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St Joseph's Blantyre

St.  Joseph's, Blantyre, was formed into a separate Mission in 1877.   Till that time it had been served from Hamilton, of which, like Uddingston and Cadzow, it is an offshoot.   For some considerable time prior to the opening of the present chapel-school, Mass was celebrated and Sunday School conducted in a block of houses in Dixon's Rows, the inner walls or partitions having been removed.   Such accommodation, however, proving wholly inadequate to meet the wants of the Catholic population of the district, negotiations were commenced for the purchase of a site for a more suitable huilding.   This was eventually secured, mainly through the friendly influence of the late Colonel Clarke Forest of Hamilton.   The feu then taken consisting of some three imperial acres is centrally situated at the junction of Stonefield Road with Glasgow and Hamilton Road.   It has a frontage to the Glasgow Road of 260 feet, and extends 338 feet backward.   Three years ago an additional plot was feued as the site of the proposed new Church.   It lies parallel to the former feu, and gives a further frontage of 81 feet, with a similar extension of 338 feet backwards.

In the year 1877, a handsome Presbytery was erected and the building of the chapel-school was also commenced.   The latter edifice is two storied.   The upper storey at present serves the purpose of a Church, and has sitting accommodation for 62 persons.   It was solemnly opened on 24th October 1878.

Archbishop Eyre preached the opening sermon, while Fr. Whyte,SJ., was the preacher of the evening. The late Fr. Gleeson was the celebrant of the Mass assisted by Frs. Mullen and Carpenter, as deacon and sub-deacon respectively.   The chapel was repainted in 1884.   The ground floor, together with a side wing two-storeys high, forms the school proper, affording accommodation for 514 scholars.   This accommodation will be almost doubled after the completion of the new Church, when the space at present utilized as a Chapel will have been added to the existing class-rooms.    There is also a small school at Auchintibber a little village up among the hills, about two miles distant from Blantyre.   The children, however, who attend there are mostly Protestants, as there are but few Catholics in the place.

Among the societies connected with the Mission, a flourishing branch of the League of the Cross merits special mention. Founded in the same year in which the League was so auspiciously established throughout the Archdiocese,  Blantyre branch has had a very successful career,and has been the means of doing much good amongst the miners.   A hall has been erected for the sole use of the members.

As indicative of the growth of the Mission, it may be pointed out that, whereas in 1886 the average attendance at school was 385, by last year it had risen to 717.   A census taken in 1887 showed the population to be 2446, whilst a similar enumeration made during the past autumn gave 4219, or nearly double the number in 1887.

The first resident priest placed in charge of Blantyre, was the Rev. Thomas Frawley, who received his appointment in August, 1877.   Within three months thereafter occurred the most tragic event in the history of the Mission, viz;the terrible Blantyre pit explosion. In this catastrophe, which happened on the evening of 22nd October, 1877, some 230 men - about half of whom were Catholics - lost their lives.  The remains of many were never recovered notwithstanding the heroic courage of the searchers, some of whom did not relax their efforts for nearly a fortnight.   Scarcely a family but mourned the loss of some dear one.   Public sympathy was very general amongst all creeds and classes.   A public subscription was formed for the relief of the widows and orphans of the men who had perished.   In a short time the fund reached £50,000.   This large sum has been so well administered during a quarter of a century that, whilst it has been a source of incalculable good to hundreds of beneficiaries, there are still in hand about £105,000.   A memorial service for the deceased was held in St. Mary's, Hamilton, at which the Archbishop presided.   The celebrant was Fr.  Schomberg Kerr, SJ., formerly of His Majesty's Navy.   Fr.  Amherst, SJ., was the preacher.   A monument erected to the memory of the Catholics who perished on that fatal afternoon may be seen in Dalbeth Cemetery, with the names of the lost inscribed thereon.   Fr.  Frawley, whose health had never been of the most robust, broke down completely under the strain consequent upon the terrible disaster.   With a view to recuperating he undertook a sea voyage to Australia; but within a year after his arrival, he died, 25th April, 1881, at Inglewood, some thirty miles from Sandhurst, Victoria.

Rev. Peter Donnelly, then of St.  John's, Glasgow, succeeded Fr.  Frawley in the charge of Blantyre where he laboured assiduously for the improvement and consolidation of the parish during the years 1881-86.   Towards the end of the latter year he was transferred to the charge of Hamilton, which had become vacant through the death of the late Canon Danaher.   He was succeeded at Blantyre by the present Incumbent, Dr. Hackett.      Up to this time, and for nine years afterwards the Priest in charge at Blantyre laboured single-handed.   But since 1895, owing to the ever-increasing population, there has been an assistant.


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