TREASURED memories spanning half a century were remembered as worshippers at a historic church celebrated their Golden Jubilee.
Hundreds of parishioners past and present, along with visitors and invited guests, packed St Aidan’s Church, in Tower Road, Johnstone, to commemorate 50 years of worship and pastoral care.
They included former priests, congregation members, friends from other religious denominations and dignitaries – such as Paisley Bishop Philip Tartaglia, who was principal celebrant at the Thanksgiving Mass that was at the heart of the celebrations.
The soaring arches, massive pillars, marbled sanctuary, canopied tabernacle and inspirational icons provided a magnificent backdrop to the sacred music accompanying the Communion Rite and Liturgy of the Eucharist, which are central to the act of worship.
People of all ages looked back on the humble beginnings of the church from a small hut at the top of Elm Drive, in the Johnstone Castle housing scheme, in 1960 to its present splendour as one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland, with its 115-foot white spire, red-bricked walls and castellated tower.
The older generation recalled those early days when Masses were held in a classroom at nearby St David’s School, as well as the church hall, before the church was finally completed and dedicated by Bishop James Black in April 1967.
They had a special place in their hearts for Canon John Earley, the fabled founding priest of St Aidan’s, whose vision for the grand church became reality.
When he came to the parish, Canon Earley and his assistant, Father Michael Sheridan, lived in a council house at Cedar Avenue, in Johnstone Castle.
In his message to parishioners, present parish priest Father David Cotter recalled how Canon Earley devoted much of his time to inspiring the church builders and personally maintaining the grounds himself, with the assistance of a small grass-cutting tractor.
He said: “Canon Earley was extremely proud of this building and cared for it lovingly. If anyone had the temerity to park so that their car’s exhaust pipes faced the building, you heard all about it and were not likely to do it again.”
Sadly, Canon Earley, who was in poor health during the final years of his pastorate, collapsed and died in front of the altar while celebrating Mass on New Year’s Day 1987.
Fittingly, and just as he would have wished, the much-loved priest was clutching the keys to the Holy Tabernacle, where the Eucharistic elements are kept, when he passed away.
Tributes were also paid to former priests, including Canon Thomas Grace, Father Patrick Brannan and Father Jim Duggan.
Both Fathers Brannan and Duggan participated in the Mass, along with Father Jospeh Burke, who is parish priest at St Margaret’s Church in Johnstone.
Also present were Salesian Sister Isabel Geraghty, a former St Aidan’s parishioner who is now based at a religious community in Glasgow.
She was accompanied by Sister Breda Byrne, formerly pastoral assistant at St Aidan’s.
Others who attended the celebrations included James and Marie McFadden, who were the first couple to be married at the church, back in the early 1960s.
Father Cotter revealed that, as part of their 50th birthday celebrations, the parish had raised funds to purchase medical equipment for Father Rick Frecchette’s medical mission in Haiti, in the Caribbean, where thousands of people have been killed, injured or made homeless by famine, illnesses and a devastating earthquake.
So far, the fund stands at nearly £3,000.
The money will purchase such items as heart monitors and oxygen concentrators for the treatment of victims.
Father Cotter said: “Instead of beautifying our own church, we shall be doing something to beautify the lives of these people in Haiti whom we shall never meet.”
Bishop Philip added: “The golden jubilee of St Aidan’s is a reason for thanksgiving. We give thanks for priests, religious and lay faithful who built this parish community during the past 50 years.
“I invoke God’s blessing on the parish for the present and for the future.”
Afterwards, there was a reception in the church hall, where everyone who attended the service was able to sign a commemorative book.