Fr Charles Barclay was born in London in 1938.
He was educated at Blairs Junior Seminary in Aberdeen and
at Drygrange. He was ordained a Priest in Edinburgh in 1961
for St Andrew's and Edinburgh Archdiocese. His first appointment
was as assistant Priest at St Mary's in Stirling from 1962
to 1964. His next posting was at St John Vianney's in Edinburgh
for 5 years from 1964 to 1969.
At this point Fr Barclay went to Eire to work
in the Catechetical Centre in Dundalk for a year and upon
returning to Scotland in 1970 became Professor at Drygrange
Seminary for 8 years until 1978. He returned to parish work
at St Andrew's Livingston in 1978 where he stayed until 1984.
His last parish posting before a spell on foreign missions
was to St Marie's in Kirkcaldy from 1984 to 1988.
Fr Barclay then went on foreign missionary work
to South America, most notably Brazil, where he stayed until
his return to Scotland in 1990. It was then that he came to
Kilsyth shortly after the sudden death of Fr
Bernard Doonan who had been the previous Parish Priest
of St Patrick's. Working with assistant Priest Fr
Steve Gilhooley, who himself had only recently arrived
in Kilsyth shortly before Fr Doonan's sudden death, Fr Barclay
became the Parish Administrator until a new permanent Parish
Priest could be found. In January 1991 Fr
Gerry Hand was appointed the new PP of St Patrick's and
after a short period of overlap Fr Barclay was then appointed
as the Parish Priest of St John the Baptist at Corstorphine
Fr Barclay died in 2001 at the age of 63 after
spending 40 years as a priest.
Rev. Charlie Barclay - 1st March 2001.
Father Charles Barclay parish priest of St John the Baptist’s,
Corstorphine, Edinburgh died on the 1st March 2001 in the
63rd year of his life and the 40th of his priesthood. At the
Funeral Mass in St John’s on Wednesday the 7th March,
the following homily was delivered by Fr Michael Fallon, parish
priest of St Michael’s Gracemount, Edinburgh.
‘I suspect that many of you are sitting, wondering ‘How
is he ever going to manage this?’ How can you reduce
Charlie’s life to a presentation that takes ten minutes???
Well you can relax because I don’t feel restricted to
Charlie, it may surprise you, was born in London on the 31st
July 1938. He was the first of eight children born to Mary
McDermott and Charles Barclay. The family moved back to Fauldhouse
and it was there that Charlie was raised. When he finished
his education at St John the Baptist’s School in Fauldhouse
he went off to Blairs to begin his secondary Education in
preparation for the priesthood. He went from there to St Andrew’s
College Drygrange where he studied Philosophy and Theology.
He was ordained in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh by
the then Archbishop Gordon Joseph Gray on the 18th March 1961.
He was appointed to St Mary’s in Stirling where he spent
a couple of years learning his trade. Friendships dating from
that time still thrive. Then came an appointment to St John
Vianney’s in Gilmerton, where he spent over 5 years.
This was a very formative time for Charlie as well as being
a period of gestation. He developed an interest in and a liking
for Catechetics. He was a natural and gifted communicator.
He collaborated and worked with the then Margo Gorman, now
Donaghue, who taught in the school there. It was in St John
Vianney’s Parish that he also pioneered the whole parish
mission concept that was to provide the basis of pastoral
formation for a generation of future priests in seminary.
In 1969 Cardinal Gray asked Charlie to go the Mount Oliver
Institute in Dundalk to study Catechetics. After graduating
from there he was appointed to the staff of St Andrew’s
College Drygrange as Spiritual Director and Director of Pastoral
Formation also lecturing in Catechetics and Liturgy. As Spiritual
Director he was preceded by Jock Dalrymple and succeeded by
In 1979 Charlie was appointed to succeed Fr John F. Byrne
in St Andrew’s Livingston, where he developed the Team
Ministry approach to pastoral work. He was committed to the
ecumenical dimension of ministry in the New Town and was whole
hearted in promoting shared faith experiences. Ecumenism has
always been close to the heart of his work and it is pleasing
to see so many of the fraternal of Ministers here this afternoon.
He was in Livingston until 1984 when he was appointed to succeed
Gus Neilson at St Marie’s in Kirkcaldy. He was to have
been joined there by his long term dear friend and mentor
Jock Dalrymple but sadly he died of a sudden heart attack
and although his belongings arrived there, in fact he didn’t.
That was a hard blow for Charlie. In Kirkcaldy he used the
huge baronial parish house to full effect by opening it up
to the parish.
The house was always busy; people were always around even
just to drink coffee and chat. It became a haven for the young
people. With his flair for order and organisation he structured
the parish and set up working groups to administer the affairs
of the parish. He empowered the people to take control of
their parish, always reminding them that he would move on;
and that the parish belonged to them.
