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St. Mungo’s Alloa

Of the early Catholic history of Alloa, little is known – historians do not agree upon even the very derivation of the name. The “New Statistical Account of Scotland” Volume XXXV published in 1842 and drawn up by Mr. William Brodie, schoolmaster of Alloa, quotes an eminent Celtic scholar and antiquarian “the late venerable John Coventry Esq. of Devonshaw”, who ascribes its origin to a Gaelic word “Alloigh” meaning “most high virgin” and seems to imply that there once existed a church dedicated to Our Lady in the vicinity which gave its name to the place.

Knowing the great devotion of Scotland in its pre-Reformation times, to Mary, this might well be true, particularly as the Alloa district can boast of at least one known well dedicated to Our Lady in those far off times.

Mary, Queen of Scots showed great liking for Alloa, and saved a poor widow and her children from being put on the street for non-payment of rent. A German traveller, Hartmann, relates in his writings of having witnessed a “miracle” in some poor half naked people coming to Church and begging whereupon they were given coals for which they showed great gratitude, and went on their way rejoicing.

The year 1560 is given by Rev. MacLean Watt, a former parish minister and local historian, as the completion of the Reformation in the Alloa district, but there can be no doubt from contemporary Catholic history, that the Faith lingered on in the area after this date. For obvious reasons, the Catholics after this date would not make themselves conspicuous, and so history from this time onwards is silent as to the affairs and doing of the Catholic community. For the next two hundred years it is to our imagination we must go, to conjure up images of many a priest, secular and religious, ingeniously disguised and carrying his life in his hands, paying flying visits to Alloa to minister to the spiritual needs of the people.

The next reference to Alloa is found in a letter to Bishop Hay (1729-1811) written in 1771. Gordon’s “Scochichronicon” informs us that this letter was written to a friend, Mr Geddes, in Valladolid in which the Bishop, a convert himself, expresses joy in an “approaching convert in the person of Lady Traquir”, and how he is obliged to “take a tour of Stirlingshire, and come about by Alloa, and after that then go on to Traquir”. Again in January 1775, he refers to the necessity of making journeys sometimes to Alloa and sometimes to Glasgow.

Another period of fifty years elapses and it is not until 1840 that we find the Schoolmaster Brodie of Alloa stating in the “Statistical Account of Scotland” published in 1842 “prior to 1838 there were 62 Roman Catholic families consisting of 112 individuals residing in the parish. since that time there are not more than 20 individuals of that denomination remaining”. However, had Mr. Brodie been writing twelve years later, he would have been obliged to record that this modest community of twenty souls had increased to the considerable congregation of between five and six hundred according to the statistics of the “Catholic Directory” for 1852. This was no doubt due to the great influx of Irish into Scotland on account of the great famine of 1846.

During this period Alloa had no resident priest, but was attended from Stirling by Father Paul McLachlan. The mission was served every third Sunday with a public Mass at 9 am said in an upper room in the old town. 

This did not mean that the Vicars Apostolic were unaware of the need for a resident priest for Alloa, for the report of the St. Andrews Society founded in 1850 for establishing new missions in Scotland, records that Bishop James Gillis of the Eastern District of Scotland “after consultation with the clergy (1852) has resolved to send a priest to Alloa and Forfar”. Unfortunately for the people of Alloa, the good bishop was not able to see his resolution immediately achieved due to the scarcity of priests in Scotland and it was not until 1863 that his dream of a resident priest in Alloa became a reality. Nevertheless it was in 1853 that Alloa was first listed in the Catholic Directory for Scotland as a separate mission.

From 1853 Alloa was included in the Provostry of Stirling and depended on the Rev. Paul McLachlan for comforts of religion and he said Mass on occasions in local homes. The Catholics were scattered all over the county of Clackmannan – Alloa, Sauchie, Alva, Menstrie, Tillicoultry, Dollar and Clackmannan, and by 1862 they felt strong enough to take steps to improve their spiritual conditions by attempting to establish a small stable congregation. Meeting were held in different parts of the county, which resulted in Mr. Charles Sharkey and a Mr. Letters being delegated to lay the facts once more before the religious authorities. Fr. McLachlan was approached to obtain his permission to proceed with this good work, as he knew that many walked the seven miles some Sundays from Alloa to Stirling to attend Mass and the sacraments. He readily gave his consent, at the same time warning “not to be too sanguine in their hopes of obtaining a resident priest”. Nothing daunted this little band of Catholics and they went on holding meetings during which the rosary would be recited, and, as preliminary to approaching the Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District, they resolved to gather funds towards the maintenance of the proposed mission. Messrs. James Lee and William Quigley were chosen to be collectors of these “funds”, while Messrs. Michael and Patrick Convray were appointed treasurer and secretary respectively of the “Mission Fund”.

