Galashiels is in the borders area of Scotland, south of Edinburgh. It had been engaged in the textile trade since the sixteenth century. The growth of this trade led to a rapid increase in the town’s population from 1,600 in 1825 to 18,000 by 1891. Among the new population was a growing number of Catholics. According to Ortolan there were some 300 Catholics in the town and about 1000 in the surrounding countryside when the Oblates arrived. The railway reached the town in 1849. In 1849-53 there were three outbreaks of cholera. 1850-80 was the wealthiest period for the town before the textile industry began to decline.
Prior to 1853 Galashiels was served by a priest who came once a month from Hawick. There was no church building. The town was in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Bishop James Gillis, the Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District of Scotland. (It is now in the archdiocese of St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh). Father Noble had preached a five-week Lenten mission in Edinburgh in 1850 and Fathers Cooke and Hickey had preached there in March 1852. Now the Oblates accepted the proposal of Bishop Gillis to take on a mission in Galashiels, with the financial sponsorship of Mr. James Hope-Scott. The latter agreed to “furnish a large house to accommodate six to eight priests to form a mission centre, to provide a theological library and to have the community in undisturbed possession of this property as long as they fulfilled the terms of the agreement.” (Denny p.79). In a letter dated 11 November 1852 to Father Bellon, Bishop de Mazenod expresses his joy at this opportunity. Father Bellon signed the agreement on 31 December 1852. An entry in the Sicklinghall Codex reads: “December 1852: The new House of Galashiels in Scotland has been founded …Father Cooke with Fr. Dutertre and Brother Fox and Brother Dunkley were sent there to begin and form a new congregation under the patronage of Mr Hope…” The Oblate intention was also to use the mission as a base for preaching throughout Scotland. Father Dutertre was diverted there from the Leith mission and very soon he was moved to Liverpool. Brother Dunkley served as cook and tailor. Scholastic Brother Fox came from Sicklinghall and was bursar (Sicklinghall codex). He and Scholastic Brother Gobert were ordained there by Bishop Gillis on 10 August 1853; Gobert however was assigned to Leeds. Fox remained until 1854. In February 1855 Scholastic Brother Gubbins arrived from Sicklinghall to be ordained deacon and join the staff. In April 1856 Father Lynch and Kirby are there for a retreat and a holiday. Father Cooke’s provincial duties often took him away and he moved to Inchicore in 1857. In 1856-1858 Father Noble was superior and was succeeded in 1858 by Father Bradshaw. Canonical visits of the Oblate community were made by Father Aubert (1855) and the Founder (7 August 1857)
When the Oblates arrived, Hope-Scott was already in the process of erecting a temporary chapel for the local Catholics that would be opened on 9th January 1853. It provided seating for 200 people. Very soon a larger church was needed and construction began in 1856. It was dedicated to Our Lady and St. Andrew. The Oblates hoped that Bishop de Mazenod would open the new church when he made his visit in 1857 (Sicklinghall Codex 21 January 1857). In the event, the church was not ready. In a letter dated 30 December 1857 from Abbotsford to Father Newman, Hope-Scott wrote: “I hope that ten days or so will render the church fit for use in a rough way and I hope it will be so used and that I shall not be hurried in the decorative part, which I cannot afford to do handsomely at present, and which I think will be done better when we have become used to the interior and observed what is to be brought out and what concealed…” It was in use from 1858 and, after being enlarged in 1870, the official opening took place on 8 August 1873. Hope-Scott had died three months earlier. In its general plan the new church “is based on that of the old church of the Franciscans at Bruges in Belgium”(O’Neill). The residence built for the Oblates is alongside the church and still in use as the presbytery.
The mission was a difficult one. Fr. Dutertre: “Compared to this country England may be said to be quite Roman!” Fr. Fox: “People of this place are becoming dreadfully bigoted and are inflamed by ministers and masters. Those who come to our services are turned out of their meetings. Even those who work here, painters and carpenters are publicly denounced. Landlords have decided not to let any house to a Catholic or an Irishman. In spite of this 19 are under instruction.” However, the mission was fruitful. Fr. Fox on 10 March 1853: “More improvements, 450 people stuffed into our Papist house. An interesting mission. Cooke hears confessions frequently during the day and is very busy distributing money collected for distribution to those in want. Hope-Scott gives twenty pounds for this. Hansom is arranging about schools. Hope-Scott as good as ever. He took me to select some furniture for our parlour.” The missioners had an excellent relationship with the Hope-Scott family. Dutertre: “Everybody is very good to us. Mr. and Mrs. Hope-Scott cannot refrain from expressing their joy at our presence here. They regard us as Apostles of Scotland.”
After Mrs. Hope-Scott died in October 1858, Mr. Hope-Scott wrote Gladstone on 3 November 1858 after receiving his condolences: “If ever, in the strife of politics and religious controversy, you are tempted to think or speak hardly of that church – if she should appear to you arrogant, or exclusive, or formal, for my dear Charlotte’s sake and mine check that thought, if only for an instant, and remember with what exceeding care and love she tends her children…” (Ornsby, II, p.164)
But already when the Founder made his visit the future of the mission was uncertain. It proved too narrow in scope and there were too few opportunities to preach missions to justify the use of Oblate personnel needed more urgently elsewhere. The Oblates withdrew. This was made a little easier by the fact that for some time after the death of his first wife Mr. Hope-Scott was absent. The Oblates were succeeded by the Jesuits (1862-1902) and thereafter by the priests of the diocese.
Michael Hughes, o.m.i.