Christ the King Parish, Brora
Highlights of Sutherland’s only parish over the last 50 years
The early years
In the 1940s and 50s, the Catholic community in Sutherland was served by Fr David Keith from the parish in Wick. Twice a year over the period of a week, he took the train to Ardgay, celebrated Mass there and then travelled north again to Golspie where he celebrated Mass at the Daly’s house in Golspie, then took the train again to Brora where he celebrated Mass in the Drill Hall, before taking the train home to Wick. So all of Sutherland was part of the old-established Wick parish – itself part of the Arctic Mission from the 1860s to 1878.
A parish for Sutherland
The establishment of a separate parish for the county of Sutherland, had its origins in the hydro electric schemes which brought mains electricity to the north, with many Irish workers involved with the work based in the Lairg area.
The workers had an Irish chaplain – Father Caslin – who said Mass for them on the sites where they worked.
At about this time, negotiations were being conducted discreetly, for the Diocese of Aberdeen to acquire a site in the village of Brora. The well-known Capaldi family was instrumental in helping to secure the site for the Diocese.
When the hydro-electric site at Lairg was being closed, Father Caslin arranged for the site’s canteen hut to be transported to the newly-acquired diocesan site at Brora.
The move to Brora and erection of the canteen hut took place on a Sunday and unfortunately caused offence to neighbours as the Sabbath was strictly kept. It must be assumed that the move took place on a Sunday because this was the workers only day off.
The parish was originally called Pius X (tenth) – this became known locally as Pius (E)X at the same time as Malcolm X was in the headlines (!), so Fr (later Canon) Doyle sought and received permission to change the parish name to Christ the King.
The canteen hut served the parishioners of Sutherland for 14 years, with baptisms and weddings involving well-remembered local families : Bonner, McRae, Brown, Bokas, Coghill, Sutherland, Lannon, Brodie, Mackay.
An established parish and a new church building
The story of the first 25 years of the parish was written for the silver jubilee celebration in 1982, when Father James O’Neill SJ was parish priest. [and is reproduced as part of this update]
In the intervening years, the parish priests who served the Catholic people of Sutherland were Father John Caslin, Father John Cunningham, Father Michael Fitzpatrick, Father Alistair Doyle, Father James O’Neill, Father Benedict Seed. Fr John Windle also spent a year in the parish.
The parish in Sutherland took a major step forward in the early 1970s with the approval to build a permanent new Church in Brora.
Fr Alistair Doyle became Parish Priest in 1968 and gained Diocesan agreement to building a new Church, even though there had been talk previously, of closing the parish in Brora. The Church and Hall were built for £16,000 with generous help from Alexander Sutherland Ltd (Serge) whose quantity surveyor Douglas Reid drew up the plans for the Church, and much of the building was done at cost by Serge’s workers and by voluntary labour from the Parish.
Equipping the interior of the Church meant many trips south by Fr Doyle and parishioner Franz Prove of Meikle Ferry, using their network of contacts. An interesting example of one of these trips is the reredos [the screen behind the altar] which came from the Duke of Hamilton’s estate – perhaps architecturally surprising in a small 1970s, simple Church but gratefully received nonetheless.
Father Doyle established links with Fr Tierney at St Simon’s in Partick, Glasgow, partly because St Simon’s parish had also been threatened with closure and so there was a natural affinity with Brora. For many years, St Simon’s parishioners were significant benefactors of our parish, selling raffle tickets and making donations to Christ the King parish, until the parish debt was paid off. In recognition of this generous help, a promise was given that accommodation would be provided by Brora parishioners to anyone from St Simon’s who came to the area – this was taken up by several youth group visits.
There was also support in the early years from an American Airforce base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, near to where Fr Doyle had trained for the priesthood. He had written what he himself described as “numerous begging letters in the area” –one of which was received by the base Chaplain, who said that they had been looking for a charity to support and Christ the King parish fitted the bill – they ran dances and sent the proceeds to Brora. There was also a link to the American base at Forss near Thurso, with many personnel from the base stopping in at Brora for Mass on their way north.
Growing ecumenical links
Some of the highlights of the second 25 years of the parish, saw ecumenical links developing with Clyne Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church in Brora, and agreement with the Episcopal Church in Dornoch that Mass would be celebrated there every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation at St Finnbar’s.
The Fisherman’s Mission at Lochinver has welcomed a visiting priest in July and August each year to celebrate Mass, which is ideal for summer visitors and for the parishioners on the west coast who can be up to 2 and a half hours from the Church in Brora.
The links with other churches saw
- the presentation of an Easter Cantata, in Brora Primary School in which many parishioners took part and which was produced by Church of Scotland Minister, Rev Alistair MacLennan and Don Sutherland from our own parish
- the establishment of the World Day of Prayer (formerly the Women’s World Day of Prayer) with the host Church rotating each year in Brora – a popular feature of this event being the afternoon tea served afterwards by the host Church. Parishioners in Dornoch take part in the World Day of Prayer locally too.
- The Diocese re-established links with Dornoch Cathedral when Mass was celebrated there by the Bishop of Aberdeen, Bishop Mario Conti, for the first time in hundreds of years, for the visit of Aberdeen Catenians to Dornoch – the singing during Mass with so many male voices was memorable. Since that first occasion of the celebration of Mass, there have been marriages celebrated there by the Parish Priest along with the Minister of the Cathedral.
The Parish Pastoral Council
Within the parish, a pastoral council was established in the 1980s and has continued to the present time, considering issues such as catechism for the children, music in the liturgy, support for the special occasions of the liturgical year.
Such a widespread parish presents difficulties in finding events to bring parishioners together, but two social gatherings have been supported consistently – the Passover Meal during Lent, and the Epiphany buffet.
The Sunday of the patronal feast is always special with a full sung liturgy at Mass and a social gathering in the Hall afterwards.
Two of our Parish Priests have celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their ordination while at Brora – Father James O’Neill in 1982 and Father Benedict Seed in 2006 – good reason for a parish celebration on both occasions.
In 2004, the Pastoral Council was at the heart of the parish response to the possibility of losing our Parish Priest or even the closure of the parish. Parishioners gave strong feedback to the consultation process, and eventually Bishop Peter Moran conceded the main aim of the parishioners which is that our Parish Priest and the Church should remain available to serve the people of Sutherland. Though scattered and relatively few in number, our sense of community was strengthened.
We remember with appreciation and affection, the Priests and People who have served this parish since it was established 50 years ago, and we leave this short story of the parish of Christ the King during its first 50 years for the next generations to add their story in the years to come.