minutes of the very first House Councils of the Rutherglen community
of December 1953 we see that parish supplies were arranged; there was
a meeting of the magazine promoters; and the community hosted a dinner
to celebrate four members of the Parents and Friends Association being
made honorary members of the Society. On a different note we read that
permission had to be sought from the Superior to watch television or
play billiards and a better system of heating was needed.
Over the last fifty years we have seen many changes but so many of the
essential values of the house have remained. That tradition of being
involved in the life of the local church has continued, in a variety
of ways, and our close association and cooperation with lay people in
all our missionary endeavours has been important to us throughout the
life of this house and continues to be so. Permissions for mundane things
are no longer needed from the Superior and even if there were a billiard
table still in the house the old billiard room is just one staircase
too much for most of us these days. The fact that the Superior has his
office there is perhaps a sign of the times! And thankfully we no longer
have to worry about the central heating.
the beginning of 1953 the Society had only one house in Scotland, St
Columba's College, in the borders and it was decided that we needed
a base in the West of Scotland for our missionary outreach to the very
strong Catholic community there. Consequently Fr Tom Conway was asked
to begin the search and rather fittingly approached the Bishop of the
new diocese of Motherwell who gave his blessing to the project. Fr Conway's
first 'find' did not prove suitable but, much to his surprise, the key
holder of that property suggested another, that his uncle might be selling
a house, and directed his steps to Milrig Road. The then owners, Mr
& Mrs McMahon, were indeed selling and by the middle of December
the sale was completed. On 19th December the house was blessed in the
presence of the new community; Fathers Tom Conway, Jimmy Hughes, Frank
Ball, Stevie Collins and Nan McPhee, the housekeeper. Like so many other
lay people after her, Nan was very much part of the life and the work
of the new community. Fr Tom especially liked the rich blue carpet that
covered the top and ground floors and has never understood why it was
removed, but perhaps the Provincial thought it an inappropriate colour
for a house full of supporters of a football team whose colours are
not blue! It is a tribute to how well we are cared for that three of
those founding members are still alive. Fr Tom in residence here; Fr
Ball in Dublin; Fr Collins in London. Fr Hughes, later joined the Jesuits,
and died while on missionary work in Zimbabwe.
Above (left to right) at
St Columba's in 1950
Back : Fr Tom Conway, Fr Steve
Collins, Brother Dunstan
Front : Fr Drost, Martin Hickey
(student) and Fr Joseph Ryce
From those founding days in 1953 until 1976 there followed a period
of great missionary activity. First among these was Vocation Ministry
encouraging young people to consider the call to become missionaries.
Countless visits were made to schools in all the dioceses of Scotland
witnessing to the missionary work of the Church in many parts of Africa
with personal stories and slide shows. During those years Vocation Exhibitions
were very popular and the White Father's stand always attracted many
equities. In order to keep in touch with these young men several small
publications were distributed from the house. 'Kizito' gave news from
the missions and the Missionary Association of Prayer encouraged
them to pray for the work of the Church in Africa.
In later years, in collaboration with our house in Sutton Coldfield,
'Contact' was distributed to young people in their homes and schools.
From reading this, many young people got in touch with the Society and
attended further days of missionary awareness and short stays with us
during the summer holidays or voc vacs' as they were commonly
NOTE : A
copy of this promotional leaflet has been donated by Tony Smyth and
is displayed in the Appendix.
Click here to view it
Contact with our benefactors was also important from the beginning and
there was always a secretary or two employed to keep up to date answering
the letters, and acknowledging all the donations and Mass offerings
that came in. At one time the secretary also doubled as the afternoon
help to the cook in the kitchen. Not any more!
In 1964 the Young Missionary Group was formed to bring together
young adults interested in the missions and ready to help in our work
in Scotland. It was, by all accounts, a very lively group and not shy
to play a few pranks on members of the community. Their help in the
office; printing, addressing envelopes and the like; was invaluable.
