ANNIVERSARY OF PARISH
CENTENARY OF CHURCH OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION BATHGATE
HOMILY PREACHED BY
KEITH PATRICK O’BRIEN
occasion like this there is the opportunity for the preacher to give
some account of the history of the parish and the church where he is
leading the celebrations.
The first date in
the history of this parish and church to which I refer is 1988 just some
twenty years ago and it refers to a celebration in which I myself took
part as an assistant priest here in Bathgate, the solemn dedication of
But going back
further it was in 1858 that Bathgate became a parish; in 1878 the
hierarchy was re-established in Scotland; in 1888 there was a major
restoration of the old church on this present site; in 1908 the church
itself was built and consequently we are now celebrating the centenary
of that event; in 1958 the
centenary of the parish was celebrated; and the solemn dedication of the
church itself took place in the Marian Year of 1988 – 100 years after
the major restoration of the old church.
a magnificent roll call of some of the history of this parish and church
– but rather than concentrating on the history of events which took
place in the past I would much rather concentrate on the history of the
people of this area.
are given something of the early beginnings of the Catholic community
here in Bathgate in the “statistical account” of 1843 when the Reverend
Samuel Martin returned only three families within the parish as
professing the Catholic faith for whom Falkirk was the nearest church.
However we are told that with the construction of the Edinburgh and
Bathgate railway a large number of the Irish Catholic workmen employed
made Bathgate their permanent residence and it became the duty of the
priest to visit the town once a month to minister to the spiritual needs
of the community. At that time there was a great deal of religious
intolerance so that officiating priests often had to be smuggled into
and out of the town to escape personal violence – and it was only with
the establishment of a mission in Linlithgow toward the close of 1854
that the resident priests could give Bathgate weekly Mass. Then,
following on the amalgamation of the worshippers of the two united
Presbyterian churches in 1855 that the Catholic community was able to
acquire the former United Presbyterian Church in Livery Street with the
first resident priest being Father Andrew Smith, brother of Archbishop
Smith of our own Archdiocese, who succeeded in building up a large
congregation which included the people of Broxburn, West Calder,
Fauldhouse and West Craigs.
Joseph Hannan was appointed to Bathgate in 1893 and the credit is given
to him for establishing a custom built Catholic church in Bathgate.
McDaniel was appointed to Bathgate in 1900 and the foundation stone of
the new church in Bathgate was laid on
by the then archbishop, Archbishop Andrew Smith with the church being
The church, built to accommodate 800 people, was packed to overflowing
on the occasion with representatives of other churches in the town being
present together with many local dignitaries.
indicated in my opening remarks that this anniversary is not just about
dates and buildings – however important they are. Our celebration is
about people – the priests and the people of Bathgate who before and
after the restoration of the hierarchy in our country ensured that they
themselves and their children were indeed a people of faith; that they
were a people who were strong in the defence of their faith having
outstanding leaders; and that they were prepared to build up their
church in Bathgate not just as a building but as that same people of
OF THE CHURCH IN BATHGATE:
1908 down to this present time some one hundred years later the church
in Bathgate initially grew very considerably numerically.
building of the church itself was improved in various ways: The altar
erected to the Sacred Heart, now the Baptistery, was built. The former
Winter Chapel was reconstructed as a Chapel dedicated to our Blessed
Lady to commemorate the Marian Year of 1954; it was later slightly
adapted to become the magnificent “Day Chapel” which it is at the
present time by your present parish priest Monsignor Lawson. And in 1958
the High Altar was adapted to comply with the requirements of the
Church’s liturgy as expected by the teachings of the Second Vatican
Council. And all this was followed by the solemn dedication of the
church in the Marian Year of 1988 with the celebrations led by a son of
the parish, the much loved Bishop James Monaghan, Auxiliary Bishop of
the Archdiocese, assisted by Bishop Logan, the Bishop of Dunkeld and
also a native of Bathgate, along with myself and the late Cardinal
Gordon Gray, who presided over the celebrations.
enjoyed a very wonderful three years here in Bathgate between 1975 and
1978 with the parish priest being the late Father James Bernard Walsh.
