The Passionists Compassion

St Mungo's Church: a place of
healing, reconciliation, renewal

Since 1865 in the historic center of Glasgow, Scotland, the Passionists have provided a place of prayer and outreach.

From the mid-19th century, some families wealthy from commerce, industry, and professions populated an attractive, largely middle-class neighborhood, along with tradesmen and skilled workers. Immigration also brought a wave of Irish to the area. Gradually, as in other cities, people of middle-income moved to suburbs. Statue of St Mungo in the church

In the 1970s, the city easily sacrificed this friendly, though unprosperous enclave of neighborhoods and little businesses to freeway development. Only a few buildings escaped demolition, among them St.Mungo's Church and Retreat. A formerly congenial area became a hodge-podge of disconnected streets and tall housing blocks.

But St.Mungo's Church stood a bit above all this because of its unusual high spot in the flat topography of Glasgow. Around it spreads out a panorama of a few historic buildings, Scotland's largest hospital, Strathclyde University, row after row of government-sponsored housing and, of course, the freeway. Beyond all these lie a bustling cityscape and distant green hills.

Like many urban parishes, St.Mungo's ministers both to those who live within its boundaries and to those who seek out spiritual counsel and support during work days, pursue studies, or visit the big hospital. It is the only place in the center of old Glasgow where the Christian community gathers for prayer and worship morning, noon, and evening, every day.

It is a place of reconciliation and healing, as well. Priests hear confessions and are available for spiritual counsel six days a week. Typically, more than 30 confessions may be heard in a 90-minute period. Reconciliation and healing occurs spiritually and it also is fostered in programs offered in the parish community.

For more than 40 years the parish has been home to a day care center for senior adults. Daily, the center serves around 50; the facility is open to all older adults in the neighborhood. Special care is provided for dementia sufferers and for those recovering from stroke.

Since 2000, a unique parish outreach has operated in response to a new community need. Three Sisters of the Cross and Passion arrived at St.Mungo's in 1999 to help with care of parishioners of the St. Stephen's Church community, which had been united with St.Mungo's. Also in 1999, the first group of refugees was flown from Kosovo to Glasgow. Half of the first group of 200 was resettled in the parish. More refugees from countries in Africa, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe soon followed. More than half of the 10,000 residents of Sighthill, the church's neighborhood, are not Scottish.

For adults able to work outside the home and for school-age children, the government provided some initial assistance. For mothers and children under five, nothing was available: no help with a new language, no information about how to keep children healthy in a completely different climate with unfamiliar foods, not even a safe place to socialize with locals and other refugees. Families without complete official papers had no access at all to government programs.

Sr. Maureen McNally, C.P. had an idea. Open the parish hall three days a week and invite people to come in. With the help of parish volunteers, the first focus was offering humanitarian assistance: clothing and household goods needed to make a home in a cold, grey city.

In December, 2003, the center was able to add day care facilities, which in turn made it possible to add classes for mothers such as English, computer, fitness, and arts and crafts. The parish provides transportation to and from the drop-in center, which improves accessibility for the approximately 150 people who come through the door each week. A summer program for school-age children operates at the nearby school with a program of sports, arts and crafts, and other fun.

Immigrants from places as diverse as Afghanistan, Palestine and Zimbabwe-- from more than 30 countries, in all--find a welcome at the center. Some are Roman Catholic, and parish functions acquaint members with newcomers and the countries from which they hail. Because French is a language more familiar to many, monthly Masses in French have been added. Recently an Eritrean priest based in London traveled to Glasgow to celebrate Mass for Eritreans.

In the midst of increasing diversity, the church maintains its identification with and pastoral care for three elementary schools within the parish boundaries. St.Mungo's School, only about 100 yards from the church door, enrolls about 250 children. During Lent, daily Masses open to parents and children have been offered at the school, followed by breakfast for everyone. St.Stephen's, not far from the community of Passionist Sisters, also has about 250 children. One of two Catholic schools in Glasgow for children with special educational needs, St. Kevin's, has about 70 children.

The pastoral team at St.Mungo's assists with sacramental preparation at each of the schools and presides at school Masses and reconciliation services. It also helps parents who may have lapsed in their practice of faith to find a place in the parish community.

Young people aged 16-25 also find activities and opportunities for spiritual growth at St.Mungo's. The group organizes a monthly Youth Mass and also has helped with efforts to feed Glasgow's homeless. Recently the group added a First Friday evening of reflection on the Passion. They have attended World Youth Days in Rome and Toronto. In fact, theirs was the second largest Scottish group at the 2002 Toronto event; even more plan to go to Cologne, Germany for 2005 World Youth Day.

Some young people find their ways to St.Mungo's because Fr. Paul Francis Spencer, C.P. and Sr. Maureen McNally, C.P. serve as chaplains at Glasgow Caledonian University. Masses on holy days are offered at the University, along with annual Lenten retreats and other events such as hosting Pope John Paul's gift to university students of the icon "Sedes Sapientiae" on its tour.

The intense focus of people as "lively stones" building the body of Christ could lead a visitor to overlook the old buildings that house St. Mungo's. But until recently, buckets were stationed throughout the church to catch water dripping through the roof. Stone crumbled outside, part of the tribute exacted by the infamously polluted skies of years past. Inside, lead paint flaked; pews and kneelers sagged uncomfortably from the weight of years. Some thought the damage had so far eroded the building and demoralized the community that the Passionists might simply walk away.

Instead, the Passionists have stayed on to lead a revitalization of the community and of its most beautiful remaining feature. After years of grant applications and fundraising, work to renovate the church began in fall, 2002. The congregation had to meet in the church hall for about nine months, but returned to the church at Christmas, 2003. Painting and stone cleaning have freshened every surface, and features lost or deteriorated over the years have been re-instated. Slate by slate, the roof has been rebuilt. The museum-quality stained glass returned to its maker in Munich for full conservation before reinstallation and new glass was made and put in place above the organ gallery.

The cost, to this point, has been about $4 million, much of which has been paid by grants from Historic Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust and the Columba Trust. The government's Value-Added Tax Recovery Scheme for listed churches has also been a great help. A debt of about $900,000 remains, an enormous sum for any parish, especially one as small as St.Mungo's.

Auntie Mae's Marmalade Fundraiser: Sure, it's good for ye!

Still, the people are intrepid. Dinner-dances, penny collections, sponsored runs (Fr Augustine Hourigan, C.P. trained for and ran a 10K race), and other creative fundraisers continue, as does the sacrificial giving every week in which another second collection is not scheduled. Community has been restored and the building reflects renewed mission and hope.

Sign of the Passion
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