Rev. Gerard McColgan
Rev. Gerard McColgan
1928 Born Mossend
1953 Ordained Motherwell Cathedral
1953-1957 St.Augustine’s Coatbridge
1957-1958 St.Bride’s East Kilbride
1958-1960 St.Mary’s Caldercruix
1960-1967 St.Thomas’ Wishaw
1967-1969 St.Pater’s Hamilton
1969-1970 St.Bride’s Bothwell
1970-1971 St.Michael’s Moodiesburn
1971-1972 St.Margaret’s Airdrie
1972-1983 St.Dominic’s Craigend
1983-1987 St.Serf’s Airdrie
1987 25 January died Bellshill aged 58
Rev. Gerald B. McColgan-25th January, 1987
CD 1988 p 392
The Reverend Father Gerald Benedict McColgan was born on the 28th June, 1928, and was baptised on the 10th July. He attended Holy Family Primary School, Mossend, and Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, before his preparation for the priesthood in St. Mary’s, Blairs, and St. Peter’s, Cardross. He was ordained by Bishop Edward Douglas in the Cathedral, Motherwell, on the 24th June, 1953. He was appointed to St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge, and in 1957 he moved to St. Bride’s, East Kilbride. Thereafter he went to St. Mary’s, Caldercruix (1958), St. Thomas’, Wishaw (1960), St. Peter’s, Hamilton (1967), St. Bride’s, Bothwell (1969), St. Michael’s, Moodiesburn and St. Margaret’s, Airdrie (both 1970). In 1972, he was appointed founder parish Priest of St. Dominic’s, Craigend. In 1984 he moved to St. Serf’s, Airdrie.
The following appreciation is contributed by Father McColgan’s nephew, Father Michael Briody, Chaplain of Columba High School, Coatbridge.
Please pray for Father Gerald Benedict McColgan who died at eleven o’clock on Sunday night, 25th January, 1987, surrounded by members of his family who loved him so much. Pray for them too, for their loss is greater than anyone’s.
He was born on the 28th June, 1928, the son of Michael and Mary Ellen, the second youngest of eleven children, eight of whom survive him. He worshipped his parents and although the family scattered looking for work before and during the war, they were always a close-knit “clan”, as he always called them. It was to them that he turned in the difficult times, and they never failed him. He saw it as his duty to keep the family together, and he, more than anyone, strove to keep up the Corby, London, Donegal and American connections. He hoped that one day they would be thanked and praised in the most public way possible, especially for the care they took of him in the last months of his life.
It was in his family that he learned to love the faith. He was not a man I would picture immediately on his knees, but he was undoubtedly a man of faith. It shone out through his bouncing good humour coupled to a restless mind forever looking for new ways of bringing God into people’s lives. Chesterton and Belloc were his heroes and the old devotional hymns would be sung at home, in the car and wherever he went. He loved the Latin and when the priests chanted the Dies Irae as his body was borne into St. Serf’s, it pleased him surely that the younger family members were struck by its solemnity.
Church history was one of his greatest interests, especially the story of the courageous days of persecution and revival. He would have made much of Mary Queen of Scots this past year, reminding us that although she had her faults, and politics is a complex business, she did keep the faith for nineteen years in an English prison, from the age of twenty-six, when it could have been much easier and “wiser” to give it up.
He used to say that it was difficult to be an historian and an ecumenist at the same time. He certainly scorned the ecumenical manoeuvrings of theologians. However, he was a “grass roots” ecumenist, he mixed happily in all sorts of company; he maintained good relations with local ministers and fiercely resisted the importing of Ireland’s problems. One of his last projects was to establish, for the local community, an annual Bannockburn Day, 24th June (his ordination day), as an occasion all Scots could glory in, not from a militaristic or anti-English viewpoint, but as a lesson from the past of what a nation can do when it is united.
These were all expressions of his faith, which, when it was put to the test in his final illness, produced a courage and acceptance which we will never forget.
He enjoyed being a priest. He enjoyed priestly conversation. He had an endless fund of stories and could be relied upon for an incisive and often humorous comment on current events. After a happy but short stay in one parish he formulated his oft-repeated dictum: “Don’t tell them you’re happy or they’ll change you”. Repetition was one of his hallmarks. If you ever had the misfortune to sit beside him at a wedding reception, you heard his speech several times before the speeches began.
He belonged to all the College Societies and he even founded his own—The Ratisbon Society, which he liked to mention within earshot of bishops, to alarm them into thinking that it was a subversive movement in the Church. It was all in good part, but this was the real McColgan—full of mischief, especially towards those in authority.
