A Brief History of our Area
Although in the Diocese of Motherwell, few visible signs remain of our Catholic past, there are many place-names which call to mind our ancient religious associations. The Cathedral town of Motherwell itself and the Well named after Our Lady – the Matris Fontae of the Bishop’s Pastorals – Chryston in the northern part of the Diocese, Chapelhall and Tannochside – a word presumed to be derived from St. Thewnaw, mother of St. Mungo – all proclaim the existence of a long established Catholic tradition.
The work of St Mungo in Glasgow and the surrounding area is familiar, but after his death in 612, we have sparse knowledge of the progress of the Church until after the Norman Conquest. The Normans with their genius for order and organisations, not confined to political administration but exhibited also in ecclesiastical affairs, made their presence felt in Scotland, and in the reign of David I from 1124 until 153, the Catholic religion was firmly established in Lanarkshire. Collegiate churches were set up in Bothwell in 1398 and in Carnwath in 1424. These are of interest since they are still in good condition and used as places of worship by the Church of Scotland. The Earl of Douglas enlarged the church in Bothwell and named it St. Bride in honour of his family’s patron saint. It shares with St Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the architectural feature of having a stone roof and the good fortune to have escaped the zeal of the Reformers. Coming nearer the present day, we find that in 1836 there were 118 Catholics on the Parish of Bothwell, an area contained approximately within the boundary of the present Bothwell Parliamentary Constituency.
The Parish of St Andrew, Glasgow (now the Cathedral) was established in 1816 and during the following years various factors were combining to cause a considerable increase in the population –including the number of Catholic – in Central Scotland. The harsh realities of the Irish Famine and the Highland Clearances, added to the greatly increased demands for labour, caused by the onset of the Industrial Revolution, were responsible for a great influx of people to Lanarkshire. To tend to their spiritual needs the first Mission was established in Airdrie in 1836, dedicated to St Margaret.
There were at that time extensive deposits of iron ore in the Calderbank-Chapelhall region, and in 1857 a school was built in Chapelhall in which Mass was celebrated by a priest from Airdrie. But in the early 1860’s the local iron ore was exhausted and the workers had to move elsewhere, many of them transferring to Holytown, Mossend and Bellshill, where the coal and iron industries were beginning to thrive.
In more recent years, and during the existence of our Parish, The Holy Family Parish has been served by Canon Patrick Kelly (1953-1969), Fr. Robert Douglas (1969-1979), Canon Gerald Maher (1980-1995) and Fr. James A. Grant (1995-Present). During this time the Parish has also witnessed extensive refurbishment to the Church and Halls, despite also suffering a large reduction in the size of the Parish.
The Founding of our Mother Parishes
These growing industries and growth in population rendered necessary the setting up of a new parish in the district and Mossend was chosen as being the most central situation for Holytown, New Stevenston, Mossend and Bellshill. A chapel school (now the present Holy Family Parochial Hall) was built in 1868 by Father James Milne (1868-1881), who became the resident priest in Mossend in 1872. His successor, Dr. Michael Fox (1881-1892), built the present Holy Family Church in 1884.
Now began a period, which many might consider, somewhat nostalgically, as the great days in Mossend. This could well be true, since what followed was no mean achievement. We must remember too that all this took place, often against a background of economic depression and b no means a privileged class. When Dr. Fox left, the parish grew to the extent that two curates were needed to assist his successor, Fr. Michael Hughes (1892-1904), who planned and built the Holy Family Presbytery. Next came Fr. John Scannell (1904-1907) who built the Holy Family School, which was opened by Archbishop Maguire in January 1907.
But no reference to the past would be complete without a mention of the Lithuanians who formed such a distinctive section of the community. They were noted chiefly for the tenacity with which they clung to the Faith and the ease with which they adapted themselves to their new environment. This latter trait is exemplified in one of the classic Mossend stories concerning a Lithuanian who, at Hampden, exhorted the Scottish team in these words, “Come on boys. Give them what we gave them at Bannockburn!” Can integration go further than that?
Coming after a succession of well-loved Parish Priests, Fr. William Flanagan (1937-1951) was the one who played a big part in the setting up of the Sacred Heart Parish, Bellshill.