Mr. Charles Sharkey on behalf of the Catholic community, in March 1862 then wrote to Bishop Murdoch of Glasgow, as Bishop Gillis of the Eastern district was absent from the territory through illness. In the letter, he lays before the bishop the distressing plight of the Alloa Catholics, and begs His Lordship to send them a priest. In reply, Bishop Murdoch regretted he could not make any change in a district over which he had no jurisdiction, but the tone of his letter reveals how much he appreciated the position of Alloa and how ready he was to do all he could to help them. He wrote as follows:

Glasgow, 7th March 1862
My Dear Sir,
I have this day received your letter, which I must say does you much credit and proves how much you love and appreciate your Holy Religion. It was natural for you to write to me as you were under the impression that I have, at present, the charge, owing to Dr. Gillis’s ill-health, of the eastern as well as Western District. This however is not the case. I have only to give confirmation when it is wanted in the East and do other duties of that kind during his absence. I have no power to meddle with the management of his district, to make any changes or open new missions. I believe the place is ripe for a priest, and have no doubt you will very soon obtain one, especially as you are working so hard and laudably to prepare for his advent among you. All I can do is advocate your cause when I have an opportunity with Dr. Gillis, and this I will do. As I was at Oakley last year I know something of the state of Alloa. Hoping to hear that your earnest desires will be speedily fulfilled, and beseeching the Almighty to bless you and prosper your doings and efforts in the Holy cause of religion. 
I am, My Dear Sir,
Yours sincerely,

At the same time, Father John McPherson, Vicar General of the Eastern District in the absence of Bishop Gillis, pledged his support to the cause of Alloa, and would not fail to remind the Bishop of his promise to appoint a resident priest to Alloa to administer to the Catholics the consolations of religion of which they had so long been deprived. Owing to the great dearth of priests in the district, it had hitherto been found impossible to do this, but soon he hoped to be able to send a priest who would raise up in Alloa a church to the glory of God in which the people might assist at the celebration of the Mystery of their Faith, and receive the instruction necessary for their eternal welfare. 

Many more letters, pleading in moving language, for the presence of a priest passed between the representatives of the Catholic community and the religious authorities. On 17th April 1863, Mr. Sharkey wrote to Bishop Gillis of “the wolves in sheep’s clothing going about nipping up our young ones and likewise of our young people dying without the rites of the church” and leaving their case in the Bishop’s hands. Their prayers, efforts and patience soon had their reward. In the summer of 1863 the Fathers of the Society of Jesus were appointed to the mission of Galashiels and Bishop Gillis was able to appoint Rev. James Duffy, formerly of the Galashiels mission, to the new mission of Alloa. In a joyous letter to Mr. Sharkey dated 17th August 1863, Father Paul McLachlan of Stirling informs him that Father Duffy would arrive on 23rd August and gives him the charge of finding lodgings for him and a place to say Mass. On 23rd August 1863, Fr. James Duffy arrived amid the joy and gratification of the Catholics of Alloa who saw in him the realisation of all their hopes and prayers. The Mass had returned to stay in Alloa!

At the time of Fr. Duffy’s arrival in Alloa, he was 46 years of age, being born in Newton, Limavady, Co. Derry. In Alloa the new pastor quickly made firm and devoted friends. The first step taken by the congregation was to find suitable accommodation for the priest and a place to celebrate Holy Mass. A house in Tullibody Road, just over the railway bridge was taken for Fr. Duffy, his sister and his niece who acted as housekeeper, and it is of interest to note that in those far-off days this house, comprising two rooms and kitchen, was completely furnished at a cost of £52 13s 10½d! At first Mass was celebrated in the home of Mr. Letters, a member of the congregation, in Meadow Place, since no public building could be had by the Catholics on any consideration as the “Catholic Directory for 1864” sadly remarks Later Mass was said in a grain loft on Union Street, later incorporated into the brewery of Messrs. Younger.

Neither Fr. Duffy nor his successors for six years to come could boast of the comforts normally enjoyed by an established mission. Alloa had neither church, presbytery or school, and the congregation heard Mass in hired, very humble buildings. One of the congregation, a Mr. Robert Cooper, had rented a large loft, which he used as a wool store in Meadows End. This was situated at the foot of Broad Street, and the beginning of the Walk on the site later occupied by John’s Court. Under this loft there was a joiners shop together with a byre of cows and in these surroundings, reminding one very much of the Stable of Bethlehem, Fr. Duffy celebrated Mass for his people from the winter of 1863. The loft was cleaned and whitewashed with pack sheet bags nailed across the rafters. Holes and crevices were filled in to keep draughts out, and when everything had been made as clean and as comfortable as possible, Fr. Duffy officiated there every Sunday with Mass at 11.30am, catechesis at 2pm, and rosary at 6pm and on weekdays at 9am.

