BY Peter Diamond | September 20 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

St Therese in Barlinnie 018

St Thérèse’s relics tour of Scotland concludes with Mass for prisoners in HMP Barlinnie

Prisoner says St Thérèse lifts his spirits as relics of the Little Flower visit HMP Barlinnie

Around 100 prisoners confined at HMP Barlinnie were encouraged to follow St Thérèse of Lisieux’s ­‘little way spirituality’ as they celebrated Mass with the Little Flower’s relics.

On Monday September 16 the relics of St Thérèse began their final leg of a three-week pilgrimage around all eight dioceses as they were brought to ­Scotland’s largest prison.

Aided by around 25 prison guards, the inmates in blue and red ­uniforms filed into the stone chapel at Barlinnie to see and venerate the relics of the ­Little Flower.

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow thanked the prison and the inmates for the warm welcome they had extended.

“I wanted the relics to come to ­Barlinnie first when they came to the Archdiocese of Glasgow and I am very grateful for the welcome that the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux have received,” he told a congregation of prisoners, prison staff, guards, Religious, guests and journalists.

The archbishop explained why the relics were visiting a prison.

“Famously, as a girl of 14, St Thérèse prayed for the conversion of a ­convicted murderer, who, although he never admitted his guilt, at the last kissed the figure of the Crucified Jesus just before his execution,” he said.

“Later, when she wrote about this, St Thérèse took this to be a sign that her prayer had been answered and that the man had asked forgiveness of God. Because of that, it is recommended that her relics, should, if possible, be taken to a prison.”

A 20 piece musical group and choir of volunteer prison workers led the Mass with five Carmelite nuns from Dumbarton included in the ­congregation and one Sister reading the prayers of intercession.

Little Ways

During his homily, Archbishop Tartaglia explained St Thérèse’s ­spirituality of ‘Little Ways.’

“St Thérèse’s spirituality is very good for prisoners,” he said. “You are ­confined here, you cannot make grand ­gestures but we can all do little things, little ways of being holy. Perhaps a kind word to an inmate and particularly a new inmate who’s overwhelmed with the situation he finds himself.”

The archbishop received a few smiles from the prisoners when he said: “I’ve never been in jail but I know it’s a hard life and you’ll know better than me what a Little Way in here is like or could be.

“By following her Little Ways you can make life more tolerable, you can look forward to freedom and the future with hope.”

Two prisoners volunteered to take the Offertory to the sanctuary at the ­guidance of the clergy and aided by the guards. Upon their return to their seats they congratulated one another with a handshake and a smile.

Gordon McKenna, who took part in the Offertory procession, said his Faith ‘lifts his spirits’ and that the relics visit will help with his rehabilitation.

Mr McKenna, 43, from Pollock said: “I started attending Mass as soon as I came here. I fell away from my Faith on the outside. I was tempted away.

“I come to Mass because it gives you time to think. It gives you time to reflect. When Father says things you reflect back on your life both the good and the bad.

“It’s a historic event. I can’t explain it in words.

“I knew a little about St Thérèse before today. She showed that everyone should be given a second chance. I know that one day we will be judged.

“The relics coming here helps you look at things differently, and see there is a brighter side of humanity and it isn’t as bad as you can think.”

During the Sign of Peace the ­archbishop came off the altar and shook hands with all inmates in the front row.

Most of the 100 inmates took the Eucharist and joined in the prayers and the hymns.

At the end of Mass prisoners got the chance to walk past the casket of St Thérèse as they left the chapel in ­Barlinnie, with many touching or ­kissing the glass covering the relics and ­blessing themselves.

Upon exiting they were given a ‘guard of honour’ by the Carmelite ­Sisters who presented each ­prisoner with a rose and some Roses chocolates. Some kept the flowers, while others returned to the glass case and placed their rose on top.


Following the Mass, Archbishop Tartaglia said: “It was very moving indeed. I thought there was a ­wonderful atmosphere of prayer, reverence, ­devotion and a sense of the historic nature of this event.

“I hope that through this event many graces can come into this place and to all these prisoners, whom my heart goes out to and I just wish them well for the future.”

Staff in the jail praised the story of St Thérèse, the respect shown by the inmates and the work of the prison ­chaplaincy team.

Sarah Angus, head of offender outcomes at HMP ­Barlinnie, said: “We were so excited and there has been so much work put into this once in a ­lifetime event.

“There is something special about the story of St Thérèse, her affinity with prisoners and the thought of hope and change that she brings them and that is something we really want to promote with the men who are serving time here.”

Tom Fox, head of corporate affairs for Scottish Prison ­Service, said: “I think it’s been a fantastic event and I think a very moving event. I’ve been in church congregations who have been less attentive than the one here this afternoon. The work of the chaplaincy team has been excellent at preparing this event and it has proved to be very ­successful.”

William McGurk, prison ­warden at HMP Barlinnie, said: “I’ve been here 44 years. I was here when Nelson Mandela came in, when Princess Anne came in, when First Ministers and MPs came in, but this ­surpasses anything like that.

“The prisoners got a lot out of it. That was a very good service. It was a spiritually uplifting occasion.”

One of the 10 clergy who ­concelebrated the Mass was a prison chaplain for over 20 years in Scotland and said the occasion will be talked about for ‘weeks and months to come.’

Fr Brian Gowans, president of International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, said: “To feel the spirituality in this chapel today and to see all those men at prayer was ­fantastic.

“They’ll have taken so much away from this event today and the walls of Barlinnie will be reverberating with what ­happened here today for weeks and months to come.”

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