After the end of the World War II, considerable rehousing had taken place in the area of Bellshill, resulting in the need for a new Parish. The founding of a new parish in Bellshill was announced from the pulpit in Holy Family, Mossend, on Sunday 19th September, 1949 with Fr James Butler, a curate at Mossend, named as the Founding Parish Priest. Fr Butler had previously served in The Sacred Heart Parish, Bridgeton, for 14 years and asked that the new Parish in Bellshill also be dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and be named 'The Sacred Heart'.
The Solemn Opening of The Sacred Heart Church took place on Sunday 8th April 1951. His Lordship, Right Reverend Edward Douglas, the then Bishop of Motherwell, presided at the Mass. The Present Church was originally intended to be a 'Hall Church' with a new Church to be built on the site of the present Hall at a later date, however the reason this did not happen is not clear, though it was probably financial.
The founding Parish Priest, Fr. Butler, was later succeeded by Canon Patrick Heaney (1958-1967), Mgr Philip Flanagan (1968-1978), Canon Thomas McGurk (1978-1983), Canon John B. Healy (1983-1992), Canon Andrew Reen (1992-2011) and Fr. Kevin M. McGoldrick (2011-Present).
"Faith of our Fathers, Holy Faith
We will be try to thee till death."
The Founding & Beginnings of St Gerard's
As the need for new housing still remained, the available land was now on the north side of Bellshill, and considerable building, both private and by the County Council, took place their in the 1960’s. This caused another hiving-off operation, and a new Parish was established to serve the growing Catholic community in the northern part of Bellshill.
The Parish of St Gerard was founded on 1st September 1967, under the charge of Father Patrick J. Moss, to serve the North Road & Hattonrigg area of Bellshill. Having within the boundary of the new Parish, one of the finest Maternity Hospitals in the country, naturally it was dedicated to St. Gerard Majella, Patron Saint of Expectant Mothers.
While awaiting construction of the present Church, the Parish was given the use of the former Noble Primary School, situated then to the right of the west end of Lynnburn Avenue, in the North Road, Bellshill. The Parish was given the use of the premises through the kind cop-operation of the Lanark County Council. The school was so named after a famous teacher, Alexander Noble, F.E.I.S. - Headmaster there for 51 years from 1873 until 1924 - who became a legend in his lifetime and who had the distinction of having a road in Bellshill named after him. In the building, three classrooms were converted into a pleasing little chapel. Other classrooms served as a centre for meetings and the usual parochial activities. All this was conducted by Father Moss and a faithful and hard-working Parish Council.
The Life of our Parish, 1967-Today
Construction of the new Church building began in December 1969 on the present site in the heart of the Shirrel housing estate and was completed in May 1971. The official opening ceremony took place on Sunday, 13th June 1971, celebrated by Bishop Francis Thomson, the then Bishop of Motherwell. Since the opening of the Church and Presbytery, a Parish Hall and large car park have been added and in 1973, St Gerard's Primary School was opened on the ground to the north of the Church.
Since the Parish's founding in 1967, the population has continued to grow as more families have moved to the Parish with the building of the Clay Crescent council estate, the Scottish Special housing estate, Westgate estate, Rosehall estate and more recently the Meadow Rise estate, just off the Hattonrigg Road, and The Oval estate which is built on the site of the old Bellshill Maternity Hospital.
Since its establishment in 1967, the Parish of St Gerard has been served by five Parish Priests: Rev. Patrick J. Moss (1967-1977), Rev. Patrick O'Hare (1977-1984), Rev. Timothy Brosnan (1984-2011), Rev. Michael Brown (2011-2013) and the present Parish Priest, Rev. Kevin M. McGoldrick who became Parish Priest of St Gerard's on 11th September 2013.
Rev. Patrick J. Moss, the first Parish Priest of St Gerard's, initially lived in a council house in Mavisbank Gardens until the completion of the Presbytery. One of his first functions was to form a Parish Council whose primary aim was to help raise funds to clear the cost of the new Church and Presbytery, costing at that time in the region of £100,000. The Society of St Vincent de Paul was inaugurated to serve the new Parish, a Church Choir was established to lead the congregation in liturgical celebrations, a Women's Guild was formed and also a Youth Club. Many of the original groups are still active within the Parish today.
