April 20 | comments icon 2 COMMENTS     print icon print


Celebrating Catholics in Scottish life

Who would make your list of top inspirational people for Catholics in Scotland? Here is food for thought

By Kevin McKenna

ONLY one thing depresses me as much as the sporadic instances of anti-Catholicism that we still encounter in modern Scotland. And that’s the outbreak of claims from the usual suspects within our Church that we are living in some dark, stygian wasteland where Catholics are still treated as second class citizens. This is simply not true.

And so to celebrate the role that Catholics play in the life of our wonderful country, I have begun compiling a list of ‘top 20 Tims’ who have made the most significant contributions. This list is entirely subjective and not based on any scientific or empirical research. It is simply the evidence of my own eyes and is compiled in no particular order. Not all of those on this list will be pious and upstanding pillars of the Faith, but they are mighty nevertheless. And some you may not have heard of.

James MacMillan

James is perhaps Britain’s greatest living composer and, even if you are not an aficionado of classical music I would urge you to go and see or simply listen to his St John’s Passion. His Catholic Faith and politics are never far from MacMillan’s work, all of which is characterised by compassion for his fellow human beings. He has also become a standard-bearer for Scottish Catholics, eloquently promoting the beauty of our Catholic Faith in public forums and defending it from its detractors. We should be proud of him.

Neil Lennon

No other individual in the history of Scottish football has ever had to endure what the Celtic manager has throughout his entire professional career in Scotland. Since his arrival in 2001 as a Celtic player he has been assaulted, threatened and suffered attempts on his life because he is a Catholic from Northern Ireland connected to Celtic FC who refuses to back down or keep his mouth shut. For some, this mix is intolerable. His courage and dignity in the face of this onslaught has been exemplary.

Eilish Angiolini

This alumna of Glasgow’s famous Notre Dame secondary rose to become Scotland’s solicitor general and then Lord Advocate. She was the first woman and the first solicitor to hold either of these two great posts. She is from a working class background, her dad is a coal merchant and she has done much to instill more humanity and compassion in the law. She was chiefly responsible for alleviating the plight of rape victims who give evidence in court.

Professor Tom Devine

Professor Tom Devine OBE, BA, PhD, DLitt, HonD Univ (Strathclyde, 2006), Hon DLitt (Queen’s, Belfast, 2001), Hon DLitt (Abertay, Dundee, 2001), FRHistS, FRSE, Hon MRIA, FBA Personal Senior Research Professor in History; Scottish History, University of Edinburgh. Senior Research Professor in History and Director of the Scottish Centre of Diaspora Studies. Formerly Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography (2005-2011). And a good man. That is all.

Billy Connolly

Yes I know that half the priests in Glasgow wanted him excommunicated in the early 1970s for his The Crucifixion. But now it can be regarded as merely a very funny satire. In no way can it be regarded as offensive to Catholics. Can we not laugh at ourselves? I don’t know if Connolly still practises his faith or not, but he has used the marvellous gift given to him by God to great effect and has made life just a bit more bearable for millions. He remains one of the greatest living Glaswegians. And he loves the Celtic.

Professor John Haldane

I heard this man speak at Turnbull Hall, Glasgow University’s Catholic chaplaincy. He is professor of moral philosophy at St Andrews University and in one hour he elegantly deconstructed some of the main compelling human beliefs of the modern age in a language that even I could understand. He is a quiet and rational evangelist for the Christian faith and is one of our largely undiscovered diamonds. A very mouthy and atheist TV presenter once confessed to me that she was in awe of his intellect and spirituality when she encountered him a few years ago. Does he support the Celtic too? Who cares?

Donna Nicholson

My fellow Scottish Catholic Observer contributor is director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in Scotland. There is probably no other person in Scotland who has done more to highlight the continuing human evil of this infanticide. There are few weeks when she is not highlighting the issue or debating it or organising national conferences and campaigns. But she does so with a degree of compassion for all women who experience crisis pregnancies and which is often found wanting in anti-abortion agencies. “This is not a Catholic issue, but a human rights issue,” she says. We should treasure her.

David McGill

Founded the Community of the Risen Christ in the early 1980s which rose out of the dynamic Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. His faith was challenged by personal tragedy but he was ultimately inspired to form the community which is based on the principles of mutual support characteristic of the early Christian church. This has provided service and leadership to the entire Charismatic movement over the last 30 years. Their dramatic worship may not be to everyone’s taste, but they touched the lives of many. In his day he was one of the most captivating and passionate lay preachers this country has known.

Fr Willy Slavin

‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” So said King Henry II in the 12th century about his conscientious tormentor Thomas Beckett. But the same words could have been uttered by some who have had dealings with this thrawn and beautifully incorrigible father. Fr Slavin is now parish priest at St Simon’s in Partick but has a lifetime of work serving the marginalised and the downtrodden in our society. He was a chaplain to Barlinnie Prison and helped establish the Scottish Drugs Forum. His parishes have always been in areas where he can combine his love of the Gospel with striving to end social injustice. Probably the most important priest Glasgow has produced in the last 50 years. He is also hated by those dreadful zealots at Catholic Truth, so that makes him a saint in my book.

Susan Boyle

This gentle and beautiful woman helped the entire nation to smile when she sang I Dreamed a Dream on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. In an instant her divine voice wiped the sneers from the faces of Simon Cowell and his vile fellow inquisitors. Her simple and uncomplicated life in West Lothian left her ill-prepared for the fame and riches that have deservedly come her way since. But she says that her Faith has helped her to negotiate a dignified path through it all. We are all proud of her too.

—Kevin McKenna is former deputy editor of The Herald and former executive editor of the Daily Mail in Scotland. He is currently a columnist for The Guardian

Comments - 2 Responses

  1. Eileen McBride says:

    Despite many positive qualities, Fr Slavin would be a much better priest if he said Mass according to the prescribed norms

    I don’t thing Billy Connolly would even claim to be a Catholic, and the lives of some of the others do not indicate that Catholicism plays an important role in their moral decisions.


  2. Mac says:

    I have known Willy Slaven for close on twenty years and in that time I have found him to be one of the most humblest men I have ever met.

    When I was on the margins of society Willy gave me opportunity, encouragement, guidance and purpose. Willy will no doubt be embarrased by your most important comment however for the lives he has touched, and that is many, he is more than important….

    Living the Gospel is by far more beneficial to society then being caught up in delivering prescribed norms…. when Jesus tossed the money lenders out of the temple this was not the prescribed norm….. is it not better to follow what you believe in your heart and make a difference than sit on the fence and do nothing

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