If the work of the. first thirty years was the creation of the parish, the next half century saw the efforts of the past being brought to fruition. St. Margaret’s greatest need after 1867, was a period of stability in order to organise the parish, and it is most fortunate that in that time there were only two priests in charge, Canon McIntosh (1867-1893) and Canon Van Stiphout (1893-1926), both of whom won the respect of non-Catholics.
Canon James Mcliitosh
When Father James McIntosh arrived in Airdrie, he could not have foreseen that during his period at St. Margaret’s, he would witness the birth of a new age for the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Catholic population of New Monklands had risen to just over 6,000, some 4,000 of whom were in his charge. It is not surprising that he devoted much of his time to setting up missions in the outlying parts of his parish to bring the Mass more easily to his people. From 1873, Mass was said monthly at Meadowfield, near Longriggend. Work was started on a church in 1879, and two years later Father John Linster was able to take over the independent parish of St. Mary’s. Another cholera epidemic swept through central Scotland in the 1870s, bringing sickness and death to many, particularly the poor, who lived in the conditions which encouraged the plague.
With his curates, Fathers Charles Brown, John McLay and Thomas Frawley, he devoted long hours to the afflicted. This involved extensive travelling throughout the vast parish, carrying the Sacraments to the dying and bringing comfort to the families of the afflicted. Like clergymen of all denominations, the needs of the poor were given first priority. This is best exemplified by Father Frawley, who moved from St. Margaret’s to Blantyre in 1877 and was immediately faced with th,e horror of the explosion at the local colliery, and was given priase by all for his efforts during the disaster.
Father Charles Reid Brown had the distinction of being the first local boy to return as a priest to the town. Little is known about his early days, except that he went to Belgium to study for the priesthood and received Minor Orders on the same day as Hubert Van Siphout, later to be priest-in-charge of St. Margaret’s. It seems likely, however, that Father McNab was the priest who influenced the young man and who encouraged his vocation. The newly ordained Father Brown was appointed to St. Margaret’s in 1873 and served there for three years before moving to St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge, and later St. Peter’s, Partick. One of his first actions on arriving in Airdrie as priest-in-charge, saw Father McIntosh invite the Passionists to spend three weeks in the town to supervise a parish retreat. During the three weeks, ffiere were 3,500 Holy Communions and 540 Confirmations, which Father McIntosh saw as a spiritual revolution that would strengthen the Faith of his flock and emphasise the values that were of greatest importance. He also hoped that it would woo Irishmen, especially the young, away from the Ribbonmen, whose militancy and nationalism were a source of concern to most Catholics, and an obstacle to the acceptance of the Church by non-Catholics.
The passing of the Education Act of 1872, made elementary education available for all, and gave new impetus to Father McIntosh’s keen concern that adequate schooling be provided for all. The size of the school in Airdrie was increased so that 500 boys and 350 girls could be accommodated, with Mr. Bannon, who had succeeded James McAuley and Mr. McCarthy, as headteacher. A concert and dance were organised to raise funds to have a school built at Darngav’il and John Sweeney from Aitchison Street, Airdrie, was appointed head of this establishment when it opened in 1875.
The Baptismal Records of the parish show a significant change that occurred during Father McIntosh’s time in the parish. The place of birth of the parents of the children being Baptised is recorded and almost every entry before about 1875 gives the name of an Irish town or village (entries cover most parts of Ireland, with Ulster, in particular Donegal, being the most common). After this date, however, the parents are seen to be local, and the entries list areas around the town itself, indicating that the children of the immigrant community were now marrying and starting their own families, and were identifying with their adopted home. Another aspect of the Records is the falling numbers of children being Baptised, a reflection of the falling birth rate of the middle of the century, and a slowing down of the rate of immigration: numbers Were at a peak in the 1850’s, with 1852 showing the highest total of 407 Baptisms, whereas, around half that number is common by 1870. One other aspect is that there were few conversions, only 2 or 4 a year, except in the earliest days when as many as 16 were noted in 1846: again, the Catholic influence in the town was predominantly Irish.
