History and Context

Our Parishes find their roots in St Columba’s Parish. St John Vianney’s was the first to be established in 1952. This was followed by St Catherine’s, the Church being built in 1958. St Gregory’s was formed in 1972 from parts of St Columba’s and St John Vianney’s Parishes.

Our cluster dates back to 1997 when the Cardinal intimated that he wanted parishes to consider clustering for the future because of the falling number of active priests. Initially we set out to intentionally heighten the awareness of the people in the three parishes that we needed to share all the resources we could and join together whenever possible liturgically, pastorally and socially.

The priests in the area were Canon Nicholson in St Gregory’s, Father Kenneth Owens in St John Vianney’s and Father Mike Fallon in St Catherine’s. This cooperation continued with varying degrees of success but at that stage it hadn’t become real to people.

Then in 2000 Father Gordon Muchall was appointed to St Gregory’s with, in addition, full-time responsibility for the Royal Infirmary. Early in 2003 Father Kenneth announced to the people that he would be moving on in September of that year. Kenneth and Gordon had been working together to plan and coordinate the appointment of a lay coordinator for the Catholic Chaplaincy at the Royal Infirmary. This came to fruition in the spring of 2004.

In terms of future provision we priests thought that without the burden of the Royal Infirmary and the fast diminishing number of priests, it was increasingly unlikely that Gordon would be left with only St Gregory’s. In May of 2003 the three priests approached Mgr David Gemmell, the City Vicar General, and put forward a proposal for when Fr Kenneth would move on in September.

The proposal was based on two fundamental principles:

The proposal was that the three parishes should continue to exist, retaining their own traditions, but that the three should become intentionally interdependent.

Up until that point it had been increasingly highlighted that there was a need to share as many resources as possible. This proposal went further and stated that the two remaining priests should also be considered to be resources and therefore should be shared amongst the three parishes.

The proposal was firmed up and at a meeting with the Cardinal. It was proposed that the two priests, Fr Gordon and Fr Mike should alternate each Sunday covering the four weekend Masses in the cluster.

This effectively meant that each would celebrate with the same communities every fortnight. The weekday Masses were rationalised, ensuring that each parish had Mass at least four times each week. Fr Gordon was nominated Parish Priest of St Gregory’s as well as St John Vianney’s in order to fulfil Canon Law, but in fact in practice either priest handled situations as they arose, wherever that happened to be.

There have been undoubted benefits. One of the main gains has been the fruitful collaboration of the priests and the members of the pastoral teams. The Cluster Pastoral Team meets every two weeks and is in contact almost daily. There has been a great growth in interpersonal relationships and this communicates itself to the people in the parishes.

When our formal clustering arrangement was put in place in 2003 it was attempting to address two issues:

Clearly this has been achieved. However there are a number of other further benefits:

A more detailed and reflective account of the formation and development of the cluster can be found in My Experience of Parish Clustering.

© St Catherine’s, St John Vianney’s and St Gregory’s are parishes of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, charity registered in Scotland - SC008540