from Saint Mary’s, Hamilton.
YEARS AFTER THE FIRST WORLD WAR
Father Thomas Doyle arrived in Strathaven in 1918. His quick changes from the serious to the hilarious in conversation and in sermons endeared him to all. He was later to become well-known throughout the Archdiocese as a Religious Inspector, and his visits to Strathaven in this capacity were an annual reminder of his happy years in his first parish.
Father Robert Cairns was appointed to Saint Patrick’s in 1921. He was a man of high scholarship and good taste. During his term as parish priest, industrial strife and unemployment caused a serious drop in the limited financial resources of the parish. In spite of this, Father Cairns managed to have the Church redecorated for the first time since it was opened. A breakdown in health caused him to retire in 1926 and he to moved Newcastle, Co.Down until his death in 1959.
For the next three years the parish was served by Father Archibald McSparran. Father McSparran was keenly interested in social studies. His knowledge of this subject, in addition to his kindly nature, brought the parish through a period of national depression.
His successor, Father James Montgomery, was in charge for the short period of one and a half years. Of a quiet, reserved nature, Father Montgomery managed to keep things going and had the satisfaction of seeing the dawn of a new era in the history of the Parish.
A MASS CENTRE IN STONEHOUSE
Until 1916 the Catholic families in Stonehouse had walked eight miles every Sunday to hear Mass. The position was improved when Father O’Leary arranged to say Mass in a public hall in Stonehouse on the Fourth Sunday of the month. This was a quite a feat for the priest, as one of the announcements on the third Sunday stated: “Next Sunday, Communion in Strathaven at 7.45am. Mass in Stonehouse at 9am. Confessions before Mass. Mass in Strathaven at 11am. (A horse-drawn carriage was the method of transport for the first year.) This arrangement lasted for a number of years.
Rev. Edmund MacDonald became parish priest in 1930. He gave the Stonehouse section his flock the opportunity to hear Mass in their own village on Saturdays and Holydays of Obligation. The Catholic children attended the local public school and instruction in Catechism was given by a number of volunteers.
The long period of acute financial distress was gradually ending, and Father MacDonald successfully organised Parish meetings and excursions. The Church was repainted, and the installation of new statues and Stations of the Cross considerably enhanced its beauty.
CONSOLIDATION OF THE THIRTIES
Father Peter Fitzpatrick, appointed in 1932, was Parish Priests for the next five years. A kindly but austere man, he was esteemed for his simple tastes and devotion to his vocation as the spiritual director of his people. His propensity for saving no doubt assisted greatly in preserving a healthy Parish bank balance.
In 1937 Father William McGoldrick was sent to the parish. The installation of a heating system was one of his first projects. The outbreak of the Second World War, and the arrival in the Parish of a large number of evacuees, swelled the number of faithful in and around Strathaven.
THE WAR YEARS
Father John Daniel took over in 1940 and faced an arduous task of serving a parish almost double its normal size: a military hospital in Stonehouse, a WAAF station at Dungavel and soldiers billeted in various halls in the district. Father Daniel did all this and more. By regular correspondence and pious gifts, he kept constant touch with all his parishioners serving in the Forces.
Father Patrick Kelly succeeded him in 1943. It fell to him to preserve the stability of the Parish in the last year of hostilities and in the difficult years following the of the war. The evacuees and military had returned to their homes and it was hoped that things would soon return to normal. With his firm emphasis of spiritual realities, Father Kelly guided his flock from the feverish days of war to a normal Christian existence. The Church was now enhanced by the installation of electric light.
RESTORATION AND EXTENTION
Father James Ward came to St. Patrick’s in 1948. For some years past the seating accommodation in the Church had been inadequate and an extension was desirable. With his natural zeal and boundless energy, Father Ward swept all hazards aside and established a Church extension and redecoration fund.
Due to his drive and the generous response of the parishioners, the official opening of the extended Church took place on Sunday the 21st of December 1952. The occasion was graced by the presence of his Lordship Bishop Douglas. High Mass was celebrated by Mons. G.M. Rodgers VG, assisted by Father E. MacDonald and Father W. McGoldrick. The sermon was given by Father A. Hamilton. The reconstruction included a new sanctuary, a porch and a baptistery.
New seating was also installed and the floor of the Church was covered with a composite linoleum. The marble altar and floor was donated by Dr. A. Bancewicz. This generous gift, together with others from parishioners, and the substantial donation of all work of construction by the local firm of Daniel Campbell and Son, contributed largely to the happy announcement at the opening ceremony, that all the debt had been paid.
A new school had been opened in Commercial Road in August 1951, and within a year the men of the Parish transformed the old chapel-school into a parochial hall.
Father Daniel White came to Saint Patrick’s in 1955 and quietly and efficiently he completed the projects begun by his predecessor. Father White’s activities were mainly confined to parochial affairs: his visitation of Stonehouse Hospital and regular service on local committees. Always mindful of the centenary of the Parish, with particular emphasis on the spiritual aspect. He was transferred to St. Mary’s, Caldercruix after Easter 1959. He was succeeded by Father James McGill.
To be continued.
Excepted from the Centenary of St. Patrick’s Church Strathaven