The loft was reached by an outside stair, and this primitive chapel, consisting of a mahogany sideboard and several high backed chairs – used as altar and congregational seating – was the pride and joy of the Alloa Catholics for two years. It was recorded by a parishioner of these times that Fr. Duffy was known to hear confessions seated with an umbrella over his head to keep off the drips from the roof, and on occasion Lord Ralph Kerr and Lady Kerr, then recent converts, heard Mass here and afterwards emptied their purse for the support of the struggling mission.

Despite being described as a well-built and fairly tall man, Fr. Duffy never enjoyed good health, and the primitive conditions he had to endure in Alloa caused a breakdown in his health. He was ministering to a community of around 600, who were scattered over an area from the Wallace Monument at Causewayhead, to Low Valleyfield in Fife, and with no real means of transport available in those days, his health began to suffer. Suffering from chronic asthma, Fr. Duffy fell ill with Bright’s disease in the autumn of 1865. His condition gradually worsened and he sadly died on 22nd November 1865. He was buried – in accordance with his dying request – back in his native Co. Derry.

Thus, after two short years, during which they had come to look upon Fr. Duffy as the realisation of their hopes, and prayers, the people of Alloa found themselves bereft of a priest once more. But nothing daunted, the Parish Committee once more sent appeals to Bishop John Strain, now Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District, asking for a successor to Fr. Duffy.  They reminded the bishop, that the holt time of Christmas was drawing near, when all worthy Catholics take spiritual advantage of the birth of Our Lord and Saviour. But once more the answer was the same as 1862. The Bishop fully recognised their difficulties and dangers, but while gratified by their earnestness and devotion, could not at that moment supply their needs. It is to be remembered that we write of the years when there were less than 150 priests in the whole of Scotland. 

Once more the Alloa mission became dependent on Stirling, save for an occasional visit from Fr Peter Grant, the priest in Dunfermline. It was during this period of 1866 that the congregation of the Episcopalian Church of St. John in Clackmannan Road began to plan the erection of a new church in Broad Street, and Fr. Grant immediately wrote to the Earl of Kellie (later the Earl of Mar and Kellie) as representative of the Episcopalian Trustees, to make an offer for the building. After sounding the opinion of the Vestry of the Church, the Earl replied on 1st December 1866 that he would recommend the Vestry to take up the offer of the Catholic authorities. Fr. Paul McLachlan of Stirling, acting on behalf of Bishop Strain, then offered the Episcopalian authorities the sum of £600, which was accepted, but on the condition that the Episcopalian congregation would continue to occupy and use the building until their new church was completed. This would not be for some time as work was not to commence until the Spring of 1867, but the Catholic authorities had no option but to accept. On 9th December 1866, the sale of the church “excluding the organ, reading desk, communion table, carpet, cushions, monuments and vestry furniture” was concluded, but it would not be until 1869 that the Catholic congregation would take possession.

In December 1866, Fr. James Howard, a young priest from Ireland was sent to take charge of the Catholic mission at Alloa. By this time, due to the affable manner of Fr. Duffy, much of the mistrust and suspicion of Catholics had disappeared from the town, and Fr. Howard was able to hire the Assembly Rooms in Bedford Place for purpose of celebrating Sunday Mass. This was a welcome move from the primitive loft of Broad Street and a house for the priest was procured just opposite the rooms. These rooms have since been demolished. 

Fr. Howard’s time in Alloa was only two years, and in that time he was just as devoted to his flock as Fr. Duffy. In 1868, Fr. Howard returned to his native Ireland, and was succeeded by Fr. George Forbes. Of a delicate nature, Fr. Forbes’ stay in Alloa was only for 9 months, but his main task was the opening of a “subscription list” for the double project of paying for the church and building a house for the priest to reside. Sadly, Fr. Forbes died of consumption at the early age of 38 on 17th June 1869, and was buried in Greenside Cemetery. 

Fr. Forbes was succeeded by his nephew, Fr. James Forbes.  He arrived in Alloa in June 1869, and the following September, had great joy at taking possession of the former Episcopalian Church in Clackmannan Road, which had been purchased three years previously, and dedicating it to St. Mungo. For the first time since the Reformation, the Catholics of Alloa had a church they could call their own, and along with their new priest, immediately set about raising funds to furnish their new building. At the time of acquiring the church, the mission owned very little – a chalice, an altar stone, two good sets of vestments, two plain albs, a missal, a small supply of altar linen and no more. An altar was sent from Edinburgh and members of the congregation gave a tabernacle, a small set of Stations of the Cross, a monstrance, a thurible and boat. Shortly afterwards, Fr. Forbes succeeded in purchasing a cope and humeral veil for Benediction, and above all the luxury of a harmonium!