After the fire at St Columba's in 1964 they spent many days helping
to clean up what remained of the house and the property. Dances and
other socials were arranged to raise funds and were much appreciated
and well attended. Inevitably there was some matchmaking among the group,
all with the blessing of the community. Today some of this group are
still in contact with us.
to any of the many people we meet in the parishes about former days
and they will always remember the Garden Fetes held from 1954 until
1984. The idea came from Fr Collins, who arranged the first one, which
raised the then princely sum of £300. After that there was no
going back, the people would not allow it. Each year for the months
leading up to the Garden Fete in August the house was like an African
market place. People came and went with prizes for the raffles, gifts
for the stalls, bottles for the tombola, and home baking which the community
were ordered not to try! Stalls and tea tents were put up by willing
volunteers on the lawns and on the waste ground beyond the garden wall.
On the morning of the fete the crowds began to assemble very early and
by the time the gates were opened in the afternoon the queue stretched
all the way down Milrig Road. The police were called in to direct the
crowds. The fete not only a popular local event but a wonderful occasion
to bring together the many people associated with the house; the co-workers
in the house, the Young Missionary Group, and, of course, the Parents
and Friends Group. Amazingly, according to memories, the weather always
fine. The Rutherglen Reformer, however, in 1969 does tell us that in
the three, weeks preceding that particular fete thieving and vandalism
occurred almost every night and though the culprits escaped the 'show
went on undaunted.
(source of both photos of the fête
: Tony Smyth)
The summer fête at Rutherglen 1968
(this and above)
No history of the community here would be complete without speaking
of the Parents and Friends Association. Their story has been documented
by Miss Thérese Donnelly in a previous article. (Click
here to read this). As far as we can gather, their origins
go back to 1934 and they were founded to bring together the families
of White Fathers, the families of White Father students and to introduce
them to prospective White Father students and their families. Since
many of these new candidates for the junior seminaries came from the
West of Scotland the Association naturally found a home with the new
community. Each year they brought together the families of the current
students with the new ones, often with a social event such as a meal
and a dance. Among the more popular venues was the Grand Hotel in Glasgow
and the Plaza Ballroom. A newspaper cutting from the Scottish Catholic
Observer says that two hundred people attended the 1969 meeting.
Groups were set up in Motherwell, Paisley, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Port
Glasgow over the years as the numbers increased. Thanks to their enthusiasm
they also became involved in raising funds for the missions and were
among the stalwart helpers and supporters of the Garden Fetes and other
activities. In more recent times even though the number of candidates
for the seminaries has decreased they have still organised an annual
reunion and many other events such as bingo nights, dances, sales of
work, coffee mornings and race nights.
(source: WF & WS magazine, Issue No. 370, June-July
Members of the Rutherglen community (May 2003), left to right:
Back : Fr James Barry, Fr John McLean, Fr Christopher Wallbank,
Bro Raymond Leggett, Fr Patrick Boyd, and Bro Eugene Leonard.
Front : Fr Thomas Conway, Fr John McNulty, and Fr Thomas McIlveney
Amidst all this activity the community spent many weekends helping in
the local parishes and often all but one would be absent for the weekend.
They also accepted to be chaplain in the summer months to the then very
popular summer camps for young people. With the beginning of the Missionary
Appeal system in 1962 some of these ways of helping the local church
had to be curtailed as the fathers went out on weekends to parishes
up and down the country to speak of the missionary work of the Church
in Africa and to raise funds. To this day these continue and the interest
and the generosity of the people is amazing.
Is it any wonder that with all this activity the community were often
out after the nine forty five curfew and found it difficult to rise
at five forty five! At one House Council they are told they can go back
to bed later in the day if necessary but most of them seem to have opted
for the African alternative, a good siesta, a practice which continues
to this day. Those permissions from the Superior to play billiards or
watch television, when did they have time!
With the closure of the junior seminary system in 1965 changes had already
begun to take place. A hostel for students had been opened at Ratho
and the staff there were beginning to take responsibility for much of
the vocation ministry. In 1976 the Society realised that it was becoming
necessary to have a house in Scotland where returning missionaries could
be at home and while retiring could still be an active part of the local
church. For the Scottish confreres Milrig Road was a natural choice
as it was from here that, over the years, missionaries had come and
gone to their postings in Africa. Therefore the organisation of missionary
appeals, the contact with benefactors, and vocation ministry was transferred
to Ratho and later to Edinburgh.