Considerable reordering of the church had to continue at this time to
comply with the adaptations required in liturgy by the Second Vatican
Council. Father Walsh bravely undertook the work in hand ensuring also
that the old parish house was replaced by a new and spacious presbytery
which I myself enjoyed.
stonework in the church towers was also repaired and unbreakable glass
fitted to the windows on the presbytery side of the church. Coming to
even more recent times the old parish hall badly required replacement
and this work was completed in 1998 with a new hall being formally
opened by myself on
in brief summary in this history of the growth of the parish here in
Bathgate we have seen much work accomplished with regard to the
buildings of the parish – but at the same time the greater emphasis in
the parish on those three characteristics which I pointed out as being
evident in the early beginnings of the parish. The three characteristics
were that the people were indeed a people of faith; they continued to be
strong in the defence of their faith with outstanding
leaders; and they built up the church – but this time not so much
as buildings but rather as the “people of God” in this area of our
Archdiocese, in this part of Scotland.
might say that during these growth years over the past one hundred
years, the people have needed to have had an ever stronger faith.
Attacks were made on their faith – not so much from the members of other
Christian denominations but rather more insidious attacks by the secular
society in which the people were then living. Even more than ever before
the Church needed outstanding leaders – and they were produced as
bishops and priests appealed to the people of the parish to take up
their rightful place both within the Church and within society.
new people of faith, strong in their defence of that faith handed on to
them were required to build up the Church following on the Second
Vatican Council not just as buildings but as a people who were to live
with their faith and determined not only to survive in the face of
ongoing conflicts but to hand on their faith through their living
OF THE PARISH
might rightly say that the parish of Bathgate and the Church of the
Immaculate Conception have indeed changed considerably in the past 150
years and 100 years.
has indeed been a growth and then a decline. A growth was experienced
with the increased numbers in the community to take part in the
coalmining industry and the establishment of car factories in the area –
but there is now no longer any coalmining or car industry in this area.
Bathgate became a statistic near the top of the list of high
unemployment areas in the country.
the parish of St Columba’s Boghall which came into being in 1977 under
the leadership of Father Liam Healy was closed and recombined with the
Mother Parish. Further the
Academy had to be combined with a new Catholic secondary school being
established in nearby
And matching the decrease in the Catholic community of the parish there
was also a decrease in the number of young men putting themselves
forward as priests for the diocese and for the country. The religious
Holy Rosary Sisters who came to Bathgate in 1973 had to withdraw from
their parish work in the area in 2007.
as the priests and people of this parish adapted in the earlier years of
the parish’s historic growth so they have adapted again as they realised
there was an awareness of the call to them to greater action in the face
of diminished numbers.
A very active
parish pastoral council cooperates with your present parish priest,
himself a son of the parish, Monsignor Alistair Lawson. Central to the
ongoing apostolate of the parish there is also a flourishing parish
finance committee. And a
great variety of works is undertaken to build up the faith of the people
within St Mary’s Primary School nearby at whose golden jubilee in its
present location I recently assisted.
been developed over the years with readers at Mass, cantors leading
choir and people in liturgical celebrations and Eucharistic ministers
bringing Holy Communion to the sick and the housebound as well as
assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion at
The work of the
parishes within each deanery has been coordinated by deanery pastoral
councils and the membership of these in turn have formed the
Archdiocesan Pastoral Council presided over by myself as Archbishop.
One might say that
the fruits of the Second Vatican Council are seen in a very practical
way in the Parish of St Mary’s Bathgate – with all of the apostolate
being centred on the liturgical life of the parish in this beautiful
church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Lady.
As Archbishop when
I speak now of going forward together into the future I am not just
speaking of myself as Leader and Chief Teacher in the Archdiocese. I am
rather speaking of myself along with my brother priests and your
yourselves as collaborators in the faith going forward into a future in
which we are called upon to live and practice our faith in a different
way, a way unknown and unthought-of of by those wonderful people who
established this parish and built this church 150 and 100 years ago.
Those people set
the tone for the parish at this present time. We are required to have
something of the same characteristics as them. We are still called upon
to be that people of faith; we are called upon to be strong in the
defence of our faith with outstanding leaders; and we are called upon
now to build up our Church not only having suitable care of its
buildings but to built it up with and for one another in the smaller
communities within this large parish and reaching our to neighbouring
communities for which we must have pastoral consideration and care.
were required of old to make Bathgate the parish and church which it is
now. Similar valiant people are required of us at this present time to
continue this process so that this parish and church here in Bathgate
will not only continue to survive but will rather thrive and grow in the
years which lie ahead.
May God indeed
bless you all on this 150th anniversary of your Parish; and
may he strengthen your faith through the ways in which you continue to
use your magnificent parish church dedicated to the Immaculate
Conception and the other buildings built to ensure the living of your
faith and the handing on of the faith at this present time and into the