During Fr. Forbes’ time in Alloa he began to collect funds from Dundee, Edinburgh and other places to build a presbytery beside the church in Clackmannan Road. By various means £250 had been collected when the contract for the house was drawn up. Like his predecessors Fr. Forbes’ health began to suffer while serving in Alloa and in May 1871 he was moved to the smaller parish of Chapeltown. He returned to Alloa for the first Confirmation ceremony since the Reformation in October 1871.

With the arrival of Fr. James Donlevy in June 1871, the church could be said to emerge fully from the catacombs of its earlier existence, and take its rightful place in the civic life of Alloa. Fr. Donlevy was appointed to Alloa after his ordination as a priest, and he at once began to raise funds to build a parish school. In 1874, Mr. Calder of the local brewing firm, presented land  to the parish for a school to be built on. The foundation stone was laid on 1st January 1878. This historic day for the Catholic community began with Mass, which was enhanced by the presence of so many children. Fr. Donlevy whose powerful sermons had done much to make Catholicism respected in Alloa, preached on Our Lord, the beginning and end of all things. He spoke of how religious education was a necessary thing if the Law of God was to be kept and Fr. Dunley’s words spoken over 140 years ago, are worth repeating now:

“Negative religion is positive infidelity. Education without religion can never make men honest. With us our school will be in the shadow of the church, as though today’s lesson would be continually repeated. Education and religion must go hand in hand, for religion is but another name for truth. The Church has always been the great instructor of the world. Its mission is to teach all nations, hence where a Catholic church appears it is quickly followed by a school. Thank God, today is a witness of what we have long wished for. My dear children, you will now drink in the rudiments of a solid education seasoned with the maxims of your holy religion. And you, my dear brethren, will soon have the means of educating your children as you wish; of using your right to bring them up in the knowledge of your faith”

St. Mungo’s School was opened just nine months later, with 75 pupils, under the direction of Miss Josephine Donlevy. This was a joyful day for the Catholics of Alloa, but one sad note crept into the rejoicings, the absence of the man who had worked so hard and so long to bring it about – Fr. Donlevy. In March 1878, Pope Leo XIII had re-established the Catholic Hierarchy of Scotland, setting up the various diocese, and Fr. Donlevy had been appointed to the important mission of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, where he was to labour until his death in 1903.

Fr. Donlevy was succeeded as Parish Priest by Fr. Augustine McDermott who was in Alloa for only two years. He in turn was succeeded by Fr. James McGinnis, who re-organised the parish school. He also had the honour of welcoming Bishop George Rigg, the Bishop of Dunkeld, on 12th October 1883. After nine years in Alloa, Fr. McGinnis was appointed to the staff of the Royal Scots College in Valladolid, Spain.

August 1889 saw the arrival of Fr. John O’Neill as Parish Priest. During his time as pastor, the parish took on the stability of life that has continued to the present day. Up to his coming, St. Mungo’s had had a series of pastors who had laboured to weld the scattered area into a unit, but, for various reasons, had not the time to establish and consolidate this parochial unity. This was achieved by Fr. O’Neill, who remained in the parish for 25 years. From his arrival Fr. O’Neill set to work to reduce the financial debt the parish had for both church and school. During his time as pastor, many additions and improvements were made. The church was repainted and the old harmonium which had been in use since Fr. Donlevy’s time was replaced by a grand pipe organ in 1898. Perhaps Fr. O’Neill’s greatest achievement however was the opening of the new  Infant School in February 1898.

It would be no exaggeration to describe Fr. O’Neill as rare among men. He entered into public life in the town with zeal, and his name can be seen on the panel of Presidents of Alloa East End Bowling Green, a position he held for two years.

Towards 1910, a gradual increase in the mining industry in Kincardine and Valleyfield, brought a great number of Catholic miners and their families into the area, most notably from the West of Scotland. At first, these areas were served from Dunfermline, but in 1911, Fr. O’Neill was authorised to open a mission station in Valleyfield, and a year later in Kincardine. The following year, 1913, the diocese established these stations as independent missions, and so was “born” the first daughter parish of Alloa. This gave great joy to Fr. O’Neill and his people, who saw in it, proof of the solidity of church in Alloa. Fr. O’Neill also served Glendevon and the Hillfoots area of the county and this necessitated the presence of a curate in Alloa – Fr. Alphonsus Roche, who served the needs of the outlying areas. The number of Catholics in the little village of Alva soon needed a priest of their own. Mass was said for the first time in Alva by Fr. O’Neill in October 1913. In June the following year, Fr. Roche took up residence in Alva, and so Alloa’s second “spiritual daughter” came into being.

By this time, Fr. O’Neill had moved to Dundee as Parish Priest of The Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Lochee) where he laboured for six years until his death on 25th February 1920.

Fr. O’Neill was succeeded in Alloa in 1914 by Fr. John McDaniel. The first four years of his time were overshadowed by the Great War (WWI), and these were times of sorrow and anxiety for everyone. Fr. McDaniel set about reducing further the financial debt on the church and chapel house. In 1919, a year after the end of the war, their was great joy in the parish as in September of that year, it celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the church.

