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The challenge and opportunity facing a priest moving parish

What’s it like for a priest moving to a new parish? Richard Purden finds out as he speaks to Fr Alex Davie and learns how he once survived being hit by lightning, and about his days playing football with George Best

There is a sense of anticipation and nervousness for both parties when a new priest arrives in a parish.

Before he makes that first appearance it’s natural for members to discuss the man about to serve the community.

There was much, then, for parishioners to discuss in St Gregory the Great and St John Vianney in south Edinburgh last year, as they awaited the arrival of their new priest.


Lightening strikes twice

They had heard that Fr Alex Davie had been struck by lightning, twice no less, during a round of golf, and kept on playing.

He had played centre-half for Arbroath FC even facing one of the greatest footballers of all time.

It has been said that ‘no two days in the life of a priest are the same,’ and without doubt, Fr Davie has lived a life less ordinary.


A ‘good fit’

Fr Davie was appointed to the parish, and as chaplain of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, after it was announced that then-parish priest Fr Anthony Caruana would be taking a sabbatical.

Six months later, Fr Davie admits there have been some challenges but describes the Edinburgh South Cluster as ‘a good fit.’

“At first, I felt that maybe I had too much to prove and was trying too hard at the start,” he said.

“The hospital work has also had its challenges.

“I served in this part of Edinburgh as a deacon 20 years ago and kept in touch with members of the parish during that time and they kept in touch with me and my parents so it was lovely to come back to that.

“People have been very welcoming and it’s been easy to fit back in but with some understanding of the circumstances.”


Divine renovation

It’s accepted that a new priest will have his own methods in organising a parish, but Fr Davie has carried on the work of the previous parish priest in pursuing Divine Renovation, a programme used internationally to revitalise parishes.

“I was apprehensive initially but you really can see the merit,” Fr Davie said.

“I only wish it could happen more quickly, but you have to lay the groundwork and we have some great people in the parish helping with that.”

At the heart of Divine Renovation is a motivation to reach beyond the confines of Catholic life.

“I wonder if we have a problem about our purpose sometimes,” Fr Davie added. “When we don’t have a purpose, we don’t seem to function.”

He suggested that Catholic experience ‘can be insular.’

“Often things are done in-house or on a Sunday and any off-shoot is in the church hall.

“But we should be going into the community to tell others about who we are, what we are about and what we can offer,” he said.


Previous service

Arriving from Our Lady of Lourdes in Dunfermline, Father Davie has also previously served in Muirhouse, a deprived area with great need in north Edinburgh.

“I remember my first sermon there, a man asked me to go and see his son in prison.

“The lad had been stupid about getting involved with drugs and got caught. I went to see him in prison and after serving his time he radically changed, we became friends and travelled to many Celtic games together.”

Prior to entering the priesthood Fr Davie had shown promise as an aspiring footballer until an injury affected his game. After that ‘it was quite obvious it was always going to be in lower divisions’ he explains.

“The best football I ever played was when I went to seminary. I remember thinking ‘am I going to be able to keep this up?’ It kind of just waned a wee bit. It was obvious I couldn’t spend the time I needed to,” he said.



It was during his time playing for Arbroath he faced one of the greatest strikers these islands have ever produced: George Best.

The former Manchester United and Hibernian player turned out for another local team, Arbroath Victoria FC, collecting a generous appearance fee back in August 1982, the club’s centenary year. Turning out for Arbroath that day was Fr Davie.

“It was brilliant, really great but I tried to nutmeg him and got hauled off,” he said. “When I attempted it he just took the ball off me and scored!”


Previous jobs

The priesthood remains one of the few occupations that we can truly call a vocation.

Fr Davie had worked at a shirt factory in Bo’ness as a manager and as a travelling sales rep before considering the call.

“My mum had become a Eucharistic Minister and my local priest asked her about me for the priesthood; my first response was ‘aye, right.’

“The priest was Jim Brennan from Waterford. He was an old Irish guy full of the blarney and had a real personality.

“After that it was like I had a guilty conscience: the thought always entered my head and I tried to avoid him. It was then I thought ‘I’ll scratch the itch.’

“I remember going to the church when it was just a shell at the time [being rebuilt]. The priest had a barbecue where he got everyone together to help.

“I watched him work with people and I thought ‘all he has got is himself.’ He was great at using his gifts and talents in the community and everyone took a shine to him.”


Letting go

Fr Davie suggests when a priest moves to a new parish there has to be a letting go of the work that has been done in his previous parish.

He explains that the work ‘has come to an end because there’s not going to be another you and that is not to be derogatory to other priests because they have different gifts and talents.’

At the same time a new parish can be inspiring, perhaps rousing gifts which have been lying dormant.

“For me, it’s a shot in the arm,” he said.

“Things can become staid in one place and you can get bogged down with the same old routine.

“When I came here I knew that I had to up my game because I needed to be challenged again.

“You think, ‘will I be able to do this and have I got the energy?’

“The fact is that you do because it’s not just you but you and the Spirit. The best advice I ever had was ‘you are only as good as your parish and your folk,’ and that is so true.”


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