Pope Leo XIII issued the Bull “Ex supremo Apostolatus Apice” in 1878 and restored the Hierarchy in Scotland. In the reorganisation which followed, St. Margaret’s became part of the Archdiocese of Glasgow. The Archbishop was an Englishman, chosen by Rome to avoid causing friction between Irish and Scots in the country, and hopefully to reconcile the two communities. Archbishop Eyre sought out local men with the knowledge of particular Scottish situations that he lacked and with the ability to help him run the diocese effectively. It was not surprising that he turned to Airdrie and in 1886, created Father McIntosh a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter. Two years later, the Canon was appointed Missionary Rector of Airdrie, with the task of supervising the work of the churches in his area. During his visitations of the homes of his poor parishioners, the Canon had become aware of two great evils, poverty and drunkenness. He realised that the two were connected and chose to attack them on two fronts. He established the St. Vincent De Paul Society in an effort to give help to those in greatest need of financial assistance.
The League of the Cross Temperance movement was introduced to provide recreational facilities that would attract the young men away from the public houses. Rooms were also hired at Whiteriggs and Darngavil and equipped with reading rooms and recreational areas: on Sundays, the same rooms were used as Sunday schools for the children. Booksellers provided Catholic books and newspapers that were available through the Church to give the people information about the Church throughout the country: lectures were organised and great names like Thomas Bradley, founder of “The Lamp” and a leading Temperance advocate, spoke in Airdrie.
The churches in the last quarter of the 19th Century took on a community role that attracted favourable comment from nonCatholics. Organisations looked after orphans, the deaf and the blind, and delinquents. The churches provided a location for friendly societies to serve the needs of the Catholic community, who had in the past been excluded from many such socieLies. Outings were organised and sporting and social events arranged by the parishioners, who were able to gain organising skills and to achieve a status within the Catholic community that would enable them to take a more active part in the life of the wider community. Canon McIntosh played the leading role in making these opportunities available to the people of St. Margaret’s. By 1892, the church building was in need of repair, and the Canon arranged for improvements to be made. The interior of the church was repainted and a new alabaster high altar was installed. At the same time, work commenced on enlarging and improving the cemetery at Rochsoles, where a further plot of land had been acquired.
Encouragement was given by the Canon to, Father John Linster to establish a mission at Meikle Drumgray, near Greengairs, and in 1892, a church was opened there. In the last year of his life, Canon McIntosh, the energetic advocate of education, was pleased to see a school opened at Meikle Drumgray. On 13th October 1893, Canon McIntosh died and was greatly mourned by his flock. Bishop Maguire recorded that the Canon had taken quite literally his Master’s injunction to “feed my lambs, feed my sheep” and recalls the many stories of the quiet help he gave in times of temporal, as well as spiritual need. The Canon was the first priest to die in St. Margaret’s, and his death touched non-Catholics as well as his parishioners. They had come to admire the humanity of the man and to respect the spirituality of the priest, and so they turned out to line the route and accompany the cortege to Rochsoles. In 1895, at the unveiling of a memorial tablet at the Canon’s sepulchure (this tablet is now in the church), Bishop Maguire held him up as a model for all priests, and stressed how he had fostered reconciliation with other faiths and so gained the acceptance and respect of Airdrieonians.
Canon Hubert Van Stiphout
Listening to the Bishop’s praise of the late Canon was the new priest-in-charge of St. Margaret’s, Father Hubert Van Stiphout, and he must have considered it a daunting prospect to follow in the footsteps of such a great priest. Born at Veghal in North Brabent, Hubert Van Stiphout studied for the priesthood at Mechlin, and during that time he met Charles Reid Brown who came from Airdrie, and was later to be the first local boy to return as a priest to St. Margaret’s. Along with several other Dutch priests, he volunteered to serve as a missionary in Scotland — as the country was still regarded in 1874. Father Van Stiphout’s first appointment was to Coatbridge where he spent 5 years under Canon O’Keeffe at St. Patrick’s before being asked to found St. Aloysius’ at Chapelhall. After 14 years at Chapeihall, he was sent to the mother-church in Airdrie as priest-in-charge, arriving in November 1893. A quiet, retiring person, he positively shunned publicity, yet quickly won the affection of his parishioners, who noted his piety and concern for their temporal welfare. His love of children was such that in his 33 years in the town, he was seldom seen without a crowd of youngsters following him. Yet he was not soft and easy-going and his people observed that when he said “no” he meant it and was unlikely to change his mind. Within a year of his appointment, Lanarkshire suffered the great colliery strike, which brought real hardship to many of his parishioners, whose livelihoods depended on the mining industry. For the 14 weeks that the strike lasted in 1894, “Father Van”, as he was called, used his own money to provide bread for the children in the school whose fathers were not working; it is estimated that the cost of the food was around £30.
