On Sunday 16 June, Angus Hay and Alan Hay attended Mass at Scalan, once the only Catholic seminary in Scotland, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of George Hay’s ordination as Coadjutor Bishop of the Lowland District, which took place there in 1769. George Hay would later become Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District – effectively the predecessor of the modern Bishops of Aberdeen – the leader of the Catholic faith in Eastern Scotland until the Catholic hierarchy was restored in Scotland later in the 19th century.
George Hay had been involved with the Jacobites and lived in an era when to be Catholic in Scotland was not only illegal, but positively dangerous. Scalan is situated in the heart of the Glenlivet braes, a modest 17th century building not much bigger than a farmhouse, and well hidden from casual observers in a secluded part of the Banffshire hills. In the event, George Hay would work from there throughout much of his long life.
The lesson was read by Angus Hay. Hugh Gilbert, Bishop of Aberdeen, presided and was accompanied by no fewer than 17 senior clergy from the Catholic church, gathered to remember their distinguished predecessor, including Archbishop Mario Conti, the Bishop of Galloway and the Bishop of Motherwell. The Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire attended along with a congregation of over 200, braving the uncertain weather for this outdoor service.
The Bishop preached a sermon in the form of a homily to George Hay. We learned, for instance, that he was nicknamed ‘Hardboots’ from his practice of traversing large areas of his diocese on foot, once walking over the hills to Braemar to baptise a child because there was no other Catholic priest available.
Bishop Hay lived to see Catholicism once more accepted in Scotland and died at Scalan in 1811, six years after his retirement.