Ten years on from the death of Joe Wilson, a 17 year old from Carfin, Corrie Young discovers a remarkable legacy, and finds out why some believe he could be a saint.
Near the beginning and end of Joe Wilson’s life, two people remarked on the same trait in him.
‘Joseph’s amazing,’ noted his primary one teacher at a parent’s evening.
“He’ll stand out in that playground, and he’ll look around and he’ll see if there’s someone not playing with somebody or not included in something.
“He’ll go and talk to them, help them, and bring them into a group.”
Years later, a family member said that at family gatherings and parties, Joe ‘would stand there and he’d look.’ “And if somebody wasn’t included, he’d go out of his way to go and talk to them and make sure they were okay, happy, and have a laugh with them.”
Alan Wilson, Joe’s father, would say to people ‘that’s Joe’s character.’ “It’s the same as how he has brown eyes.”
His religious devotion was always apparent. At his first sacrament of reconciliation, ‘Joe went up, and you could see him chatting away to the priest.’
“You became aware he was taking a wee bit longer than the other kids. At that age I doubt he had an awful lot of sins to confess. He must have been confessing mine and everyone else’s!
“Even at that age, we were saying that this is a bit different. It’s not what you normally see in a kid at that age.”
Throughout his life, Joe had a great love of Carfin Grotto, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.
“He’d be over in the Grotto for an hour, a couple of hours,” Alan said.
“One time, he was really late. He said: ‘There was a Mass and then a funeral. I didn’t realise, but I thought I’d just stay.’”
Rather than fall away from the Church, Joe’s Faith became stronger in his teenage years.
“There was a number of times he’d come home from school and say: ‘I’ve heard this today. This person needs prayers. Mum, come and pray with me.’ There was that insistence that you couldn’t say no. His mother Veronica says there was a few burnt dinners because of it!”
Joe was also a very gifted and dedicated pupil. He was the first pupil in his school to get five A Band One’s in his Highers, all with a scribe due to a broken as a result of a sports injury. At a school award ceremony, Joe won the Head Teacher’s Award for excellence in 2011.
Alan spoke with teary-eyes as he remembered Joe winning the top award.
“You could feel the underlying momentum in the audience. You could hear, ‘Joe, lift the cup up!’
“The moment he lifted it the whole place erupted.
“It was so obvious how well Joe was liked, and how widely Joe was liked. Just how many people loved him.”
Tragically, Joe collapsed a few days after his 17th birthday. Paramedics arrived and took him in an ambulance.
“I remember phoning my brother-in-law and saying that Joe had collapsed, to expect the worst.
The hospital induced a coma to try to preserve Joe’s brain function, which he remained in for five days.
When it became clearer that his lack of brain function would lead to the hospital having to switch off his life-support machine, word got out.
“There was a complete queue of people. It was his friends, teachers, neighbours, family, priests. It was procession. It was difficult to be part of, but there was something really warm about seeing it.
“People were coming to us and saying ‘This is one special boy. Here’s what he did for me.’
“When no-one else was going to help, Joe would step up. He did it with enthusiasm.
On the last day, Alan and Veronica were told to go home and rest.
When leaving, Alan had asked the nurses to make sure Joe wasn’t alone. They had left, but Alan had forgotten something.
“When I walked back in and there was three nurses sitting around Joe’s bed. Not administrating any health care, just sitting around Joe’s bed.
“They didn’t know Joe. This was a stranger. Maybe it was the amount and diversity of visitors, they got a sense of who he was.
“Well, I think that’s just lovely.”
Alan discovered a series of diaries written by Joe which was turned into a book, ‘Joe’s Words’. Over 4000 copies have also been distributed across the world.
It can also be found, free of charge, at Carfin Grotto.
A year after his death, Joe’s friends vowed to climb Ben Nevis for Joe – ‘Climb for Joe’. Alan joined along with more than 200 others.
The event raised somewhere between £35-40,000 for charity.
The head of Lochaber Mountain Rescue, who look after the mountain and everyone walking up and down it, told him that normally with charity events, they experience ‘five, ten, twenty at the maximum.’
“They’d never had that many people up,” Alan said.
He told Alan that, ‘if you had come here yesterday, we wouldn’t have let you up onto the top, because it would have been too dangerous.’
The repeat of Climb for Joe got the attention of the media, and gradually Alan began talking about Joe to various groups.
Devotionals to Joe have been allowed, where before Covid over 100 people were attending at Carfin Grotto, and there is a prayer to Joe written by Father Martin Delaney. An online presence grew until Joe’s Faith was founded, promoting his inspiring life.
Joe’s Faith hosts various events, most recently for the 10th anniversary of his death this December, and it has an active Facebook page where people share prayer requests.
“It’s a group of some friends and parishioners that knew Joe, but also people that didn’t know Joe and his influence in life but have gotten to know Joe in death.”
There has been discussion that Joe Wilson may be a saint for a while now, but Alan is understandably careful when talking about it.
“Immediately after Joe died, people told me that they weren’t going to stop asking Joe for help.
“All I can say is: when I ask Joe for help, I get it and I get it pretty instantly. That’s good enough for me. If Joe becomes a saint he becomes a saint, that’s not something I’m going to influence; that’s God’s will.
“As a parent, you always want what’s best for your kids. And I suspect if I asked Joe right now: ‘Joe, are you happy?’ He’d say: ‘When I was here on earth I was able to help people, but with God I’m able to help so many more. I’m happy.’
“I just go back to that we’re asked to be childlike in our faith. And I just see so much help, so much joy happening in the name of Joe, through Joe.”