During Rev. Patrick O'Hare's time as Parish Priest, the Parish saw the introduction of Ministers of the Eucharist, at that time four in number, and also Lay Readers. He also introduced a Novena to St Gerard which took place every Thursday evening and drew huge crowds, not only from our own Parishioners but members of many local Parishes. The Parish Hall was also built and opened during his time.
Rev. Timothy Brosnan became Parish Priest on the 21st October 1984 and was to remain in our Parish for over 27 years, making him the longest serving and one of the most respected Priests to serve St Gerard's. Shortly after his arrival in the year 1986 extensive damage was done to the Church when, on the 16th May, the Sanctuary was completely destroyed by fire. The Church was closed for repair for several months and Mass was celebrated for Parishioners in St Gerard's Primary School on Sundays and in the Parish Hall on weekdays. The Church was reopened in time for Christmas 1986.
In reparation of the wanton destruction and profanation it was decided to expose the Blessed Sacrament for short periods during the week. This grew into daily exposition
from 10.00am until 7.30pm each weekday in the Marian Chapel of St Gerard's, with Parishioners praying continually before the Blessed Sacrament. This devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament continued to grow in our Parish and was a most treasured focal point of our Parish community. Daily Adoration continued until the retirement of Canon Brosnan in 2011 however Father McGoldrick has since reinstated the devotion.
For nine years, September 1986 until September 1995, Father Brosnan was assisted by Sister Patrick Joseph from the order of the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. He was then assisted by Sister Brigid of the same order from 1999 until August 2007 when the order sadly left the area. The Sisters played a large part in the life of our Parish and no history of St Gerard's would be complete without mentioning in more detail the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. Click here to find out more about the Order and their impact on our Parish and Community.
The Parish has also witnessed a deep renewal of the faith within the community with the Laity playing an ever greater role in the life of the Parish. The Laity are more involved than ever in the various ministries within the Parish as they take up the challenge presented to them by the Second Vatican Council of their important role within the life of the Church. St Gerard's has a thriving Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP), Union of Catholic Mothers (UCM), Care Group, Parish Choir, Music Group, Children's Liturgy and Youth Club. A large number of Parishioners are also involved in the life of the Parish in many other ways serving as Readers, Altar Servers, Ministers’ of the Eucharist, Sacristans, Pass Keepers and a number of younger parishioners have become more involved in recent years through the Pope Benedict Caritas Award. Our Parish saw the introduction of girl Altar Servers' in 2011 by Father Brown.
Over the years there have been a number of pilgrimages arranged from the Parish. Groups of Parishioners have travelled to many religious and holy places such as Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, Knock and Poland. The most recent pilgrimage was a joint pilgrimage with the Sacred Heart Parish to Fatima in September 2015.
In more recent years much work has been carried out in the Church to maintain the centre of our Parish and faith community. Despite being a more modern and simple Church building it has always been treasured and much loved by the Parishioners of St Gerard's as it lies at the heart of our community. Recent improvements have included the replacement of the roof cladding which was damaged by bad weather. This has helped to freshen up and improve the exterior of the building. There has also be a new organ and sound system installed, some changes have been carried out to the Sanctuary and more recently, a new heating system was installed in both the Church and Presbytery.
In September 2013, St Gerard's Parish was linked with its mother Parish of The Sacred Heart. Our Parish Priest, Rev. Michael Brown, who was our fourth Parish Priest and had arrived in St Gerard's in March 2011, was appointed Parish Priest of St Brendan's Motherwell by the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Bishop Joseph Toal. Rev. Kevin McGoldrick was appointed as his successor whilst remaining Parish Priest of The Sacred Heart Parish. This was initially met with some sadness and trepidation by Parishioners as they feared for the future of their Parish, however through the pastoral care and support offered by the Clergy, both Parishes, which had already held close links, have grown even closer and continue to support each other, whilst retaining their own individual identities.
