Catholic Church Kilsyth

The Society of Saint Vincent De Paul in St Patrick's Kilsyth

History of the Society in Kilsyth - How to Join - History of the Society in the Archdiocese - How to Help Us - Biography of St Vincent De Paul - Litany of Loretto

History of the SVDP in the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh


St Patrick’s Kilsyth was amongst the earliest parishes in Scotland to have a local Conference of The Society of St Vincent de Paul – perhaps in recognition of the poverty amongst the local people of the town in need of charitable assistance. This local conference of the SVDP is now over 130 years old, the 3rd oldest Conference in Scotland outside of the City of Edinburgh and continues to support those most in need in our local community and beyond.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society came to Scotland in 1845 only twelve years after the very first Conference was founded by Frederic Ozanam in Paris. The 1840s in Scotland were years of the Irish immigrants and "hungry forties", with a crying need for those in better circumstances to help poor, unjustly-treated and often sick people trying to eke out a living in Scotland.

The Holy Guild of St Joseph had been founded by Bishop James Gillis (coadjutor Vicar Apostolic, Eastern District) and had 300 members by 1845. It was from this group that the first conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was founded: it met on 25 May 1845, in the rooms of the Guild of St Joseph at 7 Hunter Square, Edinburgh, and surely the names of the first members are recorded. The first President was James Augustine Stothert, advocate; Vice-President, James Fraser Gordon, writer to the Signet; Secretary, John Chisolm; Treasurer, John Gordon Smith; Members, Eneas R MacDonnel, James Forrester (schoolmaster), James Donleavy (schoolmaster), George Dalrymple, Donald MacLachlan (leather merchant), James MacIver (clothier) and Samuel Philips (student).

Each member had to promise to receive the sacraments regularly and to recite every night, preferably at 11 p.m., the Litany of Loretto, one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Prayer of St Vincent de Paul. Their main task was to visit the homes of the poor, and they had the privilege often of praying at the deathbeds of the poor and sick and of following their remains to the cemetery-and it was this more than anything else which impressed the non-Catholics in the City. Catholics and non-Catholics alike were the recipients of their charity. The members of the Society gave great edification by their simple piety and great faith. They also found time to instruct children and adults in the faith and to prepare them for the reception of first communion.

In those days, much of the income for the conference came from the pockets of the members themselves and some from non-Catholics, two of whom gifted the handsome sum of sixty pounds to the conference "on condition that the brothers and the poor pray for their intentions." In a private letter they disclosed their two intentions: that God would prevent the calamities that seemed to threaten Scotland , and that His mercy might direct the donors to religious certainty and to give them the courage to embrace the truth when it was revealed to them.

In the parishes of St Mary's and St Patrick's Cowgate, half the collection taken up at the doors of the churches was given to the conference, and, of the first year's income of £143, the members themselves gave £13 privately. There were soon fifteen honorary members and one aspirant preparing for a month to be taken into the conference. The pious, humble and admirable president made a full report of success to Paris after one year, accrediting it all to the prayers of the good brothers in France praying for them.

Their ideals were for a night shelter, the supervision of apprentices and an orphanage. Alas their president left them in 1847 to go to the Scots College in Rome to study for the priesthood, and after four years he was back serving among them as an ordained priest attached to St Mary's. He later went as a priest to Belgium , where he died in Bruges in 1882. James Fraser Gordon succeeded him and soon the work was becoming too much to cope with, especially financially, though the good president made a loan of fully £100 to help. Other conferences began to appear with the springing up of new parishes, and one member of the conference left for Glasgow, where he formed the first conference" in that large and prosperous town" in 1848. More immigrants were arriving and the city was becoming unhealthier-there was so very much to do.

In the years 1850 to 1867 the Society continued to grow. A new conference was founded and met in the new clergy house of St Patrick, Brown Square, Edinburgh and a council of direction was set up to monitor the work of both city conferences. In 1855, a new conference was founded in the old St Cuthbert's, later moved to Lauriston. Also in Edinburgh an apprentices' association was founded in 1854 and in 1858 an orphanage was founded in South Bank, Canongate. In 1889 a home for working boys was opened in Lauriston: these were to become less necessary in years to come, thankfully, with new social trends.

Bishop Gillis died in 1864, and the Society lost another good friend with the death of Father John MacDonald, parish priest of St Patrick's, Cowgate. Still, things were moving in the Eastern Province – as the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh was then know. The Perth conference was founded in 1861, Dumfries in 1863 and St Andrew's, Dundee, in the same year. In 1891 the Central Council of Galloway decided to place itself under the jurisdiction of the Superior Council of Glasgow. In Edinburgh an apprentices' association was founded in 1854 and in 1858 an orphanage was founded in South Bank, Canongate. In 1889 a home for working boys was opened in Lauriston in Edinburgh: these were to become less necessary in years to come, thankfully, with new social trends.

