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St. Columba's Church


St. Columba's, Cupar, History of the Parish of Cupar

The parish of Cupar or "The Cupar Mission", as it is otherwise known dates back to 1846. It was in September of that year that the Rev. Aeneas McDawson became the first resident priest in Fifeshire. The town of Dunfermline was chosen as the Mission Centre and four Mission Stations were created and opened in Kirkcaldy, Newburgh, Culross and Cupar.

On Sunday 27th September 1846, Mass was celebrated for the first time in Newburgh, (a village which is part of this parish), since the destruction of the neighbouring and richly endowed Abbey at Lindores. These stations continued for a few years but were closed down in 1849. Here in Cupar, Mass was celebrated for the first time 'in modern days' on Setuagesima Sunday, 1847, in a spacious hall, which was made available by Mr. McNabb.
A new beginning was made in 1864. Mr. William Douglas Dick was in residence with his family at Montrave, which is four miles from Cupar. The Mansion House included a private Oratory to which the Catholics of the neighbourhood were invited to celebrate Mass. The first chaplain was the Rev. Isidore C. Laporte who was succeeded by the Rev. T.J. Capel, a priest who worked zealously to gather the scattered Catholics of the area and single-handed he instructed the people and encouraged them to live out their Christian beliefs.

During this year of 1864, Mr. Douglas Dick purchased a property in the Millgate of Cupar, which consisted of a three-storey dwelling house, with a garden attached. He had the second flat converted into a hall, which was capable of accommodating about 100 people. This was to be used as the church in Cupar. The ground and upper flats were reserved as apartments for the priest. This building is still in use today. It now houses the staff room, offices, games / dining hall and storerooms for St. Columba's Primary School.

In 1864, Rev. William Grady was appointed as the first resident priest in Cupar. During the period of 1864-65 he also had charge of a Mission in Kirkcaldy, where he had a congregation of about 200 people. It was in 1865, that Kirkcaldy again became a separate Mission. At this point, Fr. Grady became absorbed in the Mission in Cupar. He actively sought to gather the parishioners together, when possible, and visited the wide area which is his responsibility. His particular concern was for the education of children, so he personally opened and conducted a small school, which was attended by about 25 pupils. Difficulties soon arose when Fr. Grady, who was acting as teacher had to care also for the parishioners, who were widely scattered. When it was necessary to travel any distance, he had to dismiss his pupils, a circumstance, which militated against the success of the project.

In 1866 a Mission Station was opened at Anstruther and this was attended from Cupar until 1869 when it became attached to the Mission in Kirkcaldy. It was in 1869 that Mr. Douglas Dick, whose generosity to the Mission had enabled it to exist, sadly died. This loss led to Fr. Grady being transferred to Haddington and yet again, the Mission at Cupar was left without a resident priest and was put under the care of Kirkcaldy.
In 1871 another attempt was made to re-open the Mission Station in Cupar and the Rev. Joseph Hoare was placed in charge, with additional care of stations in Anstruther and St. Andrew's. This attempt was deemed unsuccessful and Cupar once again became a station attached to Kirkcaldy from 1872-1873 and then from 1874-1879 it was under the charge of St. Mary's, Dundee.

In 1878 when the restoration of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland took place, Cupar was included in the part of Fife pertaining to the Diocese of Dunkeld. By this time the property at the Millgate had fallen into disrepair. The Catholics were few and poor but sufficient in number to satisfy the ecclesiastical authority that steps should be taken to raise Cupar to the status of a separate mission. Following this decision, Rev. Bruce D. Geddes was appointed to Cupar. Extensive repairs were carried out on the existing property and the mission was re-organised. Following Rev. Geddes' appointment, a mission station was opened at Tayport, where Mass was celebrated in a private dwelling house on the last Sunday of each month, with a congregation of about 25 people. In 1885 Fr. Geddes was transferred to Dunblane, but continued to serve Cupar once a month and Tayport as the occasion offered.

The following year, Tayport and the newly founded station at Newport-on-Tay was served from St. Andrew's, Dundee. During the year of 1887 Cupar became detached from Dunblane and became the responsibility of the clergy of St. Joseph's, Dundee. In 1889 Cupar along with Tayport became stations attached to the Newport-on-Tay Mission. Cupar continued in this way, being served from other areas until 1934, but the faith lived on.

On the 10th May 1934 Bishop John Toner wrote to Fr. Quinn, resident priest in Newport-on-Tay telling him to secure Sunday Mass for the people of Cupar. Again on the 10th August 1934 Bishop Toner wrote to Fr. Quinn telling him of developments made known to him by the Archbishop of Edinburgh…

"The Archbishop of Edinburgh is placing a priest in Falkland, and he has made the offer, to allow this priest to say Mass in Cupar every Sunday. This, I realise, would be so great a blessing for the people of the place and the surrounding district that my unwillingness to part even temporarily with so devoted a congregation must not be allowed to stand in the way of the people's greater good. I had been looking forward, and still look forward in the not too distant future to a new Church in Cupar. I hope that when that prospect is realised, to be able to give Cupar a resident priest. But for the present, at any rate, and till such times as I can make other dispositions of a satisfactory nature, it is to be understood that the present priest in Falkland will attend to the Church services in Cupar, and the spiritual care of the flock there."

