l-r: Rev Alan Birss, Tom Higgins, Bishop John Keenan
The Bishop of Paisley, Bishop John Keenan and the Minster of Paisley Abbey, Rev Alan Birss have joined local author and retired head teacher Tom Higgins to launch a book on the first Catholic school in Paisley. The school was established in October 1816 and was run by a committee of 12 Protestants and 12 Catholics, a cooperation highly untypical of its time and place.
Early teaching was provided by two French priests, who had fled to Paisley as refugees from the French Revolution, they also provided private tuition for the offspring of Paisley's emerging Protestant entrepreneurs, while at the same time undertaking pastoral work among the growing Catholic population. One of them, Abbe Despraux, saw the need for a school while several local businessmen, Protestant clergyman and professionals shared his vision and responded to his local appeal. The Catholic school emerged from their negotiations. The book 'The Paisley School' marks the 200th anniversary of the school's founding in October 1816.
The school initially occupied a building in Dyers Wynd, with 57 day scholars and 46 evening scholars. It moved to Orr Square in 1822. The school was eventually taken over by the St Mirin's mission (parish) in 1845.
Commenting on the book, Bishop John Keenan said: "This booklet offers a well written and easily accessible history of the first Catholic school in Paisley diocese, telling the fascinating personal story of the faith and pioneering spirit that brought it into being. It is also an encouraging tale of cooperation between Catholics and Protestants, providing a fascinating account of challenges faced and friendships formed by unlikely collaborators."
Bishop Keenan added: "The very existence of the Paisley school was due largely to the support of the Protestant population of the town, something which could not have been predicted a few years earlier. This book provides an illuminating insight into 19th century Paisley with its religious landscape and legacy, illustrating how the work of these far-sighted pastors could break down barriers to promote what we would recognise today as Christian unity."
Author Tom Higgins said: "I am very grateful to the Diocese of Paisley for lending their support to this project which charts Paisley's part in establishing one of the first post Reformation Catholic schools in Central Scotland 200 years ago. From the outset, the education of the Catholic poor in Paisley was beholden in good measure to the goodwill and the financial support of the local Protestant community. The collaboration between Protestants and Catholics provided opportunities for friendships and alliances to be formed in other areas of local cooperation. Paisley priest, Fr. John Bremner found a regular ally in the Rev. Patrick Brewster, Minister of Paisley Abbey in his political activities."
Tom Higgins added: "As the school was established to educate the poorest in society, I am delighted that all proceeds will go to Mary's Meals who provide food to some of the world's poorest children every school day, allowing them to make the most of their education."