By 1900 there were 13 Conferences in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh – 6 in Edinburgh City, plus Musselburgh, Broxburn, Dunfermline, Stirling, Falkirk, Denny and St Patrick’s Kilsyth (founded 1st January 1879). The Society spread gradually reaching 27 Conferences by the end of the Second World War. As new parishes were established a further 38 Conferences were established by 1989.

In the last fifty years we have set up special projects to tackle problems which persist despite the Welfare State. We pioneered the recycling of furniture as early as 1962 and are still actively involved through our project in Fife plus partnerships with other agencies in Edinburgh and Stirlingshire. Since the late 1980’s we have provided a soup kitchen in Edinburgh in cooperation with the Jericho Benedictines.

At St Maurice’s High School, (which falls under the Glasgow Archdiocese), pupils from St Patrick’s Kilsyth have the opportunity by virtue of help from members of the school staff to support the work of the Society at the Ozanam Centre in the High Street which provides a soup kitchen, clothes and practical health care for those who live rough on the streets of Glasgow.

For almost thirty years, thanks to the joint efforts of members throughout the Archdiocese, we have offered families Caravan holidays in East Lothian and Fife. Conferences now recognise that loneliness, loss of mobility and isolation from family members affect people regardless of their financial circumstances. Social events like Christmas parties and outings for older people in our communities supplement our visiting. We care for people’s spiritual needs by transporting people to our special Masses.

The Society has succeeded in the last forty years by attracting more and more women. Some Conferences are recruiting a few teenagers and the future of the Society depends on recovering the youthful energy of our founders, who were in their early twenties. If you would like to help the Society or join us then please see the link above on how to join the SVDP.

Glasgow 1848

August 23rd, 1848, three years after Edinburgh, saw the foundation of the first conference of the Society in Glasgow --in St Andrew's Cathedral, with the approval of Bishop Murdoch, Vicar Apostolic for the West of Scotland, and under the direction of Father William Gordon. The needs of the growing city, packed with Irish immigrants and full of poverty and need and disease, were immense. The first president was John Bums Bryson, a solicitor who had joined the Society in Edinburgh the previous year; the treasurer was Hugh Margey of Great Clyde Street; the Vice-President was David Rodgers of Anderston and the secretary, John Trainer of Clyde Terrace. In the first ten years, thirteen additional conferences were established and are still flourishing: there were 131 members, with upwards of 6,000 poor people as their "masters." In a circular letter from Archbishop Eyre dated 29th August, 1898, we read, "Nothing would give us greater pleasure than the knowledge that each of our missions had a conference of St Vincent de Paul.

In addition to the primary aim of the Society, the visitation of needy homes, other works were quickly to spring up according to the needs of Glasgow and the West of Scotland. The members helped boys to find employment and helped in basic education, secular and religious, in night schools. For example, it was not until 1864 that, through the exertions of Major O'Reilly M.P., the Poor Law was altered and that ratepayers were given access to lists of names and addresses of people with whom the destitute and orphaned children of the Poor Houses could be given homes. The members saw to it in no uncertain fashion that these homes were such as would afford a good Catholic upbringing in the Faith for the children of Catholic parents. Indeed, a special committee was formed to ensure that this work was supervised.

A day feeding school was opened in Market Street where poor children could obtain proper food, clothing and education. In 1887 this was converted into a day school for newsboys and the members helped these poor waifs, who eked out an existence with pennies from papers, to find better jobs and roofs over their heads. In 1892 additional accommodation was found to make this into a night shelter for the boys to preserve them from the horrors of common lodgings. The shelter was later moved to Whitevale Street and became a working boys' hostel. Fifty years later, working boys' hostels were opened in Broomhill and later in Partickhill to ensure working careers for lads who were destitute.

Archbishop Eyre wanted to found a children's refuge, and this work was undertaken by the Daughters of Charity in Whitevale Street, with funds from the Society. Twenty percent of the Society's monies was directed to this home, until eight years later it was cut to ten percent, the other ten going to the working boys' homes. Later the children's refuge was transferred to fine premises in Belleview, Rutherglen, where it housed hundreds of orphans right up to the time of its closure in 1961. At that time the State was looking into the foundation of homes and institutions of various kinds to fulfil those needs which had been catered for privately by people like the members of our Society. It is interesting to note that the names of many of the benefactors of Belleview were recorded and placed under the altar of the Belleview Chapel. This was later moved to Langbank where it became the altar of the shrine of Our Lady. Indeed, many of the Belleview furnishings were used to help found St Vincent's College at Langbank in 1961.