In January 1895, he was appointed Missionary Rector and had responsibility for the other churches in the town. But the work he enjoyed most was giving simple instructions in the Faith at Sunday Masses, using the Penny Catechism and explaining it to his flock. He encouraged the youth to seize the opportunities offered by increased school provision and the opening of the Universities to Catholics. To bring the Mass closer to the people, he built more churches, and with them, the schools that he saw as providing a means for Catholics to improve their prospects and enable them to play a more active part in society, e.g. the mission at Meikle Drumgray, and while building was in progress, the priest-in-charge Father McEachan was a guest at St. Margaret’s. A further chapel-school was established between Whiterigg and Plains, before being replaced by St. David’s at Plains. In all some 1,900 souls passed from the care of St. Margaret’s to these new parishes, but still some 4,000 remained. The girls’ school at Airdrie was improved in 1896 and Mary Macginn replaced Miss Walsh, who had retired. A new boys and infant school, under the patronage of St. Margaret was opened in 1897, with a statue of the school’s patron, sculpted and painted by Miss Anisa McGeechan, was placed in a niche in the front of the building. In the same year, Mr. Bannon was elected to the Town Council in Coatbridge and had to give up his post as head of the school; he was replaced by Patrick Lavelle and a year later, on the latter’s death, John James McGovern took charge. In 1918, he studied carefully the proposals for handing the schools over to local authorities, before giving his approval. Meticulous in every detail of his duties, from preparing for Mass to doing the parish accounts, Father Van Stiphout has left a very detailed record of the times. He recorded the expenses involved in extending the chapel-house and in maintaining and improving the houses in Priest’s Loan between 1895 and 1897. Yet, home visitation was a major responsibility that he undertook willingly, making sure that he visited each family regularly. During these visits, he used to be given the Quarterly Collection, and on one occasion returned the two half-crowns he was handed as the offering as a gift to the new-born girl in the family. His unfailing attention to the needs of the parish won the admiration of even non-Catholics.
Retreats were organised and missions preached in the parish by a number of Orders, Vincentians, Franciscans and Redemptorists to focus the attention of the people on the importance of the spiritual life of the community. Despite the poverty of most of his flock, Father Van Stiphout raised several collections — some for the Children’s Home at Langbank and others to aid the poor in Belfast, to emphasise the importance of giving. Without doubt, the two events that troubled the gentle priest most were the Great War and the stream of emigrants leaving ther town. From 1914 to 1918, the ball at St. Margaret’s was used by women as a centre where they made socks and scarves and packed parcels to send to the troops in the trenches. As casualties increased, Father Van made more and more calls to bring comfort to the bereaved and to give encouragement to the wounded who had returned home. He persuaded morewomen to help those working in the hall, and reminded them of the comfort their gifts brought to the soldiers. There is no record of his thoughts during those terrible years, but in his diary, he carefully listed the name, rank, unit, home address and date of death of each of the 57 members of his parish who gave their lives in the conflict. It is not difficult to imagine him kneeling in prayerful thanksgiving before the high altar in St. Margaret’s when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918.
The last years of the 19th Century saw an exodus of young families from Scotland, and Airdrie was no exception. Hundreds left to seek a new life in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents had done when they left Ireland. They took with them, not only their skills and knowledge that would serve them in their new homes, but also the Faith and values they had learned from their church and with which they would help establish the Church in the new lands where they settled. The influence of this quiet Dutchman was to spread well beyond Lanarkshire, where he spent his entire ministry.
But there were also moments of happiness that lightened the bleakness of the age. In 1914, before the War, King George V and Queen Mary made a visit to the town to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Airdrie’s Burgh status, and priests and people joined in celebrating this historic event. Later, in December 1917, Father Van Stiphout was raised to the dignity of Canon and was presented with a richly jewelled chalice by his fellow priests. His parishioners rejoiced in the honour conferred upon him, but continued to call him “Father Van” — indeed. some of the present parishioners who remember him still use the same title. Seven years later, he was overwhelmed by being presented with an illuminated scroll conferring the special blessing of Pope Pius XI, on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee.
