Catholic Church Kilsyth

Canon Thomas McGarvey
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Canon Thomas McGarveyIn February 1956, Canon McGarvey was appointed to serve as the Parish priest of Kilsyth who, like his predecessor, had been parish priest in the neighboring parish of Bonnybridge.

Very Rev. Thomas Canon McGarvey was born in Uddingston on 1st December, 1896. He received his early education in Broxburn and his secondary education at Blairs in Aberdeen.
Canon Thmas McGarvey as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery
During the First World War he served with the Armed Forces as a gunner in the Royal
He studied for the priesthood in the Scots College, Rome from 1920 to 1926, and was ordained there during his final year in 1925.

His first posting as assistant Priest was to St Patrick's Edinburgh where he served from 1926 to 1930. From there he was transferred to St Anthony's Polmont near Falkirk from 1930 to 1936.

His first appointment as Parish Priest was to St Kenneth's Lochore where he served the whole of the War Years and more from 1936 to 1949. As he did not have a Chalice of his own the poeple of Lochore paid for him to have a second hand one for his presentation which his family then had guilded with gold from melted down family jewlery.

From 1949 to 1956 Canon McGarvey was the Parish Priest of St Joseph's Bonnybridge. His last posting was here to the Parish of St Patrick's Kilsyth where he was Parish Priest from 1956 until his retirement in 1972.

Canon McGarvey was the first native born priest to serve as parish priest in Kilsyth. During the early years of his charge here, Canon McGarvey, in his own unobtrusive way, sought to know his parish and its needs, both spiritual and temporal. He turned his attention to the youth of the parish and saw the need for some established organisation to cater for the development of young people, both boys and girls, in the earlyteenage years. With this in mind he founded the first Fr McGarvey as a young priestCatholic Boy Scout Troop in Kilsyth, and with it the attendant Cubs for the very young boys. At the same time he promoted the Guides and Brownies for girls, and so originated what is still to-day a very worthwhile and rewarding part of Kilsyth social life for the young.

The young men's club, under the expert leadership of his curates, was given a renewed lease of life in the Boys' Club. This club filled a much needed want for this age group, and the activities carried on under its aegis reflected great credit on all who took part.

Since very little had been done to the church since the fire in 1954, it was now looking very dilapidated and the need for a new church was now very evident. Nevertheless a beginning on the new church could not be made until a substantial sum of money could be provided, and so Canon McGarvey set about raising funds for the building. He organised socials on a regional basis so that each district in the parish would play its part in this effort. These were very successful and engendered a spirit of unanimity which has been maintained ever since in all the activities promoted for the raising of funds for the new church.

When Canon McGarvey retired in 1972 a council house was found for him in Johnston Avenue Kilsyth, close by two sisters, Eileen and Lucinda Robinson. Eileen had been sacristan in St Patrick's for many years for Canon McGarvey and knew him very well. The two spinster sisters looked after Canon McGarvie in his retirement and nursed him through his eventual ill health right through to his death on 6th Oct 1987. Shortly before his death and by this time confined to a wheelchair Canon McGarvey was able to celebrate the diamond jubilee of his ordination.

The overarching legacy of Canon McGarvey is that during his time he was able to fund and build the current St Patrick's Church to the design of Gillespie Kidd and Coia which is now a part of Scotland's architectural heritage and which remains a modern looking building 50 years after is construction, providing a magnificent space in which to celebrate Mass.

Some memories of Canon Thomas McGarvey

Canon McGarvey
with Scottish Football Honours
Kearney New Jersey Celtic Supporters Club present Canon McGarvey with a donation
Canon McGarvey receives a donation from the Kearney
Celtic Supporters Club who were on a visit from New Jersey.
Kearney New Jersey Celtic Supporters Club in St Patrick's Halls Kilsyth
Canon McGarvey with members of
Kearney Celtic Supporters
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A House Mass for Canon McGarvey in 1986.