During the war years, the shipyards of Alloa had been kept busy with orders for the war effort. Workmen from the Clyde had moved to Alloa with their families and consequently the Catholic population had increased. Built to hold 300 people, St. Mungo’s was now proving inadequate for the needs of the parish community. Fr. McDaniel abandoned the planned renovation scheme for the church and undertook the colossal project of building a new St. Mungo’s Church and presbytery. 

The Golden Jubilee of the old church was celebrated on the feast of St. Mungo – 14th January 1919, and with even greater solemnity the following September 23rd. Bishop George Bennett of Aberdeen presided at the Mass and outlined the history of the Alloa mission, paying tribute ot the zeal of the pioneer priests who had been in charge in those early years. He also reminded the congregation of the debt they owed to their forebears who struggled so valiantly for their faith amid so much hardship and poverty. 

In honour of the Golden Jubilee and to raise funds for the new church, a “Grand Bazaar” was held over three days in October 1919, in the Town Hall. This was a great success and raised £2,457 (£130,136.96 in 2021’s money). This money was banked and it was great expectancy that the congregation looked forward to the near future in which they hoped to see the beginnings of a new St. Mungo’s. In 1920, Fr. McDaniel was transferred to Perth, where he was to spend the rest of his priestly ministry. He was made a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter in 1929, and then was the first Scots priest to be honoured as a Domestic Prelate (Monsignor) by Pope Pius XII in 1939. He died in Perth the following year, on 18th March 1940.

In May 1920, Fr. John Roche was appointed to succeed Fr. McDaniel in Alloa. His time in Alloa was far from easy as the Industrial depression hampered further development of the new church. Hope was never abandoned that a new St. Mungo’s would soon rise to grace the upper end of Shillinghill, should that spot be chosen. 

In June 1924, Fr. Roche celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood. He refused to accept any personal gifts, but the congregation, determined to mark the occasion in some way, presented St. Mungo’s with a magnificent set of vestments in cloth of gold, which are still in use to this day.

During this time, the parish school was repainted but it was obvious that other accommodation would soon be needed. By September 1926, there were 260 on the school roll and classes were even held in the church. It was agreed that a new school be built and it was opened on 8th January 1929. A certain regret was felt at having to leave the old church premises that symbolised so much pioneering of the Alloa priests and congregation of the past, but all felt also the challenge of a new school presented a worthy challenge for the years ahead.

With the opening of the new school, Divine Providence decreed that Fr. Roche’s work in Alloa was done, and he moved to the new parish of Ss. Peter and Paul in Dundee. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Fr. Alphonsus Roche from Alva.

A Roman student, Fr. Alphonsus Roche came from a Dundee family that gave four priests to the Church. Fr. Alphonsus came to Alloa as curate to Fr. O’Neill, but as stated earlier, was soon given charge of Alva. On 18th April 1926, his great desire was satisfied when he saw the first church in Scotland dedicated to St. John Vianney – patron saint of priests – blessed and opened by Bishop John Toner.

It was during his time in Alloa, that the final site was decided upon for the new St. Mungo’s. On 17th May 1935, negotiations were successfully concluded for the purchase, at a cost of £1,500, of the large building and ground in Mar Street, known as Mar Street House. No other property could have been more suitable, for, situated as it was in the middle of town, it was an ideal central location for the scattered congregation. With the site secure, the congregation looked forward to a speedy start to the building, but yet again, Divine Providence intervened. On 3rd September 1939, the Second World War began, and this was to delay the realisation of the hopes of the Catholics in Alloa for many years. 

In May 1940, the now Canon Roche was given charge of St. Joseph’s, Dundee. In 1945 he was appointed as Vicar General of the diocese and also made a monsignor. Years of labouring for the Lord took their toll on his health, and Mgr. Roche was called home to God, by a remarkable co-incidence, on the feast of St. John Vianney, the saint to whom he had a lifelong devotion, and in whose honour he had named his first parish in Alva.

The man chosen by the bishop to replace Mgr. Roche was Fr. James Matthews, at the time Parish Priest of Arbroath. The Second World War brought a tremendous disruption to family life and many years of social unrest, which was to largely upset the plans for the new St. Mungo’s. No new buildings could planned due to the scarcity of materials, and the fulfilment of the hopes of Alloa’s Catholics seemed very far off. Even the peace brought about in 1945 brought no glimmer of of the end of being in sight, for with peacetime came the problems of post-war housing and reconstruction.