He was a kind of watchdog towards people in authority. He was fearlessly opposed to them trampling on the rights and feelings of individuals, particularly within the Church. It is without doubt, the one thing for which he will be remembered by everyone. His diary is peppered with instances where people did not use their positions well, whether a tradesman who hadn’t done his work properly, or another episode in his uncertain relations with the local constabulary. Among his papers a somewhat pained reply from a prominent English M.P. was evidence of another straight-forward letter from the pen of Gerald Benedict.
His best friend, Fr. Denis Hoban, who had been ordained with him, died nine years after ordination aged thirty-five. He never forgot Denis, and increasingly spoke of him as his model for priesthood. Denis mixed with the people and became one of them without “losing” his priesthood. He had a profound affect by being totally the People’s Priest rather than by any great pastoral initiatives. Father Gerald endeavoured to follow this path which he liked to call the Ontological Priesthood. He tried to understand the way his people thought and spoke. His reward, which gratified him, was that many regarded him as a real man, a true friend and a priest of the people. He was not without his faults, but his people were tolerant, and he constantly marvelled at that. He loved all manner of beautiful things, above all, friendship. He had a lot of friends. He made friends easily wherever he went. At times he infuriated us, but this only seemed to make us love him all the more. He was a fiend for courtesy. Many fell foul of his sensitivity for good manners. He liked to recite:
“The nicest people say with ease:
May I … Would you … Thank you … Please.”
He had a strong affection for Donegal, land of his parents and ancestors, where he cultivated his love of the sea and the hills. He often threatened to become a hermit. He admired the skills of country folk, what one of his book-titles called “The Forgotten Arts”, things like dry-stane dykeing, peat cutting, thatching. A visit to the country would end with him browsing in a craft shop and taking home some item that appealed to him. He was fascinated by all manual skills. Mr. William Sinnott was one of his “catches” of recent times. They struck up quite a friendship and by some coincidence died within a day of each other. They worked together on the new sanctuary furniture in St. Serf’s. It will serve as a memorial for both of them.
His inquiring mind led him to dabble in many pursuits. There was a childlike innocence in the way he would, awkwardly at first, approach some new interest. About some things he became quite expert—Scottish history, gardening, cookery although on his last, when he pulled out all the stops for a visit from his London cousins, about the third day one of them was unwise enough to ask did he not cook anything ordinary.
These interests and a thousand more were included in his library of books ranging from the `Care and Repair of Fibre Glass” to the improbable “Art of Pig-Rearing”. He also had the ultimate book entitled “How to Read Books”. Bookshops were always a favourite haunt. He loved literature and tried his hand at poetry, mostly for his own benefit. Once, though, he entered anewspaper poetry competition on the subject of “Robert the Bruce”. His entry was returned with the short note: “Dear Sir, you overestimate the intelligence of our readers!”.
The chapel house was decorated with paintings and other “objects d’art” he had acquired. He had notebooks containing a disarray of reminders: a piece of music to be played in church; a spot where good top soil was to be had: a tradesman whose work had satisfied him. It was as if he was scared to miss out on any of the good and beautiful things he saw in God’s creation.
I cannot say that he loved children. I think he found it difficult to deal with them, but he knew they were important and some of his best efforts were spared for them. He encouraged them, with considerable success, to visit the Church on the way home from school. One of his notebooks outlines his programme of little talks for the children who came to Mass during Lent. He was anxious for them. He wanted them to have the Mossend experience of a solid upbringing in the faith.
He shared with them his love of the great outdoors, with outings to the Campsies, Tinto Hill and other places. He tried to broaden their horizons and show there was more to life than “breaking bottles and writing things on walls”. I remember, though, his disappointment one day, returning crest fallen from the primary school because they had not shared his excitement at the first crocus appearing!
He loved life, and although by our standards it was short, it was certainly lived to the full.
He loved Mary, the Mother of God. Many of the things of beauty in his house were Marian in character. He had collected all manner of paintings, wall plaques and engravings and recently he had begun to collect photographic slides of the famous paintings of the Madonna. He had fond memories of the 1954 Marian Year—he would have made much of this one. We sang his favourite hymn at his burial in New Stevenston. The second verse prays:
“Mother of God, commend me to thy Son,
As here I bend;
And oh! commend me when my task is done
And life shall end;
Within thy outstretched hands
I leave my heart,
Lady, with thee:
A worthless gift with which thou wilt not part Eternally.”