Our Parish was honoured in June 2014 when the newly installed Bishop of Motherwell, Rt. Rev. Joseph A. Toal, chose the Presbytery of St Gerard's as his Bishops' Residence. He has since been very active in our Parish community and regularly joins us for the celebration of Holy Mass.
Today, forty eight years after its founding, St Gerard's Parish continues to grow and flourish in our faith and love of Christ. Home to over 2250 Catholics, we give thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon this Parish and pray for His continual protection of our Parish, Church, Clergy and Parishioners.
St Gerard Majella, pray for us.
RIGHT REVEREND FRANCIS THOMSON
ON THE OCCASION OF THE
SOLEMN OPENING OF
SAINT GERARD'S CHURCH, BELLSHILL
18th May 1971
DEAR FATHER MOSS,
To preside at the solemn opening of a new church is one of the more pleasant tasks of a bishop. It is visible evidence that yet another congregation has become sufficiently strong to take its place as an independent “family” within the wider family of the Diocese. The parish of Saint Gerard traces its origins to the strong Catholic faith of those responsible for founding Holy Family parish Mossend more than a century ago, and of their descendants who in more recent times established the parish of the Sacred Heart. It is a sign that the same faith is still very much alive that is should have been necessary to build Saint Gerard’s only twenty years after the completion of a new church for Sacred Heart parish, from which Saint Gerard’s derives more immediately. With such a history, I am confident that Saint Gerard’s will come to be known not only as a church building but also a living parish, the beginnings of which we have already seen so clearly during the past four years since the foundation of the parish. May that life continue to flourish, and may it manifest itself in a people resplendent with all the Christian virtues, particularly that of unbounded charity exercised towards all in that community of which they are part.
With my warm blessing on this happy occasion to you and to all the parishioners.
+ FRANCIS THOMSON,
Bishop of Motherwell
RIGHT REVEREND JOSEPH DEVINE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE
SILVER JUBILEE OF THE SOLEMN OPENING OF
SAINT GERARD'S CHURCH, BELLSHILL
24th September 1996
DEAR PARISHIONERS OF ST. GERARD’S,
It gives me great pleasure, both personally and on behalf of the Diocese, to congratulate all of you on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of you parish church. Yours is one of the youngest of parishes in the Diocese, but far from the least in the quality of your faith and devotion to the Lord. The reverse is the case as has been evident to me since arriving in the Diocese 13 years ago.
For the great majority of that time, Fr. Brosnan has been your parish priest, one of the finest parish priests that any parish could ever have. His selfless devotion to your spiritual welfare and his great affection for your community is a joy to behold. With you, I wish to thank him for all of that, as well as all the work he has undertaken with you to prepare for this day of importance in the history of your parish, the first big marker since the Silver Jubilee of your parish a few years ago, namely the Silver Jubilee of your church.
The church building is so very central to the life of our community, as it is the centre of both the liturgical and sacramental life of every parish. In addition, it holds so many memories of great happiness for people, in baptisms, first communion days, confirmations and wedding celebrations, as well as the sad recollection of the funerals of relatives and friends. It is like a mirror reflecting the big moments in our journey of faith and life. That is why the building is prized by its congregation.
But the Church is more than a building. More important is the community within the Church building, for that is the Church in a deeper meaning. Each of you, each of us is much more consecrated to the Lord than bricks and mortar ever could be. That is why my real thoughts on this occasion are directed to you, in the Lord’s invitation to you to build up in each and all the stature of Christ, so that the Father might see in you what he first saw and loved in Christ.
I pray that the coming 25 years will be a golden preparation for your Golden Jubilee, as all of you, as individuals and families, continue to seek to serve the Lord and each other in the faith into which you were baptised. When we live our faith we witness to our faith. That is the great need for practicing Catholics today, to combat the gap between faith and life so evident in the lives of many today. Perhaps we are less devout that our parents and grandparents. If that is true, it is clear to me that is much less true of the people of St. Gerard’s, Bellshill. I salute you for the quality of your parish life and the ways in which you seek to sustain it. May the Lord continue to bless all of you in reward for all that you are and seek yet to be.
With every blessing,
+ JOSEPH DEVINE,
Bishop of Motherwell