I come from Greenock. My dad was born in Donegal and he came to Scotland when he was about five. My mother was from Belfast and moved to Scotland after she married my dad. It was a happy childhood where our Catholic faith was central.
When I was in primary school, I began to feel a call to the priesthood and I joined Junior Seminary at 12. If you look at the Bishop’s Conference, most of us went to junior seminary. That would be true of at least half of the priests of my generation.
Perhaps the time had come for Junior Seminaries to finish, but they were never adequately replaced. I often hear that young men should not go to Senior Seminary until at least their mid-twenties. I don’t agree with that.
The correct time to apply for the priesthood is when God is calling you – whether that is in your late teens or your forties!
Looking back attending Junior Seminary had both advantages and disadvantages.
If I had gone to a typical comprehensive school I would have had different experiences – but going to junior semi- nary also gave me experiences I wouldn’t have had going to comprehensive school.
I’m not denying there opportunities missed, but no matter what you do in life you can’t have every experience. I received a grounding – my whole life has been preparing for or living the priesthood.
McGill of Paisley sent me to St Patrick’s College in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland for Senior Seminary. It took a while to get used to it – it was quite a strict seminary and I wanted to go to Spain! But once I did, I embraced the local culture and I greatly benefited from the experience. Living in Tipperary, which I considered at the time to be extremely rural, actually helped me later – though rural Tipperary is certainly a lot more populated than rural Argyll and the Isles!
It was also the first and only time in my life that I had lived in a completely non-sectarian atmosphere.
After six years I was ordained in 1989. I spent seven years in my first parish, St Charles Borromeo in Paisley.
Your first parish is always special but each parish I served in has a unique place in my heart.
My second appointment was to Holy Family in Port Glasgow for a year, and then I became the parish priest of St Joseph’s Clarkston, where there was 1700 going to Mass every Sunday.
No matter if you’re in the biggest city parish or the quietest rural one, you can make the time to get to know people if want to.
I spent two years as Spiritual Director in Scotus College in Glasgow before it closed. I was appointed again to Port Glasgow and six years later I was appointed Bishop of Argyll and the Isles.
Being bishop is not what I would have chosen for myself. I only ever wanted to be a priest in Paisley Diocese. I could have just said no, and barely anyone would have known – but I would always have known.
I have always believed that every disciple should live life as God wants and not us. Furthermore, living as God wants brings deep joy. Trust in the Holy Spirit enabled me to freely say ‘yes’.
Laudato Si & Argyll & The Isles
I enjoy nature. I love travelling by boat, seeing natural beauty. Often, when I’m driving back from a parish on a Sunday I’ll stop put my walking shoes on, and go somewhere I haven’t been before.
I often think: if this is how beautiful creation is, what is the Creator like? I look at the sunset and I wonder: what beauty are the saints enjoying just now?
In Laudato si Pope Francis has asked us to work with the Creator. We see that in the Western Isles land, including the more fertile parts, are under threat, as is much of our rural economy. His message should resonate with us.