During these years, Fr. Matthews had not been idle. By careful husbandry and able administration, together with the continued generosity of his parishioners, Fr. Matthews had been augmenting the small fund of £4,000 he had “inherited” from Canon Roche. Parochial events, Easter and Christmas offerings, collections and donations were all being quietly but effectively put to the “New Building and Furnishing Fund”, for the day when government restrictions would be lifted.

After many post-war years, Fr. Matthews, now a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter, began preliminary steps for the new church. By now he had gathered almost £60,000, and after consultation with the diocesan authorities, plans were drawn up in late 1955 for a church in Mar Street, worthy of the high and holy purpose for which it would be put. In autumn 1957, the old buildings on the Mar Street site, whose tenants were now rehoused, were demolished and the foundations dug for the new St. Mungo’s.

During the years 1957-1959, the new church of St. Mungo was rising in its fine central site in Mar Street. It represented the hopes, efforts and patient generosity during some 40 years, of the Catholics in Alloa. The way had been long, the difficulties many, but the end was in sight. Saturday 31st October 1959 was a notable date in the history of the parish. On that morning, the Right Rev. William Andrew Hart, Bishop of Dunkeld, blessed and laid the foundation stone of the new St. Mungo’s.

In his homily in the still windowless church, Bishop Hart explained the meaning of the ceremony and thanked the people for supplying the funds that made the new building possible. He expressed the hope that the beauty of the new church, when finished, might show the deep faith of the people of Alloa.

The great task was soon to be completed and on Tuesday 21st September 1961, Bishop Hart returned to solemnly bless and consecrate for sacred worship the new church building.

The building contractor  was a local firm James Grant and Sons, owned by Mr. R. Grant and the architect was Mr. Friskin from Dundee. The church cost £60,000 and can accommodate 800. The Master of Ceremonies for the consecration and Solemn Mass was Fr. Hugh Campbell, son of Mr. Hugh Campbell, Headmaster of St. Mungo’s School from 1937-1959.

The main entrance to the church faces Mar Street and the twin entrance doors are set back from the street. The porch within is paved in patterned terrazzo tiles. The church is of the basilica type, with side aisles, the main area being about 42 feet wide by 82 feet long. Steel columns are encased in plaster and the whole finish internally is plaster, including the central ceiling and the flat ceiling over the aisles. The sanctuary is of the open type and the effect of the complete line of the ceiling is one of simplicity and spaciousness. 

The altar is a granite slab, nine feet long by four feet wide, supported on stone pillars. The base of the altar is faced with marble lining, it is paneled in Arne Alto and other matching marbles, with golden onyx embellishment. The baldacchino covers the whole area of the altar. It is oak and is carried by four pillars. It is 20 feet in height. Behind the altar, the crucifix is a large oak cross with a distinguished bronze figure. It is the work of S. Scott-Sutherland ARSA, who was from Dundee College of Art. The crucifix was donated by Mr & Mrs Campbell. Prior to being placed in the church it was on display in April 1961 at the Royal Scottish Academy. 

The original tabernacle which was later replaced by the present one had its own interesting history. On his retirement some three years before the completion of the new church, Mr. Thomas Short, an engineer to trade, decided that he would craft by hand, the first tabernacle. The task took two years, during which time, Bishop Hart and Mr. William Friskin, the architect, made several visits of inspection to ensure that it met the required level of security against fire and theft. Of similar design to the current tabernacle, it was made of bronze, the inner walls lined with thirty-nine pieces of shaped and dove-tailed cedar wood. To allow the celebrant ease of access to any sacred vessel, it had a turntable, while for maximum security, there was a unique double-action lock of Mr. Short’s own design.

During the opening Mass, the tabernacle sat on the altar, but not yet permanently fixed thereto. Later that evening Thomas, his brother Henry, John Short and John Clark, remained to install by means of a heavy bolt through a prepared hole in the altar, with locking nuts underneath. As the church doors had been hung but not yet fitted with locks, James Grant, son of Ronald Grant, whose firm built the church, spent the night there, with camp bed and flask!

Thomas Short also made six wrought-iron catafalque candlesticks for use at Requiem Masses and six smaller bronze candlesticks, still in use in St. Bernadette’s, Tullibody. His final contribution was the Christmas Crib, built in “flat-pack” fashion for easy storage, and still in use. 

The Lady Chapel has a plaster vaulted ceiling and three arched stained-glass windows by Glasgow artist Sadie McLellan. They were done in the Dalles de Verre medium where the glass is cast in mould, producing slabs of glass one inch thick. The technique was developed in France in the 1930’s. The windows depict Our Lady of Sorrows, and some of the symbolic titles of Our Lady, like The Tower of David, Mystical Rose, Morning Star.


The Stations of the Cross were designed by Mr. Walter Pritchard and are mosaics in Venetian glass set in concrete.


