The Parish of St. John the Baptist was founded as a “mission’ in 1846 – Scotland was Missionary Territory in those days – of the Western District of Scotland. It would become a Parish, initially of the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1878, and of the Diocese of Paisley in 1948. The Church building was begun in 1853 to meet the needs of the many Catholics who came to the area – many from Ireland – looking for work in the farms of the surrounding countryside and the engineering works associated with the fishing and shipbuilding on the River Clyde.
The Church was extended in 1895 to accommodate the growing population – the ceiling above the Transept shows the enlargement of the Church clearly. The larger population and their generosity led the Parish Priest of the time to seek ways to beautify the grand and imposing Church. The Sanctuary was decorated and the Reredos, as you see it now, was begun, only being competed in 1930’s. A few years after the turn of the century, and this desire to beautify the Sanctuary, saw the Rose Window installed. The project was realised manly through the generosity of the Men’s Confraternity of the Sacred Heart and the commission was completed by the Dublin company ‘Earley & Co.’ in 1900, with the installation being undertaken thereafter. The detailed description of the window follows this history of the Church building.
The Second World War saw Port Glasgow the target of Nazi Air Raids and the window was boarded up as both a blackout precaution and to prevent blast damage from bombs which fell on various nights, such as on 5th May 1941 when 34 Parishioners were killed. This period saw the Painting of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, found above the sacristy door (1939) and depicts the Church, with house attached, and the Firth of Clyde and Gareloch. An appeal from the Parish Priest for old gold and silver realised the (gold) Tabernacle and (silver) Sanctuary Lamp [not in current use].
The reforms of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in the 60’s developed the Liturgy substantially in language and posture and the Church was remodelled in 1977 to ensure that the Church was suitable for the celebration of the ‘new’ liturgy. The altar rails, for example were removed and became the balcony that you now see on the Choir Loft – this level of imagination typified the renovation and the old house which was attached to the side of the Church, was demolished in 1976, new windows were installed depicting the industry of the Clyde. The present Parish house was constructed adjacent to the Church in this period. Other more ornate stained glass windows, such as in the old Baptistery and at the Lady Altar were also installed thanks to the generosity of the Parishioners over the Church’s many years of existence.
The naïve art depiction of the Risen Jesus which is situated above front door was installed in 1980. There is a valuable painting of the ‘Taking Down from the Cross’ on the rear wall of the Church of the Flemish school (mid 17th Cent.) by an unknown artist.
In the Year of the Great Jubilee 2000, a further renovation took place and the sanctuary was remodelled yet again, it was then it took is present form, highlighting the centrality of the Altar and the importance of the Ambo and the Chair. The Baptismal Font, with constantly flowing water also became a significant feature of this undertaking. It was realised at this point that the Rose Window required substantial work to make good the damages and ravages of time. It is over one hundred years old and had suffered some vandalism and previous attempts to protect the glass with perspex had led to a degradation both of the lead and the pointing in the masonry. The Perspex had also cracked and had become opaque – little or no light was penetrating the glass. Unfortunately the budget for the renovation was already stretched and the further £40,000 projected cost was too great to take on at that point. In 2006 a campaign was begun and by mid 2009 the requisite monies had been raised by the generous contributions of the Parishioners.
The work was begun by ‘Scottish Antique Glass’ in late July. Of the forty-six original panels twenty were originally earmarked for removal and renovation; but closer examination revealed more problems and in the end thirty-six were removed to the workshops for extensive remedial works. Of the other ten panels, remedial works of a more minor nature were undertaken in situ, to flatten, strengthen and waterproof them. When the newly restored panels were installed, protective grilles were also fitted to the outside of the window to protect the glass and to allow maximum light penetration. The project took approximately 32 weeks and the newly renovated window was unveiled on 8th March 2010.
The repainting of the apse and transepts completed during the renovation showed the vibrant colours of the newly restored window to their best advantage and the light is now dazzling on fine mornings, illuminating the sanctuary to great effect. Bishop Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley, celebrated Mass and solemnly inaugurated the restored window on the Parish Feast, June 24th 2010. The joyful celebration was marked with a large gathering of the Parishioners, craftsmen, builders and scaffolders as well as local dignitaries and clergy.
This is a significant moment in the history of the Parish at it underlines the devotion and generosity of the Parishioners in the present age. Not only did they find almost £70000 to complete the project but their presence at Mass and other services in the Church continues undiminished despite the prevailing secularisation of society. Every weekday morning some 100 Parishioners will be found in prayer at the morning Mass. On Sundays our congregation continues to increase with more than 850 souls present at the latest count (March 2010).
The Parish prospers therefore on these hinges of devotion and generosity and future generations are given a profound example of the faith of their forebears. The care taken of the Church building is a testimony to the fact that the members of the Parish recognise that they are ‘The living stones making a spiritual house for God’ (1Pet.2:5).