Recollections of Sister Bernard

collected by Michael T.R.B. Turnbull (1991) and now held in the Scottish Catholic Archives GD52/1/1.

‘My earliest recollections are filled with memories of the late Canon Murphy. He was certainly the centre figure in the life of the parish. I remember the great celebrations that surrounded the First Communions, the serious preparations beforehand by the teachers at school, the Mass itself, which was always a great occasion, the Communion breakfast afterwards was always a great treat for the children and Canon Murphy was always present for that, the sweets, I believe were always supplied by himself.

St Martin’s RC Primary School, Tranent

The Canon always had a supply of Highland toffee and if you happened to meet him on the street, very often you were lucky to receive a bar of toffee. Aileen Mannering and myself, who were great pals all through our school years, would very often go to the fish shop on Friday to buy fish for the Canon, again our reward would be a bar of toffee and while we are on the subject, years later when I visited the chapel house to inform the Canon of my intentions of joining the Little Sisters of the Poor, when I returned home that evening I did not have to tell my mother where I had been as I was again in possession of two bars of Highland toffee.

In 1955 when I was seven years old I joined the brownies. The pack leader at that time was a Miss Rafferty, unfortunately I cannot remember her Christian name. I have many happy memories of those days, the weekly meetings and other events involved were a great means of keeping us youngsters together. These memories extend also to the years spent in the girl guides, my own mum being our guide leader. If I am not mistaken I think she was instrumental in bringing the Catholic girl guides into Tranent in her younger days. I remember distinctly the occasions when Cardinal Gray came to the parish for confirmations and visits, we used to be so proud to be his guard of honour and felt honoured if we were chosen to carry the flag, which I did on at least one occasion.

I attended St Martin’s for the whole of my schooling. One thing that stays in my mind is the way that each class used to vie with the others to see who could collect the most money for the black babies. We used to give all our spare pennies, which for us in those days must have been a sacrifice. After giving 2/6d you could name the baby and received a little Holy picture.

Mr Rourke had the qualifying class at that time and at the end of the year it was always his class who had collected the most money. He was a real Apostle. He used to turn the boys upside down to try to get the money to roll out of their pockets.

The Holy Week ceremonies are another thing that remains very clearly in my mind. In the early days of Lent, Canon Murphy used to get a few of us children to go to the Chapel House on a regular basis to learn all the Latin responses and hymns. During all the ceremonies we would be in the front row singing and responding following him in everything. I could still sing some of the parts for they are imprinted in my memory.

When Father Cassidy came to the parish he started a Junior Presidium of the Legion of Mary and so this began another era in our Catholic upbringing. We were by this time in our early teens and as well as attending the Legion meeting our spare evenings were spent doing the work assigned to us by the Legion. One of these works I remember, was that in pairs, we were given a certain area in Tranent where we had to visit the Catholic families and ask them if they would like us to return to their home to say the Rosary with all their family. My partner at that time was Margaret Ward and we did go into some families for the Rosary and made some new friends too. I remember we even ended up babysitting for one of these families.

Other work which my sister and I did for the parish was each Sunday after Mass we went round our own area of Tranent collecting the money for the Catholic papers and once a month collecting for the A.P.F. Association.

As we got a bit older we were allowed to join the Catholic Youth Club which was also a great means of keeping the young Catholics of Tranent together. I have happy memories of these days and of practices with the Dramatic Society which I remember on one occasion put on a Passion Play which was performed in the Ross High School. I remember the many times that my older brothers took me to the youth club dances but left me to find my own way home because they, being older, nearly always found someone else to escort home!

My memories of Catholic life in Tranent, which are too many to put to paper without boring you, end about 1962-63 because about that time the Little Sisters of the Poor came on their annual visit to Tranent and invited me, my sister and some of our friends to visit their home for the elderly in Edinburgh. We accepted their invitation and so for me it was the beginning of a new life. From then on all my spare time was spent helping the Sisters until I eventually joined them for good on 15th August 1965.

I think I could fill a book with all the memories of Catholic life in Tranent as our family, in our young days was very much part of the community. I believe even my father, who was a convert, was a great support to Canon Murphy in the early days after the war and when my brothers were in the boy scouts he used to help the scoutmaster to look after the boys, especially when they went camping. My grandmother, who lived in Elphinstone used to go and do a bit of housekeeping and cooking for the Canon when he had no one to look after him. When she was no longer able to go to church he always used to call one of the family into the sacristy on Ash Wednesday and give us some ashes to take to her. Many a time after we had finished making our Confession he would lift up the curtain and give us a message either for her or for our mum and we used to go off upset because he had known who we were and we thought the confessional was very secret. We used to all queue up either on a Saturday morning or after the pictures in the evening for Confession. It really played a large part in our life and sometimes the queue would be really long and we would be there for ages but it was all part of life’.

Reproduced by kind permission of M.T.R.B. Turnbull