While the community moved out of the house, Milrig Road was renovated
and an extension with six further bedrooms added. From then on you might
think there would be a change of pace and a lessening of activity. Not
at all, the community continued until recent times to be active in helping
out with supplies up and down the country and the house remains the
headquarters of the Parents and Friends Association and their activities.
The practice of offering Mass for the local community, which had begun
in the fifties, continued but now with the option of a seven thirty
and a nine thirty Mass. Those coming for the later Mass often began
to join the community for coffee afterwards. Another service to the
local community is the Piety Stall which going back to the fifties has
been an occasion for people to visit the house, buy their Mass cards
and arrange for Masses to be offered for their intentions. Briefly in
the early nineties one of the Vocation/Promotion team moved back into
the house and the community then welcomed meetings of the Vocation Group
and a newly formed Justice and Peace Group.
By the late nineties we were, like so many other societies, feeling
the pinch and could no longer keep open two houses in Scotland. It was
decided it was time for all the promotion work to come home and in 1998
the house in Edinburgh was closed and once again Milrig Road became
the centre for our activities in Scotland. Indeed, it is now the only
centre. That year marked the end of a long association with the Archdiocese
of St Andrews and Edinburgh, going back to 1932, where at various times
we had houses in Melrose, St Andrews and St Boswells. That heritage
is not forgotten and on the outside wall of our house we have mounted
the crest of the Society, based on that of Cardinal Lavigerie, that
was once at St Columba's.
Of the nine
members of the present community six are retired but the house is still
a hive of activity, some would say a whirlwind'. From the office
in the attic we maintain a regular contact with a still large number
of benefactors and organise the missionary appeals with help from our
confreres south of the border. We no longer have an active vocation
ministry but remain open to anyone who contacts us and are always ready
to help them in choices and decisions. The Parents and Friends Association
continue to meet here and we attend as many of their fund raising activities
as we can. We can still cut a step on the dance floor and mark a bingo
card! Their efforts each year raise something in the region of £6,000
for our work in Africa. No mean feat indeed.
Each year, usually just after Easter, we celebrate Mass for all our
deceased Scottish White Father and members of the Parents and Friends
Association. This and the buffet afterwards are always well attended.
From time to time the Pelican group meet and we try to encourage them
in their endeavours on behalf of the Society. People come regularly
for daily Mass, only one now, and to visit the Piety Stall. In the past
two years we have been involved in two new initiatives in Scotland for
reunion at Rutherglen, October 1996 (left to right) :
Hugh Campbell, Frank Dillon, Fr Pat Boyd, Eugene MacBride, Jimmy
Johnston, John Morton, the late Fr Dan Sherry,
the late Eddie Mulraney, John Kelly, Mick Creechan (on floor).
Boyd and Sherry taught Jimmy, Eugene, John Morton, Eddie and John Kelly
at St Columba's 1949 - 50).
In the Diocese of Motherwell we are part of the new Missionary Awareness
Agency and nationally we are involved in the Scottish Missionary Forum.
Through these we try to play our part in promoting awareness of mission
at home and abroad and helping to create dialogue and partnership.
In the midst of this we try to grow older gracefully and faithfully.
The house has its quiet moments and we believe that it is an important
part of our mission today to be an oasis of prayer in a troubled and
noisy world. Each week we prepare a Prayer List which is distributed
to our communities throughout the province. This serves as a reminder
to us to pray for the intentions of our friends and benefactors, without
whose friendship and collaboration our missionary work would founder.
Looking back over the last fifty years we realise that we have so much
to be grateful to God for. Our missionary work from this house has made
a contribution to the work of the Society in Africa from both the point
of view of personnel and finances.
Thanks to the cooperation and openness of the local church we have been
part of its missionary growth and are humbled by its generosity and
concern. None of this would have been possible without the wonderful
support of so many lay people; those who work with us in the house;
parents; friends; benefactors; too numerous to mention. We thank you
all and with you look forward to the future with faith and hope.