He established the R.C.I.A. – and how! The first year
there were 22 candidates and the parishioners filled two double
deckers for the Rite of Election at the Cathedral. He spent
a lot of energy building up standards of excellence in the
celebration of the Liturgy. And then he turned his mind to
making the house of God a worthy place for liturgical celebration
by implementing the Liturgical Decrees of the Second Vatican
Council. He used all the existing materials in the church,
wood and stone, to re-order the church and re-create more
suitable and fitting church furniture.
And there came a point in 1988 when he could have sat back
a bit and relaxed. Because make no mistake - he had a model
parish. The place was really alive. He had every right to
enjoy the fruit of his years of planting. But that was never
Charlie. There were new experiences and further challenges
and different need that he felt drawn to respond to.
In 1988 he volunteered to go to Brazil with the Kiltegan Fathers.
On his 50th birthday, he had his farewell party in the Town
Hall in Kirckcaldy and off he went to take on a very difficult
language; a totally new culture; giving up home comforts –
I expect many of you will remember his letter home describing
how he had to sweep out frogs, lying inches deep, in the house
he went to live in….
On his return home he served for a couple of months at St
Patrick’s Kilsyth. And then he came here to St John
the Baptist’s in Corstorphine. And what do you know…….
Didn’t that description of his earlier work in Kirkcaldy
ring bells for you here? He started all over again. The excellence
of the Liturgy; the beauty and peace of the Oratory; the splendour
of this re-ordered worship space; it speaks volumes. I remember
a lady in the parish who’s in her nineties saying to
me ‘You know he upset a lot of people when he changed
things; but now we know what he did was right. Now we understand.’
I want to send out a signal here. I know that the Archbishop
won’t hear these words. If he does, I might get the
sack! This is YOUR parish. Charlie helped you to define priorities;
he encouraged you to take ownership of the decision-making
processes that sustain and nourish parish life. If you allow
anyone to take that from you, then his work here will have
been in vain.
Priests don’t grow on trees….. Priests come from
families, families like yours. Charlie comes from an extraordinary
family; and not just his immediate siblings and their offspring.
‘The Cousins’ was a phrase I heard him use often.
The extended Barclay and McDermott families in Fauldhouse
and in so many locations throughout the world have been such
a huge influence on and support to Charlie since the day he
first went to Blairs. You took collective responsibility for
him. Your generosity astonished him. He couldn’t believe
his luck to belong to such good people who were so kind, generous
and supportive. As a Church we acknowledge that and we thank
And then there’s the sisters. The Archbishop has already
spoken of their generosity. Well, I will ask one question,
make no plea and rest my case. What man do you know or have
ever heard about, has four women who would travel 6000 miles,
leaving family house and jobs to indulge this man.
Ellen, Mary, Ann and Kathleen. You are the ‘bees’
knees!’ Charlie was so astonished that you would think
he was worth the effort. He loved you, every one of you; he
thought you were so special; such a grace. He was so proud
of you and you children and grandchildren. And if you think
I am labouring the point, it is for good purpose. Perhaps
the greatest grace to emerge from this whole tragic illness
is that Charlie, perhaps for the first time in his whole life,
knew beyond any doubt, that he was so loved and cherished
and held in such high esteem. He couldn’t believe that
so many people took the time to think to phone or to send
a card or hand in flowers or send in food. Maybe there is
a lesson for us all there. Perhaps we should try to become
more aware of the necessity of ensuring that the people around
us at home, in the parish or at work know that they are held
in high esteem and are loved and cherished. And they won’t
know unless we show them.
Charlie’s family all emigrated to sunnier climes. All
of his sisters live in Vancouver. He had many, many happy
holidays over in Canada, not least the memorable camping expeditions
he had with Ann, Frank and their family.
In the absence of his family here, he was blessed with deep
friendship from so many people. But there were three families
that were truly special to him. He was blessed with adopted
status in the Munroe family; he was also adopted and enjoyed
the company of the Burt family from Shotts; Eileen and her
children, and her father Peter and his family. And he also
enjoyed the friendship of the Rodgers family; Isabella and
David and most of all young Hannah who gave him such great
He had a breadth of hobbies and interest; he would try anything,
some things only the once. But over the years, bridge, astronomy,
badminton, table tennis, the rowing machine, gardening and
of course Celtic – were his great interest and pastimes.
Whatever he took up, it was always with serious intent. He
couldn’t not be wholehearted.
Charlie was in charge of security at Murrayfield for the Papal
visit. He met the Pope there. He also met Mother Theresa.