This hope of Bishop Toner was realised in 1948. It was then that the Augustinian Fathers from the parish of Ss Peter and Paul's, Dundee became responsible for the Catholic people in Cupar and the surrounding areas. In 1949, Fr. Leo McCabe O.S.A. became the resident priest in Cupar, living in the house in the Millgate, which had been bought by Mr. Douglas Dick in 1864.

From this point the Parish grew from strength to strength as Fr. McCabe visited the parishioners regularly on foot, by bicycle or on the bus when going to the further areas of Auchtermuchty, Strathmiglo and Newburgh etc.

There was still no Mass centre for the parish areas outside Cupar, so in 1953, Fr. McCabe asked Mr. J. Fairlie of Myres Castle, Auchtermuchty, if the private Chapel at Myres Castle could be used again for the benefit of the Catholics in the Auchtermuchty area. This Chapel at Myres Castle, which has previously been the old coach house, was converted in 1890 into a splendid private chapel and Mass had been celebrate there until 1920.
Mr. Fairlie was delighted with the idea of having Mass celebrated in his private chapel for the local Catholic community and he had the chapel restored to its former beauty. Fr. McCabe celebrated the first Mass there on Palm Sunday of 1953. Soon it became obvious that he Chapel at Myres Castle was too small to accommodate the increasing number of Catholics in the area and so in 1956 Fr. McCabe discussed with the Bishop of Dunkeld, the Rt. Rev. William Hart, and the need for a new Church. It was decided that a Catholic Church would simply have to be built in Auchtermuchty. This plan went ahead and St. Matthew's was solemnly opened and blessed by Bishop Hart on the 21st September 1959, the Feast of St. Matthew.

The following year, 1960, the provincial of the order transferred Fr. McCabe from Cupar to take up the post of chaplain at Dungeness. When Fr. James Malaney arrived in the parish in August of 1960 the people of Cupar were still worshiping in the building which had been purchased in 1864. The community had out grown this building and often parishioners had to stand outside in order to attend Church services. It was about this time that Bishop Hart decided that a new church has to be built in Cupar.
Fr. Malaney could see that a more spacious Church was a necessity, but other ideas were coming to birth in his mind. Fr. McCabe, had given him wise advice on his arrival in Cupar, "Forget about a new church, build your own Catholic school." These words haunted Fr. Malaney. With the intention of making an application to the Fife Education Authority for a Catholic School for the area, Fr. Malaney was amazed to find that approximately 200 children, who were scattered throughout the parish, were attending non-denominational schools. Obviously, this number was a matter of deep concern and made extra-curricular religious instruction for everyone impossible.

Being well prepared and armed with numbers, Fr. Malaney met with a sympathetic hearing from the Director of Education for Fife. Nevertheless, the application was refused on the ground that the Director could not accept the numbers quoted and indeed if the numbers were correct, there was no guarantee that the children would actually attend a Catholic School. This outcome prompted Fr. Malaney and the parents to think in terms of building their own Private School hoping and praying that, with classrooms available, an order of Sisters would be tempted to undertake the responsibility of teaching in the school.
In 1964, Bishop Hart decided that the building of a new church in Cupar would go ahead. With this decision, Fr. Malaney along with some of the men of the parish considered erecting prefabricated building with a view to using the old church and halls as part of the proposed school. Finally it was decided to go ahead with the school project. Just at that time, some prefabricated buildings were being demolished in different part of Fife so Fr. Malaney acquired two prefabricated buildings for £50.00 from a company in Markinch. The parishioners worked day and night to construct and furnish the prefabs.

Whilst the building work was being carried out, assisted by Fr. Malaney, he searched for a congregation of sisters to teach in the school. It so happened that two Sisters of Namur, Sr. Jane Frances and Sr. Mary Paul, were visiting Dundee and heard of the project. They visited the parish and were struck with the situation. After little discussion, Bishop Hart invited the Sisters of Namur to open a house in Cupar, their first in Scotland, and to teach in the school. Three sisters moved to Cupar and lived in the new church house, whilst Fr. Malaney lived with a family in the parish.
It was on the 4th September 1964, that Bishop Hart opened and blessed St. Columba's Primary School. A dream had come true. The school was furnished from donations from local companies; stationary was supplied by a local paper mill and furniture was donated etc. On the first day 62 children started at the primary school.

Between 1964 and 1968 the reputation for high academic standards meant that the school roll reached 163, a rise which put the financial situation of the school in jeopardy. Fife Education Authority realised that the school was now an asset to the local education system and they decided to take control of the running of the school on the 6th January, 1969.

Fr. James Malaney continued to work in the parish, and built the parish into a strong and vibrant catholic community in the North of Fife. In September 1997, at the age of 80, he approached Bishop Logan and asked if he could retire. Bishop Logan accepted his retirement and appointed Fr. Pat McInally to take over as parish priest. Sadly Canon Malaney died on the 27th July 1998, may he rest in peace.

If you would like to visit this area as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

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