Canon McGarvey and Fr. David Brown
on a trip to Lourdes. Date unknown.
With Miss Alice Kelly and the
Papal Blessing on the 100th
Anniversary of St. Patrick's
The Canon's
Diamond Jubilee
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Local Politicians at St Patrick's
With Local dignitaries - St Patrick's Church was hosting the the 'Kirkin O' the Council' in the old Kilsyth Town Council days.
Painting of Canon McGarvie
Portait by Sr Clement

Canon McGarvey on Pilgrimage to Lourdes in France
On a pilgrimage to Lourdes

Above left Canon McGarvey with local dignitaries. It is 1965 and the picture is of the “Kirkin’ O the Council”of the Burgh of Kilsyth. To the right of Canon McGarvey is ex Provost Robert Callaghan, a Parishioner of St Patrick’s. To the left of Canon McGarvey is Provost Patrick McCann OBE JP another Parishioner. Behind Robert Callaghan is Bobby Meechan the father of Father Alan Meechan and another parishioner of St Patrick’s – Bobby went on later to become Provost himself in the early 1970’s. In the back row in glasses is Alistair D Mathie, Clerk of the Council and founder of Mathie Lennox legal practice which still operates in Kilsyth.

Isobel Hudson and her new husband James Montage with Canon McGarvey after their Wedding in the spring of 1967. Shortly afterwards the Montage's left Kilsyth for a new life in Canada. This was one of the first weddings in the new St Patrick's Church building.
Canon McGarvey at the weeding of Charles Trower and Nan Penman 26th Dec 1964
December 1964, Canon McGarvey presides at the wedding of Charles Trower and Nan Penman in the old St Patrick's hall which was being used at that time as a church between the demolition of the old and construction of the new St Patrick's Church building.

Dinner Dance ticket for Canon McGarvry's Presentation
Invite to The Canon's Golden Jubilee Dinner Dance

Canon McGarvey's Diamond Jubilee Photo Gallery

Canon Mcgarvie concelabrates Mass in the groto at Lourdes (centre)

Canon McGarvey was a frequent visitor to Lourdes and can be seen concelabrating Mass in the groto (centre beneath the statue).

Lourdes 1956 with Canon McGarvey

St Patrick's Kilsyth Trip to Lourdes in 1956 with Canon McGarvey

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Archbishop O'Brien visits Canon McGarvey in Johnstone Avenue in Kilsyth shortly before his death to say Mass with Fr O'Connell.

Archbishop O'Brien visits Canon McGarvey in Johnstone Avenue in Kilsyth in 1986 to say Mass with Fr O'Connell.

Canon McGarvey although he was retired was, above and before anything else, a priest first and foremost. Throuought his retirement years he was always willing to step in to say Mass in St Patrick's or take devotions or benediction if one of the other priests in the Parish had another commitment. Later after he was less mobile, he still said Mass every day in his own home until he was no longer able and was always diligent in reading his Daily Office. Sometimes he would say Daily Office twice - 'just to make up for some other priest somewhere else who was perhaps to busy to do it'. In the end when he could no longer see properly he would ask Eileen or Lucinda to read the Daily Office for him. The photograph above shows a visit from the then Archbishop O'Brien who came to Kilsyth as assistant priest in 1972 - just as the Canon was going into retirement. There was a great bond of respect for the Canon from all the younger priests who met him and saw his example of faith and devotion as well as his deep love for the people of Kilsyth.

The 3 priests, the retired Canon, the Parish Priest and the Archbishop said Mass together for the Canon who was clearly failing and for whom this was probably his last concelabrated Mass.

Canon Thomas McGarvey died on the 6th October 1987 after spending more than 62 years of his life as a priest and a faithful servant of God. May he rest in peace!

Very Rev. Thomas Canon McGarvey – 6th October, 1987.

Canon Thomas McGarvey, retired Parish Priest of St Patrick’s, Kilsyth died in Kilsyth on the 6th October 1987, in the 92nd year of his age and in in the 63rd year of his priesthood. At a Month’s Mind Mass in St Patrick’s on 6th November, the following homily was delivered by the Most Reverend Keith Patrick’s O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

As you know I was abroad over the last few weeks – in El Salvador and the United States of America.

It was with deep sorrow that I heard of the death of Canon Thomas McGarvey. My sorrow was not at the death of a great and good priest and a dear and valued friend – but at the realisation that as Archbishop, I would not be in Kilsyth in person for the Funeral Mass. I rejoiced on my return to Scotland, however, to learn from Canon O’Connell and Father Paul of the funeral ceremonies for the Canon – and of how they had been carried out in such a solemn, dignified and yet loving way in the presence of Bishop Monaghan, Bishop Mone, Monsignor Grady and so many civic and church representatives from Kilsyth and further afield as well as with the assistance of so many of you, the good people of St Patrick’s Kilsyth.

