‘White Fathers’ mark centenary
The Missionaries of Africa, commonly known as the White Fathers, initially arrived in England in 1912 but then bought land in Newton St Boswells, near Galashiels, and built a junior seminary there.
At Sunday’s anniversary event, Cardinal O’Brien celebrated Mass at a packed church alongside Fr Paul Hannon, the provincial delegate of the Missionaries of Africa in the UK, Canon John Creanor, parish priest at Our Lady and St Andrew’s, Dom Cuthbert Johnstone OSB, retired abbot, who preached the homily, and many White Father priests.
Through the initiative of Fr Francis Walsh, who was later to become Bishop of Aberdeen, the White Fathers’ junior seminary, called St Columba’s, opened in 1934.
A decision was then made in 1948 to move the order’s senior seminary from the Netherlands to Scotland to help prepare young priests during their pastoral year to continue their missionary work in English speaking African countries.
In the following years, Cardinal Gordon Gray, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, ordained 149 White Father priests of many nationalities in Galashiels Catholic church.
A record was established in 1952 when Cardinal Gray ordained 36 candidates for the priesthood in a single ceremony, the highest number of ordinations at one time in the history of Catholicism in Scotland.
The following year a house was opened in Rutherglen, at the hub of Scotland’s most populated Catholic dioceses: Glasgow, Motherwell and Paisley. The White Fathers and their missionary work soon became very well known throughout the country.
Speaking in his homily Dom Johnstone noted that, given that it was in St Andrews and Edinburgh that the White Fathers were first established in Scotland, it was ‘both fitting and an honour’ to have the present Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal O’Brien, join the community for the celebrations.
“The White Fathers were founded in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, the Archbishop of Algiers and for the first four decades of its existence the majority of the members of the society were from France and worked in French speaking parts of Africa,” he said.
“In God’s providence, anti-religious laws in France forced the society to establish a junior seminary in England which took place in 1912 at Bishop’s Waltham. At first, the priory, as it came to be known, housed only French students but within a few years it began to accept young men from all over the British Isles. Encouraged by the warm reception that the fathers received on their visits to Scotland, a small house was acquired in Melrose in 1931. Within a few years the first seminary in Scotland for the training of missionaries for Africa was founded under the patronage of the missionary monk St Columba at nearby Newtown St Boswells.”
Dom Johnstone added, however, that ‘it is not only here in these beautiful border counties that there are links with the White Fathers.’
“From Aberdeen to Abbotsford, from Glasgow to Galashiels and from Edinburgh to Dryburgh, so many persons and places have been associated and have contributed generously to the work and the apostolate of the White Fathers,” he said.
Speaking of the society’s mission today, the former abbot said that ‘great strides have been made towards the goal set by Cardinal Lavigerie that the conversion of Africa should be accomplished by Africans.’
“This Africanisation of the missionary activity of the Church in Africa has meant that the White Fathers, brothers and sisters have had to change and adapt to circumstances,” he said. “The society, which has always been forward looking, has met this challenge and is now undertaking new and important forms of apostolate and is developing new ways and opportunities to assist the Church in Africa.”
During Sunday’s Mass, Cardinal O’Brien blessed a commemorative plaque, which marks the centenary of the arrival of the White Fathers in Scotland and pays tribute to the ‘unique’ role enjoyed by Our Lady and St Andrew’s Church in the intervening years.
Tribute was also paid to Canon Creanor, for his 16 years of service as parish priest at Galashiels and as Dean of St Cuthbert’s Borders Deanery, who was also celebrating his last Sunday Mass as parish priest at Galashiels before moving on to North Berwick and Dunbar.