The parish of St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge, in Lanarkshire, was established by Archbishop Charles Eyre in 1892 as part of his concern to provide for the spiritual and social needs of the ever-increasing Catholic population in the West of Scotland. The arrival of a new workforce mainly from Ireland, together with their families, mostly Catholic and many quite destitute, had inspired the establishment of new parishes, often in the care of priests from Ireland or northern Europe and even from England.
The newly-founded parish of St Augustine’s was entrusted to the care of father John Hughes who was born in Johnstown, Kilkenny in 1851. After his studies in St Patrick’s College,Thurles and in the Irish College in Paris John was ordained in 1877 and served in St Margaret’s Airdrie and St Mary’s Cleland before coming to St.Augustine’s. The Hughes family were to provide priests who would serve with distinction, not only the church in their native Ireland but much further afield. In 1992, on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the foundation of the parish, there were four members of the Hughes family still active in the ministry. Monsignor Nicholas Hughes,Vicar General of Clifton Diocese, his twin brothers, recently retired to their native Johnstown after service in the United States, and their youngest brother, Jamie, a priest in New South Wales.
The present fine Pugin Church and school are monuments to Father Hughes’ ambitions for the faith and for the education of his parishioners, most of whom were no strangers to poverty and heavy industry. The first assistant, Thomas Hopwell, was an Englishman from Leicester who went on to play a significant part in the life of the catholic community of Kilbirnie in Ayrshire.
St. Augustine’s was not the first parish to be founded in the district, still designated by the local civil authority as Monklands, a name that reminds us that all this district belonged to Newbattle Abbey in the Middle Ages. St. Margaret’s in Airdrie had already been in existence since 1839, to be followed in quick succession by St. Patrick’s Coatbridge (1845), St. Mary’s Whifflet (1874), St. Joseph’s Stepps (1875), Our Lady and St. Joseph’s Glenboig (1880), St. Augustine’s Langloan (1892), All Saints Coatdyke (1902).
After that things settled for a few decades to be followed, under the impetus of the foundation of the new diocese of Motherwell (1947) and of the Holy Year of 1950, by further energetic development in the second half of the twentieth century, with the establishment in the same area of Lanarkshire of a further five parishes: St Monica’s Old Monkland (1950), St. Bartholomew’s Townhead (1950), St. James the Greater Kirkshaws (1956), the Xaverian Missionary Community (1958). St. Stephen’s Sikeside (1973), St. Bernard’s Shawhead (1973). An important part of that development was the arrival of the De La Salle brothers to take up residence within the community of St. Augustine’s in 1974.
The church census for the year 2006 shows the present Coatbridge Deanery to be composed of 9 parishes with an estimated Catholic population to be 25,600 in the pastoral care of 11 Priests, 2 Deacons and 3 Religious Sisters.
The Irish Priest who founded St. Augustine’s was followed by a German, Peter Muller, remembered as a gifted musician from Luibsdorf Koblenz, Germany, who installed the fine organ and founded a musical tradition that is still valued in the community. His arrival is explained less by the number of German émigrés in the district than by the fact that the German Catholic Church had fallen victim to a bitter conflict between church and state which led to the exile of innumerable German priests. This, combined with the appeal of Charles Eyre, archbishop of Glasgow, to the bishops of the Netherlands and Belgium to release priests with a command of English to serve the increasing demands of the Scottish Mission, appears to explain the presence in the West of Scotland of a number of priests from the continent of Europe.