What you were doing one month ago was two-fold:

a) You were looking back over the long and priestly life of Canon McGarvey and thanking God for it. Yes indeed a long and priestly life, the details of which were recorded for you by Monsignor Grady. It was indeed a life of service - initially in the army during the 1914-1918 War; service at seminary in Rome until his ordination in 1925; service as an assistant in St Patrick’s Edinburgh, before service as a Parish Priest in Polmont, Lochore, Bonnybridge and last of all here, in St Patrick’s Kilsyth from 1956 until 1972. It was a life of service but it was also a life of great joy as it soon became known that the Canon was never happier than with the sick in his parishes or on his many pilgrimages to Lourdes.

b) The other thing you were doing one month ago was praying for the happy repose of the soul of the Canon. In a long, varied and pastoral ministry, I am sure the Canon would be only too well aware that at times he may have made mistakes and hurt or offended some people, despite all his efforts to the contrary. I am sure he would ask nothing more of me this evening than that I would ask of you to pray for him at this time.

Yes tonight we are doing much the same as happened one month ago, looking back over the Canon’s life and praying for his soul.

But perhaps we could all do something else; Perhaps we should all be asking God for a share in the graces and blessing which the Canon enjoyed; perhaps we should we should be trying to recapture in our lives something of the joy and the goodness of the Canon which he showed in the practice of his faith; in the exercise of his priestly ministry. Canon McGarvey was an uncomplicated man; there was no identity crisis about him – he knew he was a priest and he knew why he was a priest. He had been ordained a priest on 10th May 1925, to pray, to offer the Holy sacrifice of the Mass and to serve others - which he did to the best of his ability – right up to the moment of his death.

One thing which the Canon did which I am sure not many will do – he spent fifteen years in retirement. I think I can honestly say that those fifteen years were blissfully happy years, thanks to you the people of Kilsyth who did not want to lose him from your midst; thanks to the Priests and Sisters of this Parish who always made him feel welcome and at home; and thanks especially to Eileen and Lucinda, who loved and cared for the Canon devotedly as they had indeed their own father before – they looked for no reward save that of knowing what they were doing for Canon McGarvey was as if it was being done to Jesus Christ himself, the Great High Priest.

Do you know that during the Canon’s fifteen years in retirement, I myself was in two different Parishes; two seminaries and already spent two years as Archbishop – having served three years in Kilsyth, three years in Bathgate, two years in Drygrange and five years in Blairs and now over two years as your Archbishop? I know that many of my brother priests here present, during those fifteen years have had as equally busy and varied ministries. But I would hazard a guess that perhaps the Canon used those fifteen years to greater advantage than any of us – during those fifteen years he did not serve on any committees or commissions, he had no meetings to go to, he was not involved in running around his Parish or Diocese, he did not see the need for any great further study of philosophical or theological text books – but what he did see the need for was the need to grow holy, to become more and more closely united to Jesus Christ and to Our Blessed Lady during his life here on earth. He was an example of prayer to anyone who came to his home, his breviary on one side, his Rosary on the other. Each day of his retirement, right up to the day of his death, he faithfully celebrated the Holy sacrifice of the Mass for which he was ordained. He remembered those in his prayers those who came to him and those who had gone before him; he prayed for the needs of the Parish and for the needs of the Diocese; he prayed for the missions, remembering especially his many friends in the White Fathers and the African Bishop he had befriended, when he was Parish Priest in Lochore, Bishop Budububage.

We are told in Sacred scripture that:
The life and death of each of us has an influence on others”.

I think the life and death of Canon McGarvey has had an influence on me - and I am sure an influence on all those who knew him and loved him. Perhaps the greatest lesson he taught us is that of the simplicity and joy of the life of a Christian, and the lesson that a priestly life well lived must be rooted and founded in prayer, especially the prayer of the Mass, linked with a love and devotion to our Blessed Lady.

May God grant him eternal rest and may perpetual light shine upon him; may he rest in peace.


By kind permission of The Scottish Catholic Directory, 1988 edition, pages 418 - 420.

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Canon McGarvey's Prayer Card and Headstone

Canon McGarvey's prayer card front
Canon McGarvey's Prayer Card back
Canon McGarvey's headstone in Kilsyth cemetry
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An Appreciation of Canon McGarvey

God BlessYou!