On 15th October, a service was held at Blair's College in Aberdeen to commemorate the bi-centenary of the death of Bishop George Hay, Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District from 1778 to 1805. The service was presided over by the Most Rev Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, a native of Aberdeenshire and himself a former Bishop of Aberdeen.
George Hay was born in Edinburgh in 1729 and raised in the Scottish Episcopal church. Early in life he entered Edinburgh University to study medicine and, as a 16 year old student, was called upon to tend the wounded after the Jacobite victory at the battle of Prestonpans in 1745. Inspired by these stirring events, he joined the Jacobite forces and after their defeat at Culloden in 1746, Hay was imprisoned in London for a year.
During his time in London, he came under the influence of a Catholic literary agent who encouraged him in his theological studies. On returning to Scotland, he placed himself under instruction to a Jesuit priest called Seaton and was received into the Catholic church in 1749.
The draconian sectarian law of the time meant that, as a Catholic, he was prevented from graduating from Edinburgh University, so he was forced to seek employment as ship's surgeon on board a merchant vessel trading with the Mediterranean. This experience broadened his outlook and it was during this time that he decided to enter the priesthood. Jumping ship at Marseilles, he travelled across country to Rome where he entered the famous Scots College and was ordained priest by Cardinal Spinelli in 1758.
On his return to Scotland, he was appointed to the Catholic benifice of Enzie in Banffshire and, on his mentor Alexander Grant's appointment as Vicar Apostolic in 1766, Hay was appointed his co-adjutor. He succeeded Grant as bishop in 1778.
During his long episcopate, Hay was a powerful voice arguing for the repeal of the laws of the day which so restricted the lives of Catholics in the UK. He showed his nationalist colours in his efforts to place the Scots College in Rome under the control of the church in Scotland. In 1801, he chose the site for a new cathedral in Aberdeen dedicated to St Mary of the Assumption. St Mary's is one of three cathedrals in the city and is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen. He was a noted theological scholar, producing the first Catholic bible in English to be printed in Scotland and is still remembered for his trilogy on Cathholic theology and faith, The Sincere Christian, The Devout Christian and The Pious Christian. He founded the seminary at Auquhorthies near Inverurie, the predecessor of the world famous Blairs College which was the scene of his memorial service last month, and it was there that he died in 1811, six years after Alexander Cameron succeeded him as bishop.