St. Serf’s, High Valleyfield

The spiritual care of Catholics in this area reaches back to 1847, when a temporary chapel was fitted out in Culross during August of that year. On 5th September 1847, the first Mass since the destruction of Culross Abbey was celebrated in the town. The area was served from Dunfermline until 1850 and although there is no mention of the chapel in the Catholic Directory for Scotland it indicates that the needs of Catholics in the area were served from Dunfermline and Oakley.

This remained the case until 1878, when the area became part of the restored Diocese of Dunkeld and the area was served by the clergy from St. Mungo’s in Alloa. On Sunday 8th May 1910, Father John O’Neill, Parish Priest of St. Mungo’s, celebrated Mass in Low Valleyfield for the growing mining community. On the same day he also celebrated Mass at Longannet for these working in the local quarries.

In 1911 it was decided that a proper Mass centre should be established in High Valleyfield, with a similar place of worship being established in Kincardine the following year. These centres were served from Alloa until August 1913, when Father John Kilcullen was appointed to the newly established mission of St. Serf’s in High Valleyfield. At first, he resided in Culross, where he celebrated Mass. Later a room was rented in a local lodging house.

The growing number of Catholics coming to the area due to the development of the coal mines in the locality resulted in the recognition that a more suitable building was needed, and so work began on a new chapel-school. This was opened by Bishop John Toner on Sunday 8th November 1914, on the vacant piece of ground that is now situated between the church hall and the bottom road. It was built to accommodate 130 children.

In the Dunkeld Catholic Directory 1915 it reads, “The new church of St. Serf’s was opened on Sunday 8th November by Bishop Toner. Fr. Kilcullen was the celebrant at the Mass and was accompanied by Canon Dowling as deacon and Fr. John McDaniel as sub-deacon. Bishop Toner presided and preached on the occasion. In the evening he gave Pontifical Benediction, Canon Turner preaching.”

Fr. Kilcullen continued as Parish Priest until 1920 when he was appointed to St. Mary’s Lochee in Dundee and was succeeded by Fr. Anthony Sweeney.

The present Church-School served as the church until 1922, when the present building was opened by Bishop Toner with a Solemn High Mass on Sunday 23rd April. The bishop was assisted by Very Rev. Dr. Forbes from St. Peter’s College, Bearsden. Fr. Carrigan was deacon and Fr. Murphy of Cowdenbeath served as sub-deacon. Canon Michael Lavelle was Master of Ceremonies and Canon John Malcolm and Canon Doherty were deacons at the throne.

The Stations of the Cross which decorate the church were installed by Fr. Sweeney who purchased them in Rome. In 1929, Fr. Sweeney retired from active ministry due to illness and was succeeded by Fr. Michael Fahy, who would become the longest serving parish priest of St. Serf’s. During his time, parish groups and confraternities continued and he established the SVDP and Children of Mary in 1932.

The Silver Jubilee of the parish was celebrated on 2nd October 1938, and Mgr. John Provost Turner preached the sermon at the Mass of Thanksgiving.

The year 1939 not only marked the outbreak of World War Two, but it also saw the dangers of working in the coal mines. In October of that year, 35 men lost their lives in the Valleyfield Pit Disaster, five of whom were Catholics: W. Devine, M. Murray, J. McFadyen, M. Tinney and H. Toal. The Dunkeld Catholic Directory, records the fact that Bishop James Maguire, Coadjutor Bishop of Dunkeld, attended two of the funerals that took place in the church. He also conducted the service at the graveside on both occasions. The effects of this disaster continue to be remembered in the village and parish to this day, with Mass offered on the anniversary of the event for the repose of the souls of those who died.

The grave of Canon Fahy in Culross Cemetery

On 29th June 1940, the parish celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the priestly ordination of their parish priest, Fr. Fahy. He was honoured by the bishop, by being elevated to the Cathedral Chapter of Canons, and was installed on 17th October 1940. Canon Fahy continued as parish priest until his death on 19th June 1946 after a short illness. His Requiem Mass was celebrated in St. Serf’s by Bishop James Donald Scanlan, Coadjutor Bishop of Dunkeld. Canon Fahy was buried in Culross cemetery, where an impressive monument was erected in his memory in 1941.


13th September 1947, saw the celebration of the first Mass in Blairhall by Bishop Scanlan. He was assisted by Fr. Michael Foylan, who had succeeded Canon Fahy as parish priest. The Mass was celebrated in the Miners’ Welfare Institute in the village. Fr. Foylan remained at St. Serf’s until 1949, when he was appointed as administrator of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee. He was succeeded by Fr. John Page, who was assisted by Fr. Jeremiah Higgins from 1949-1950.

