Records show that in 1877 there were only 41 Catholics recorded as living in Bonnybridge, but by the end of the century the numbers were increasing mostly due to the fact that many people of Irish origin had come to work in the foundries, mines and brick works found in the area. Very early in the century there is evidence of Mass being celebrated in Griffith’s Hall, High Bonnybridge. The hall had been built by Mr. Fred Griffith, ex-Provost of Falkirk, who had started the Bonnybridge Refractories Ltd. as a family business at High Bonnybridge in 1874. The hall was built for the use of the workers and was kindly allowed to be used for social and religious purposes. It was in that hall that some of the earliest meetings of the Catholic community were held. Bonnybridge and the surrounding area was under the pastoral care of the clergy based at St Alexander’s Church in Denny. There is mention of a branch of St Alexander’s ‘League of the Cross’, a Total Abstinence society, being formed in High Bonnybridge on Tuesday, 20th October 1908. Fifty members enrolled. The meeting was held in Griffith’s Hall under the Chairmanship of the Rev. Father Burns of Denny.
A social meeting of the society was held in Griffith’s Hall in January 1909 when Father Burns presided over a good turnout. Mass must have been said there till the Roman Catholics of Bonnybridge opened a place of worship of their own in February 1910. Part of the building of the Broomhill Paper mills, located on Broomhill Road, was converted into a suitable place of worship. The building had a concrete floor and a glass roof. Father Daniel Conway, curate to the Very Rev. Patrick Canon Shivers was put in charge of the new church and so became the first priest of St Joseph’s Bonnybridge. The church was called ‘St Joseph’s Mission’. In connection with the church at Broomhill, there was a small hall for the use of the congregation of the Mission. In it, many congregational activities were carried out, including a very active Sunday school.
Very soon, St Joseph’s congregation were seeking a larger and more beautiful church building, and so they soon began a Building Fund for that purpose. Amongst other functions for raising funds was a sacred concert held on Sunday afternoon, 19th April 1914 in the Picture House, Bonnybridge. On 20th April 1918 a concert and distribution of gifts was held in the Catholic Church hall. In fact many events were held to help support the Building Fund. There was a report in the Falkirk Herald of Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning services in 1921 in St Joseph’s Church at Broomhill, Rev Father Daniel Conway officiating. Father Conway died in 1922. He had been first curate and then parish priest of St Joseph’s Bonnybridge. He was succeeded by Rev Father Edward Miley.
By that time, the congregation was too large for the size of the church at Broomhill with the result that Father Miley made up his mind to work for a larger and more beautiful church. The church at Broomhill had worthily served the needs of the district since 1910. Father Miley and the diocesan authorities were very fortunate, in July 1924, to find a suitable site on the high ground adjoining the Presbytery.
The parish house at that time was a small cottage that was later added to by Father Miley. Sunday 10th August 1924 was considered an important day for St Joseph’s because the auxiliary bishop, the Right Reverend Henry Grey Graham came to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Six adults, 68 girls, and 68 boys were confirmed. His Lordship, in choir dress, was assisted by the Rev Fathers Kelly (Denny), Morrison (Polmont), McKee (Camelon), Murdoch (Falkirk), Miley (Bonnybridge), and Mr Thomas Corcoran – a student from Blair’s College, Aberdeen, whose father was the headmaster of St Joseph’s school. The children had been prepared and trained by Father Miley, assisted by Miss Elizabeth Reilly, Bonnybridge. Miss Reilly was one of the Sunday school teachers in the small hall beside the first church. It may be of interest to mention that the fact that Mr. Thomas Corcoran was the first Catholic from the village to become a priest.
The last service in the Broomhill church was held on Sunday, 1st August 1925. It had well and truly served the congregation of about 1,000 members for the previous 16 years. The Mass was conducted by the Rev. Father Edward Miley who had been in charge of St. Joseph’s for 2 and a half years. The new church had a seating capacity of 500 people. It measured 95ft. by 40ft. and stood on high ground adjoining the Presbytery. It was constructed of terra cotta face bricks with roughcast and asbestos slates on the roof. The entrance had two flights of steps to a central doorway with vestibule and two doors leading into the church. There was a High Altar and to the right of this was the Lady Chapel.