She came to tea in the parish house in Livingston when she
opened her house there for her sisters. You would wonder which
of these encounters he would consider to be number one. The
matter became academic when on the 30th December last year
he had a visit from Martin O’Neil, the Celtic Manager.
He popped in on his way home to wish Charlie well for 5 minutes
– he stayed for an hour and a half. Charlie was really
quite unwell at that time but he excelled himself and revelled
in the chat. The visit gave him such a great lift. Those who
love Charlie will be ever grateful to Martin for being so
And if I may just say, I will be eternally grateful to you
Keith for allowing me the opportunity to work with Charlie
in Kirkcaldy. We worked well together. We had two and a half
years together and it was fun; and dare I say very productive.
I also want to thank you publicly for the many calls you made
on Charlie in the hospital and here at home. He really enjoyed
your visits and the pastoral care, spiritual support and friendship
Charlie took and active role in Scottish Marriage Care, was
a member of the National and Diocesan Liturgy Commission,
He represented the Church on the Fife Regional Council Educational
Committee. He was Chaplin to Queen Margaret University College.
He also served for three years recently as the Archbishop’s
close collaborator and advisor as Diocesan Pastoral Director.
He regularly attended Living Theology Courses. He loved going
to Theological, Liturgy and music conferences; he got great
stimulation in the exchange of ideas with people from various
parts of the world.
He had a thirst for knowledge, a razor sharp intellect, iron
self-discipline and all this combined with an absolute love
of the finer things in life. He recently recounted to story
from Jewish legend ‘On judgement day the question God
will ask of us is simply “Did you enjoy my creation?”
and he said “My answer will be a resounding yes
– I did enjoy your creation!’
He truly did enjoy the good things in life. He wasn’t
afraid to indulge himself. He made friends easily and kept
them long. His mailing list is astonishing, touching every
He credited his parents for giving his principles and values
based on sound socialist philosophy. He had a hunger for justice
and spoke out in a forthright manner whenever he saw injustice.
Like many priests I was challenged by Charlie. He was always
aiming at excellence, especially in the celebration of the
Liturgy. His example of always trying to reach and maintain
high standards helped encourage others to do the same. Innovation
exhilarated Charlie. He had a thirst for the new – balanced
by a respect and love for the old. He used to tease people
by saying ‘Constant change is here to stay!’
One of his greatest gifts was that he gave people permission
to fail. He had this unconditional acceptance of where a person
was at in their life. He never confused the sin with the sinner.
It’s always OK to be you. He was unassuming, wise, tolerant
and totally accepting; a valued and trusted counsellor; a
man of immense compassion; he had an astonishing breadth of
social contacts and friendships. It really amused him to think
that if he put all of his friends together in one place there
would not be – shall we say – total harmony.
Everything that has happened since his death was scripted
by the man himself. He left very detailed instructions on
everything. There is one final duty to discharge. He asked
forgiveness and pardon from anyone he has hurt or anyone who
feels short changed. In particular he asks pardon from anyone
who no longer walks the faith journey in this community because
of him. To balance that I would have to say that over the
past months I have heard a few people say that they have stopped
coming to St John’s because they couldn’t handle
the pace of change. They shopped around other parishes but
found themselves returning here. As one man said ‘You
might not agree with everything he does but the celebration
of the Liturgy has quality and dignity.’
Fifteen years ago I preached at Charlie’s silver jubilee
Mass. I left the last words to Karl Rahner whose description
of Tomorrows Priest has been such an inspiration to so many.
These are the words:
‘Tomorrow’s priest will be a man able to listen,
to whom every individual matters, even though he be of no
social or political importance; a man in whom one can confide;
a man who practices the holy folly, or tries to, of bearing
not only his own burden but also the next man’s; a man
who, though he had the wherewithal and is no weakling, does
not join in the desperate, neurotic pursuit of money or enjoyment
and other painkillers for the dreadful disappointment of existence,
but proves by his life that voluntary self-sacrifice out of
love of the Crucified is possible and liberating.’
I added that then to become the priest of tomorrow he would
need our encouragement and prayers.
With the benefit of hindsight now I realise that I was wrong.
Charlie was trained in a pre-conciliar Church to serve in
a pre-conciliar Church. Even as he was being ordained the
goalposts were being shifted. With the Second Vatican Council
in session, the Church was changing fast. He managed to take
all the changes on board, he managed to understand them and
implement them better than anyone I know. I now realise that
is because Charlie always was the priest of tomorrow!
I join with you in giving thanks to God for the gift his life
has been to so many, conscious that there are people on every
continent who share our deep loss. Eternal rest grant unto
him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he
rest in peace.’
By kind permission of The Scottish Catholic Directory,
2002 edition, pages 488 – 493.