For twenty-eight years, Canon Van Stiphout had the aid of Father Edward Doody as his curate, and although almost totally opposite in many ways, they complemented each other. Father Doody was a big, burly man with bushy eyebrows and terrified youngsters. until they discovered that he was not as ferocious as he appeared, and then they had a friend who enjoyed their company and whose company they enjoyed. It was the big Kilkennyman’s custom to tour the streets of Sunday mornings, carrying a big stick which he used to encourage the men to go to Mass. Like his parish priest, he was concerned that drink was making men careless of their religious duties and was causing harm to their families, and was a strong supporter of the Temperance Movement.
However, he seems to have had his own methods of dealing with drunks. It is reputed that on more than one occasion, he used his stick to “persuade” a man with a weakness for alcohol, to sign the Pledge. With his parish priest, he believed that the church should also offer the people an alternative to the saloons and bars, and they organised social evenings in the hail. Both priests made a point of attending these functions; the shy Father Van sitting quietly chatting with his parishioners, while the more flambouyant Father Doody entertained them with his favourite song — The Old Orange Flute”. Together, they represented St. Margaret’s parish to the people of the town and each was admired by all. Father Doody died in 1924 and his funeral was marked by the closure of every shop, except one, in the town, as Airdrieonians paid their last respects to one of the town’s great characters.
In his last years, the Canon became very frail and was assisted by a stream of young priests who stayed only a year or two These curates are remembered partly for their youth, and partly because they used motor-bikes — youngsters being able to earn a few coppers by cleaning their machines. But Canon Van Stiphout was not so frail as to neglect his duties, and when the Archbishop proposed taking over all the Catholic cemeteries he encountered opposition from Airdrie. Canon Van Stiphout emphasised that Rochsoles had been given to the people of the parish, not to the priests-in-charge and that subsequent additions by Sir Montague Gerard in 1903, fell into the same category. By 1916, the Gerard Estate had passed to Father John Gerard SJ. and Rochsoles House was used for retreats until Craighead House was opened. Shortly afterwards, the solicitors dealing with the estate of the late General Gerard, made arrangements with the Archdiocese for the transfer of St. Joseph’s Cemetery. During the 52 years of his priesthood in Scotland, Canon Van Stiphout had witnessed the most rapid period of growth in the Catholic Church in the country. and Lanarkshire reflected this development. In 1874. Scotland was an area for missionary activity, with the Western District having 128 priests. 111 chapels, stations or churches to serve a Catholic population of around 80,000. By 1924. the hierarchy had been restored and the same area had 403 priests, 233 churches and about 477.000 parishioners. St. Margaret’s had given birth to a number of new parishes and still had around 4,000 parishioners, and some 20 young men from the parish had entered the priesthood. while eight girls had become nuns. Most significantly, the Church was making a more public declaration of its Faith than would have been considered possible half a century earlier. Carfin was on its way to becoming a major shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. attracting pilgrims whose needs were met by the railway companies and whose devotion was reported with respect in the press.
Canon Van Stiphout was called to his reward in 1926. after 52 years of unobtrusive labour in the interest of his adopted people. He last said Mass on Ash Wednesday and was unable to undertake any duties thereafter. Dean Muller from St. Patrick’s administered the Last Sacraments on the morning of 9th August and the Canon spent the afternoon bringing the parish records up to date. When he had finished, he called Father Thomas Kelly, who with the recently appointed Father Bartholome Atkinson was looking after the parish, to ask the time, and being told it was 4:20pm. replied. “Thank you. That will do I am tired.” At 515pm. he died.
For a man whose life had been so private, Airdrie put on a very public funeral. After Requiem Mass on 12th August, the cortege that set out for Rochsoles contained Monsignor Ritchie VG, the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter. priests from every parish in Lanarkshire and representatives of all the church organisations, together with most of the parishioners, especially schoolchildren. But non-Catholics and non-Church bodies were also represented — Sheriff Knox, Provost Armour, Dean of Guild Cowie, Baillies, Parish Councillors, the Inspector of the Poor and the Secretary of the Airdrie Savings Bank, stood alongside John Breen a parishioner and the Irish National Foresters representatives, to pay their last respects. As the mile-long procession moved through the town to the sound of the passing bell, shopkeepers lowered their blinds aml closed their doors as a mark of respect for the Dutch priest that Airdrie had taken to its heart. At St. Joseph’s Cemetery, the Canon was laid to rest alongside his great friend and companion, Father Edward Doody.