The Catholic Enquiry Office and the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society in their turn were to be helped by the Society in years when their needs were great. On 11th September in 1898, the Golden Jubilee of the foundation of the first Glasgow conference was held and was celebrated by Archbishop Eyre with Mass in the Cathedral, a conference in St Alphonsus' Hall, Charlotte Street, and a rally in the St Andrew's Halls, Kent Road.

In 1948, the Archdiocese of Glasgow was split into three parts: Glasgow, Motherwell and Paisley. The Society has continued to grow within these three dioceses.

St Vincent's Centre, Langbank

Langbank would demand of necessity a special mention. Opened in 1921 on the estate (bought for £2500!) called "The Hollies" overlooking the Clyde, it was meant to give holidays to necessitous children from the West of Scotland and was run by the Daughters of Charity. Between 1921 and its closure as a home in 1961, Langbank gave fortnightly holidays to 75,000 children, many of whom had never seen a white sheet or a green tree before. The work in the 1920s and 1930s grew so speedily that, thanks to a host of great benefactors, (the Don Bosco Society of Teachers, Mrs Cross Lynch, Baillie John Noonan, Mr David Mullen, the Gattens family of Port Glasgow and many others) the sum of £35000 was spent in enlarging the Home-first with a playhall on top of the greenhouse foundations topped with a dormitory; then with a new wing in 1926 with dormitories and a refectory and kitchen; and finally in 1931 with the addition of a beautiful and homely little stone-built church at a cost of a mere £11000.

Langbank Home had to close for the six years of the Second World War, during which the chapel and playpark suffered extensive damage. The work resumed after the war but, by 1961, the local authorities had eventually assumed responsibility for much of the holiday home work. At this time the Society handed Langbank over to the Bishops of Scotland, who were seeking an extension to Blairs College, the National Junior Seminary in Aberdeen.

Father Renfrew was sent to Langbank as its first rector and soon 120 boys from first and second year were housed there. A new building comprising a school and a theatre was added in 1964 and various other improvements were carried out. Father Renfrew was succeeded as rector in 1974 by Father Maurice Ward. It is interesting to note that during the sixteen years of the College's life, the link between Langbank and our Society was never severed. Annual gatherings of the Society held there during these years are remembered with affection by hundreds of brothers and sisters.

In 1977, the function of St Vincent's changed again. Economic factors prevented its continuation as a College and it was leased back to the Society as a National Centre for the alleviation of poverty in every sense. No work of charity was foreign to St Vincent's with old people, alcoholics, handicapped children, one-parent families, school retreats and the poor in general being guests. The Centre was used extensively by the Society and other groups for retreats, meetings and conferences. Throughout its time as a National Centre, St Vincent's was well served by its four Spiritual Directors, Fathers Maurice Ward, John Gilmartin, Andrew Carroll and Stephen Bradley. These Directors were ably assisted by the Daughters of Charity and the many and various Youth Teams. Latterly the Youth Team was replaced by the Vincentian Volunteers. There were also many other helpers, mainly drawn from the local area, but there were also some people for whom St Vincent's Centre was their home.

From 1977, the Special Works Conference diligently worked to keep the Centre running, their main fund-raising event being the annual Summer Fete, which was the highlight of the Vincentian calendar, despite the rain. Because of the changing demands on the services provided at St Vincent's Centre and the deteriorating fabric of the buildings, it was with great reluctance that the National Council decided in 1994 that the Langbank site should be closed.

In June 1994, a final Mass of Thanksgiving was held to mark the close of the Centre.

National since 1960

Since the 1960s many developments have taken place within the Society in Scotland . There has been a great influx of female members resulting from the change in the Rule, which removed the all-male ethos of the Society and revitalised it. Many new special works have begun, such as the Ozanam Centre for the homeless in Glasgow; the Ozanam Club for the handicapped in Viewpark, Uddingston; the St Vincent's Hospice in Johnstone; the Caravan, Furniture and other Projects of various descriptions in most of the dioceses.
For long enough, indeed right up to 1975, each had its own Superior (later Regional) Council, unlike Ireland and England and Wales , which had one National Council apiece. Papers were given as far back as 1887 and again in 1898 by members eager to show the advantage of one National Council. It was slow to come, but it came, and with the splitting of the Archdiocese of Glasgow into Glasgow, Motherwell and Paisley, other changes were necessary, so that there is now one National Council and each diocese has its own Diocesan Council. Superior Councils and Particular Councils have gone: Group Councils exist in larger areas, but all fall under the National and Diocesan Councils, a structure which aligns itself perfectly to the Church's own basic structure.

God BlessYou!