A bell turret was built to the right of the entrance. Below the church, there was a large hall for the congregation to take part in social activities. The church and hall were fitted with electric light and central heating. The work on the building only began in April but it was helped forward quickly by the great amount of voluntary labour by the men and women of the parish in beautifying the church and grounds. At noon, Saturday 7th August 1925, the new church was officially opened in the presence of a crowded congregation. Solemn High Mass was celebrated by Father Miley, assisted by Father McManus of Stirling who acted as deacon and by Rev. Dr. Welsh of Grangemouth as master of ceremonies. Also present in the chancel were the Right Rev Henry G Graham, auxiliary Bishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh; the Right Rev Mgr. Morris, the Vicar General, Edinburgh and the Right Rev Mgr Miley, Restilrig, brother of the parish priest Rev Father Edward Miley. The new bell was consecrated by Bishop Graham who said that when a bell was consecrated it received a name. In this case, the name given was ‘St Joseph’ who was Patron Saint of the church.
On Tuesday 17th August 1925 the new catholic school was opened, and the church hall on Friday 18th September 1925. When Father Miley declared the hall opened he said it was unique occasion for as far as they were concerned never before had there been a Catholic church, school and hall in Bonnybridge.
On Sunday evening, 20th December 1925 a new stage was reached in completing the furnishings of St Joseph’s. The new Stations of the Cross were installed by Rev Father Wilson, S.J., Garnethill, Glasgow. In a short sermon on the Stations of the Cross, he pointed out that the pictures represented various episodes in the last stages of the Passion and Death of our Lord. The pictures, which were the work of a Belgian artist, were in carved oaken frames and beneath each was a small plaque bearing the name of the donor. The Rev Father Edward Miley died in July 1928. He had been ordained in 1897, and after serving as a curate at Dunfermline, he was appointed parish priest at St Michael’s, Linlithgow where he was stationed for 12 years. He went from there to Balerno. In 1922, he came to Bonnybridge where he worked hard to have the new church hall and school built.
Over the following years, various priests came and ministered in St Joseph’s parish (see the list below).
The church building itself, saw many changes carried out inside. During the 80’s, the pews were removed and a central aisle was created, allowing for easier movement at Holy Communion time. The choir loft was glassed in also round about this time.
In 2010, the parish celebrated it’s centenary of it’s foundation as an independent parish. The opportunity was also taken to have the church and altar formally consecrated, that is set apart for the worship of God. A wonderful celebration was held on the evening of the 2nd February, when a large crowd gathered with the Archbishop and local priests to mark the historic occasion.
Major work was required in 2013 to bring the parish property up to date with required health and safety legislation, and so the church and hall were re-wired and the opportunity was taken to instal a new lighting system and have the inside decorated. It was during this period that the oil paintings of St Andrew and St Margaret were formal installed on the wall of the sanctuary. These paintings and the larger painting of St Joachim and St Anne, were formally the tryptic or Altar piece from St Anne’s Oratory in Edinburgh, now closed.
The Statue of Our Lady was also repositioned during these renovations to the right hand side of the sanctuary and St Joseph, our parish patron positioned on the left, thus our spiritual mother and father guard and protect us in our time of prayer. This allowed the side altar to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Many years, many people, many priests have passed since the foundation of St Joseph’s. It is up to the present and future generations to support St Joseph’s and keep this beacon of the Catholic Christian faith alive in this part of Scotland.
The following names are all those priests who have ministered in the Mission and Parish of St Joseph’s Bonnybridge:
(Parish Priests in Bold)
Fr Daniel Conway 1910-1922
Fr Edward Miley 1922-1928
Fr Michael Downey 1928-1938
Fr Thomas Galligan 1931-1935
Fr Patrick Quille 1936-1938
Fr William McCabe 1938-1949
Fr Andrew J Cameron 1938-1940
Fr Joseph MacArdle 1941-1945
Fr Patrick J Rourke 1945-1957
Fr Thomas McGarvey 1949-1956
Fr Michael Murnin 1956-1984
Fr William Ferguson 1957-1965
Fr William Henery 1960-1967
Fr James A Maguire 1965-1967
Fr Anthony McNally 1967-1972
Fr David McCann 1972-1977
Fr George Rodgers 1977-1984
Fr Desmond Lynagh 1984-1988
Fr John Agnew 1988-1999
Fr Daniel Boyd 1999-2000
Fr Basil Postlethwaite 2000-2004
Fr Paul Kelly 2004-2009
Fr Kevin Dow 2009-2015
Very Reverend Ryszard Canon Holuka 2015 –