Parish History

ST JOSEPH'S, BONNYBRIDGE - PARISH HISTORY                                                                                                         Back to Menu

In 1877 there were only 41 Roman Catholics in Bonnybridge, but by the end of the century the numbers were increasing partly due to the fact that many people of Irish descent had come to work in the foundries, mines and brick works in the area. Very early in the century they were probably holding mass in Griffith’s Hall, High Bonnybridge. The hall had been built by Mr. Fred Griffith, ex-Provost of Falkirk, who had started the Bonnybridge Refractories Ltd. as a family business at High Bonnybridge in 1874. The hall was built for the use of the workers and was kindly allowed to be used for social and religious purposes. It was in that hall that some of the earliest meetings of the Roman Catholic community were held. The activities were under the control of St Alexander’s R.C. Church, Denny. There is mention of a branch of St Alexander’s ‘League of the Cross’, a Total Abstinence society, being formed in High Bonnybridge on Tuesday, 20th October 1908. Fifty members enrolled. The meeting was held in Griffith’s Hall under the Chairmanship of the Rev. Father Burns from Denny.

A social meeting of the society was held in Griffith’s Hall in January 1909 when Father Burns presided over a good turn out. Mass must have been said there till the Roman Catholics of Bonnybridge opened a place of worship of their own in February, 1910. Part of the building of the Broomhill Paper mills was converted into a suitable place of worship. That church had a concrete floor and a glass roof. Father Daniel Conway, curate assistant to the Rev. Canon Patrick Shivers was in charge of the new church. The church was called ‘St Joseph’s Mission’. In connection with the church at Broomhill, there was a small hall for the use of the congregation of the Mission. In it, many congregational activities were carried out, including a very active Sunday school.

Very soon, St Joseph’s congregation were seeking a larger and more beautiful church, and so they soon began a Building Fund for that purpose. Amongst other functions for raising funds was a sacred concert held on Sunday afternoon, 19th April 1914 in the Picture House, Bonnybridge. On 20th April 1918 a concert and distribution of gifts was held in the Catholic Church hall. In fact many events were held to help support the Building Fund. There was a report in the Falkirk Herald of Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning services in 1921 in St Joseph’s church at Broomhill, Rev Father Daniel Conway officiating. Father Conway died in 1922. He had been first curate and then parish priest of St Joseph’s Bonnybridge. He was succeeded by Rev Father Edward Miley.

By that time, the congregation was too large for the size of the church at Broomhill with the result that Father Miley made up his mind to work for a larger and more beautiful church. The church at Broomhill had worthily served the needs of the district since 1910. Father Miley and his ecclesiastical superiors were very fortunate, in July 1924, to find a suitable site on the high ground adjoining the Rectory. The Rectory at that time was a small cottage that was later added to by Father Miley. Sunday 10th August 1924 was considered an important day for St Joseph’s because His Lordship the Right Reverend Henry Gray Graham, Bishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, paid a special visit to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Six adults, 68 girls, and 68 boys were confirmed. His Lordship, in ceremonial robes, was assisted by the Rev Fathers Kelly from Denny, Morrison from Polmont, McKee from Camelon, Murdoch form Falkirk, Miley from Bonnybridge, and Mr Thomas Corcoran - a student from Blair’s College, Aberdeen. The children had been prepared and trained by Father Miley, assisted by Miss Elizabeth Reilly, Bonnybridge. Miss Reilly was one of the Sunday school teachers in the small hall beside the first chapel. It may be of interest to mention that the fact that Mr. Thomas Corcoran was the first Roman Catholic in the village to become a priest.

The last service in the Broomhill church was held on Sunday, 1st August 1925. It had well and truly served the congregation of about 1,000 members for the previous 16 years. The service was conducted by the Rev. Father Edward Miley who had been in charge of St. Joseph’s for 2 and a half years. The new church had a seating capacity of 500 people. It measured 95ft. by 40ft. and stood on high ground adjoining the rectory. It was constructed of terra cotta face bricks with roughcast and asbestos slates on the roof. The entrance had two flights of steps to a central doorway with vestibule and two doors leading into the church. There was a High Altar and to the right of this was the Lady Chapel.

A bell turret was built to the right of the entrance. Below the church, there was a large hall for the congregation to take part in social activities. The church and hall were fitted with electric light and central heating. The work on the building only began in April but it was helped forward quickly by the great amount of voluntary labour by the men and women of the parish in beautifying the church and grounds. At noon, Saturday 7th August 1925, the new church was officially opened in the presence of a crowded congregation. Solemn High Mass was celebrated by Father Miley, assisted by Father McManus of Stirling who acted as deacon and by Rev. Dr. Welsh of Grangemouth as master of ceremonies. Also present in the chancel were the Right Rev Henry G Graham, Bishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh the Right Rev Mgr. Morris, the Vicar General, Edinburgh and the Right Rev Mgr Miley Restilrig, brother of the parish priest Rev Father Edward Miley. The new bell was consecrated by Bishop Graham who said that when a bell was consecrated it received a name. In this case, the name given was ‘St Joseph’ who was Patron Saint of the church.

On Tuesday 17th August 1925 the new catholic school was opened (click here to read about the unique place St Joseph's Primary School holds in the history of Catholic schooling in Scotland), and the church hall on Friday 18th September 1925. When Father Miley declared the hall opened he said it was unique occasion for as far as they were concerned never before had there been a Catholic church, school and hall in Bonnybridge.

On Sunday evening, 20th December 1925 a new stage was reached in completing the furnishings of St Joseph’s. The new Stations of the Cross were installed by Rev Father Wilson, S.J., Garnethill, Glasgow. In a short sermon on the Stations of the Cross, he pointed out that the pictures represented various episodes in the last stages of the Passion and Death of our Lord. The pictures, which were the work of a Belgian artist, were in carved oaken frames and beneath each was a small plaque bearing the name of the donor. The Rev Father Edward Miley died in July 1928. He had been ordained in 1897, and after serving as a curate at Dunfermline, he was appointed parish priest at St Michael’s, Linlithgow where he was stationed for 12 years. He went from there to Balerno. In 1922, he came to Bonnybridge where he worked hard to have the new church hall and school built.

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