BY Peter Diamond | October 19 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The Religious are the ‘unseen beating heart’ of our parishes, bishop says

Bishop praises the hidden work of Sisters and Brothers visiting the sick and lonely

The Religious Orders of Scotland are the ‘unseen beating heart’ of many parishes up and down the country, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese said this week.

The bishop spoke of the ‘hidden work’ that many religious Sisters in his own diocese carry out daily, as he attended the Conference of Religious in Scotland on Tuesday, October 16 at Carfin Grotto’s Xavier Centre.

The annual general meeting of the Religious in Scotland was attended by Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti of Glasgow, Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and Isles and Bishop Keenan.

The main theme of the conference focussed on the often-overlooked work in schools by the Religious in Scotland before the 1918 Education Scotland Act.

Speaking after the event, Bishop Keenan praised the vital work of Religious both historically and in the present day.

“I always say that the Sisters are like the beating heart of the diocese,” he said. “Many of them are involved in the parishes and an awful lot of their work is hidden.

“A lot of their work involves going and visiting the sick, the lonely, the poor and to do all the things which can often go unnoticed.

“It reminds me of what St Teresa said, when wondering what her charism was. She said no one can do anything without the beating heart of love.

“And that’s what you find wherever there are Sisters and Religious working in parishes. You don’t see the heart—it’s hidden.

“Instead you see the face, you see the arms, the legs but nothing happens without the heart and in so many ways [the Religious] are the beating heart of our parishes.”



The Conference of Religious in Scotland brought more than 30 Religious Orders together and Bishop Keenan said he was enthusiastic for the future of vocations to Religious life.

“What surprised me today was that there was lots of different ages of Religious and some from different countries, such as America and Poland,” Bishop Keenan said. “I think one of the reasons why young men become priests is because they see priests visibly in their parishes and if you don’t see a Religious Sister working in a parish then it’s very much out of sight, out of mind. The Holy Spirit might be giving you a vocation but you need to recognise that it’s somebody real.

“Undoubtedly the Holy Spirit is still calling young women and young men to the Religious life but when they see it lived out, witnessed in a real person in front of them then they are more likely to recognise it and follow it.”


Education Act

The main speaker for the conference, Dr Francis O’Hagan, spoke at length about the beginnings of the Religious Orders in the West of Scotland, and how their work paved the way for the 1918 Education Act.

Dr O’Hagan, an associate tutor in the School of Education at Glasgow University, said: “The religious orders came to Scotland following a great influx of Catholics from the Irish famine in the late 1840s.

“First the Ursulines of Jesus to Edinburgh in 1844, and then, to Glasgow, came Franciscan Sisters of Immaculate Conception, Sisters of Mercy, Marist Brothers, Jesuits and Sisters of Notre Dame.

“These orders were brought to Scotland to help deal with the demands of the population explosion which took place across the central belt.

“The Religious were people of great courage and had little or no salary, setting up schools to help educate people out of poverty, retaining the motto, ‘I was born for greater things.’

“In many ways they were fearless missionaries and therefore sometimes misunderstood by the laity, but through their work in establishing and working in Catholic schools they helped bring in the 1918 Education Act.

Dr O’Hagan said: “Notably, the work of Religious was applauded by two Protestants on the Scottish education department at that time, John Struthers and Henry Craig, who helped campaign for the 1918 Act.”

President of the Conference of Religious in Scotland, Sr Patricia Orr, said: “This was a wonderful opportunity for the Religious of Scotland to remember the contribution of our early members way back long before the 1918 Act.

“It was an opportunity for Religious to give thanks to God for the opportunity that he gave us to serve the people of Scotland way back in the 19th century, when there were crowds of Catholics many of whom had come from Ireland, crying out for education and nobody to give it. That’s where our story in Scotland begins and it was wonderful to be able to remember and share that story.”

An Augustine Father who was due to be elected onto the National Executive Committee for the conference said that Orders help to create a balance within the Church.

Fr Ian Wilson, who is based in Sighthill in Edinburgh, said: “Religious orders are good for Scotland and the global Church because they create a balance within the Faith.

“Different Orders have different charisms and through those charisms people can express different aspects of the Faith. For example, as Augustinian Fathers, we believe in emphasising one community, whereas a Franciscan friar’s charism would be service of the poor and there are examples of this throughout each Religious order, identifying with different charisms.

“This therefore helps to create a broad, balanced view within the Church and it is healthy, it enriches the Church and holds a great impact to this day on the workings of the Church.

“Although numbers may be fewer now than in years gone by we have to continue to pray for vocations. But perhaps we need to listen better, listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us.”

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