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
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.
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
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,
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
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.