Between Fr. Page’s appointment as parish priest of St. Serf’s in 1949 and 1963, four other priests served as parish priest: Fr. Patrick Donagher (1952-1961); Fr. Adrian J. Kelly (1961-1962); Fr. Darby Melloy (1962-1971) and Fr. Francis J. McDermott (1971-1976). During this time six priests served as curates in the parish: Fr. Peter J. McKearney (1951-1956); Fr. George Leitchman (1956-1957); Fr. Louis Kinnane (1957-1958); Fr. Anthony McCarthy (1958-1962); Fr. David Ward (1962-1968); Fr. Denis McKenna (1968-1974).

On 13th August 1963, the parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop William Andrew Hart. He was joined by many of the former priests of the parish, and Fr. Creech preached the sermon. The Jubilee celebrations also saw the redecoration of the church and an addition of a wing to the presbytery. Two years later on 25th March 1965, the parish priest, Fr. Darby Melloy was installed as a member of the Cathedral Chapter of Canons.

The Diamond Jubilee of the parish saw two bishops, one of them a former parish priest attend the celebrations. On Friday 28th September 1973, a Mass was celebrated by Bishop Hart, who was joined by Bishop Michael Foylan of Aberdeen, who had served in St. Serf’s as parish priest. The two bishops were joined by two other surviving parish priests – Canon Darby Melloy and Canon John Page and the present parish priest, Fr. Francis McDermott. The church had been specially redecorated for the jubilee. 

The local accordion band led the congregation from the church in procession down to the Valleyfield Miners’ Institute for a dinner and dance. It was a voluntary gesture on the part of the band. Over 160 parishioners and guests attended the function, at which the local county councillor, Mr. Arthur Daly presided. The speakers included the two bishops and Mr. Daly.

The Holy Year of 1983 saw St. Serf’s designated as a special Holy Year Church, where the Holy Year Jubilee Indulgence could be obtained. 

Three sons of the parish have been ordained priests – Fr. Martin Drysdale was ordained by Bishop Hart on 5th July 1975; Fr. Thomas Shields was ordained by Bishop Vincent Logan on 3rd July 1989 and Fr. Martin McWilliams was ordained by Bishop Logan on 24th June 1996.

Between 1973 and 2021 ten parish priests have served St. Serf’s: Fr. Francis McDermott (1971-1976); Fr. Charles Hendry (1976-1982); Fr. Hugh Sreenan (1982-1988); Canon John Robertson (1988-1995); Fr. Brian McLean (1996-2004); Fr. Steven Mulholland (2004-2005); Fr. Michael Milton (2005-2011); Mgr John Canon Harty (2011-2021); Fr. Michael Carrie (2021 – to date). Four priests served as curates during this time: Fr. David Ward (1962-1968); Fr. Denis McKenna (1968-1974); Fr. Martin Pletts (2005-2007); Fr. Mike Freyne MHM (2007-2008).


Our Parish Priest –

Father Michael Carrie

Father Michael is a native of Dundee, where he was born on 25th July 1975. His home parish is St. Clement’s, where he was baptised, received his First Holy Communion and was confirmed. He attended St. Clement’s Primary and Lawside RC Academy before applying for seminary, as he had felt a call to diocesan priesthood from a young age. Bishop Logan thought it wise however that he went to university first, so Fr. Michael attended La Sainte Union College of Higher Education in Southampton. He studied here for three years graduating in 1997 with a BA (Hons) in History and Geography.

Upon returning from Southampton, Fr. Michael applied for seminary a second time, and this time was accepted for the Diocese of Dunkeld. He began his seminary studies at the then National Seminary – Scotus College in Bearsden and completed four years of studies before taking some time out. For the next 7 years he worked in Community Pharmacy, while continuing to attend and help out at the his home parish of St. Clement’s. The call to priesthood was still there, however, so he contacted Bishop Logan again to ask to return to complete his seminary studies. This time he was sent to Rome and attended the Pontifical Scots College while studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). Here he completed his theology degree and a Masters. He returned to Scotland in 2013 and was ordained a deacon by Bishop Logan on 4th July in St. Andrews’ Cathedral, Dundee. He ministered as a deacon in Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Lochee) Dundee and St. John’s, Perth.

On the feast of St. Columba, 9th June 2014, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stephen Robson in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee. He served as a curate in St. Mary’s Lochee from 2014-2015, before becoming curate in the Coastal Cluster of Parishes (St. Thomas of Canterbury, Arbroath; St. Anne’s, Carnoustie and St. Bride’s, Monifieth). After two years as a curate, Bishop Stephen asked Fr Michael to become administrator of the cluster. In 2018 he was appointed Parish Priest of St. Mary, Our Lady of Victories and St. Patrick’s in Dundee (two of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the city). A year later he was also appointed chaplain to St. John’s High School. Fr Michael has also served as Vocations Director and is currently the Diocesan Archivist.

In February 2021, Bishop Stephen appointed Fr. Michael as Parish Priest of St. Mungo’s and St. Serf’s in succession to the late Mgr. John Harty (RIP).

Previous Parish Priests of St. Mungo’s

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