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St Athanasius' Carluke

In Catholic times the original parish church of Carluke was called the "Forest  Kirk" from  its being situated in the forest of Mauldslie, one of the  royal demesnes.   According to an old rhymer it was in this building that Sir William Wallace was, in 1297, chosen Guardian of  Scotland.   It  appears that  Robert Bruce gave the Carluke church lands to the monks  of Kelso, who out  of the revenues  maintained a vicar to look after the  spiritual interests  of the people.   After 1560 when the  Catholic  Faith was banned,  the property passed to other hands.

Little was known of the Catholic name in this  district during the intervening centuries  till 1845, when the  formation of  the Caledonian Railway brought in a number of  Irish workmen.   At first Carluke was attended from Hamilton, Mass  being said occasionally  in a small  hall;  but in 1849 the  charge of  the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire was entrusted to the Rev. John Black, who fixed his residence  at  Lanark.   The  new mission contained at  that  time 800 Catholics, scattered along the Clyde valley from Biggar to Newmains.    One of the stations was Carluke, where Father Black said Mass once a  month in a hall at  the back of the present Commercial Hotel.   In 1855 he purchased the  existing mission ground, with a thatched cottage on it which he converted into a  temporary chapel;  and Mass was now said "every Sunday, except the fourth, at 10 and 12 alternately."    The  present church was blessed and  opened by Bishop Murdoch on the 13th  September 1857.   The sittings were for 600,  from which  it  would appear  that  the Catholics of Carluke had increased considerably.   The old chapel continued to be used as a school.   In 1859 the Rev. John (afterwards Canon) M'Cay took up residence as priest in charge.   He put up a presbytery of brick behind the church.   It  is  recorded in the Catholic Directory for 1860 that Father M'Cay attended Shotts, Crofthead and Lesmahagow, and that stations for Confessions were held at Cambusnethan, Newmains, Bankend, Auchengray and Biggar;  Mass being said in these places on week-days.   He also organized a Christian Doctrine Society for the working of Sunday schools at various centres   In 1860 Father M'Cay was  succeeded by the Rev. Mortimer Cassin, who held the charge for the long period of thirty-three years.   He continued the same laborious visitation and supervision of  the  various  centres.   About this time the mission seems to have been reduced in extent, being confined to the right  bank of the Clyde;  but it  still embraced the  civil parishes of  Biggar, Carluke, Carnwath, Dolphinton, Dunsyne, Shotts, Walston, Weston and Roberton.   In 1864 the present presbytery was built, and the old  one, with additions made in 1879, has served the purposes of a school to the present day.   To meet the wants of  the growing Catholic population at Shotts Father Cassin built  there a chapel-school, which was opened on the 20th  September,  1868.   In 1871 Shotts and Newmains were cut  off, the  former as a  separate mission and the latter to be attached to Wishaw   Father Cassin died in 1893, and the Rev. Charles  Webb took charge.

During his  time the district of Morningside was cut off to be attached to the mission of Newmains.    In 1900 he was succeeded by the Rev. Peter M'Connachie, who in turn was replaced by the Rev.Alexander M'Cormick   Father  McCormick died  on the 26th December of  the  same  year.   The  present incumbent is the Rev. Charles  F. Fleming, who  computes the number of families in his mission as follows:-37 in  Carluke , 8 in Castlehill,  16 in Law, 12  in Braidwood and 6 in Biggar, which would make the Catholic population about 450.

The history of the formation of Carluke Mission furnishes one of the many striking instances of the pioneer work done fifty years ago.   There was not then  the means  available, nor was it  the  time for great  material buildings,  but the priests of those days laid the sure foundation of all future progress.   Their system of stations and Sunday school centres in the various isolated villages and hamlets involved great  fatigue, but it kept the light of the Faith alive where but for their efforts it might have gone out for ever.


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