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St Thomas’ Deanery

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No 58 September 2000

As promised in the last Newsletter this edition is in the form of a tribute to Mgr CopIand.

Bishop Mario was asked if he would like to contribute some comments to mark Mgr’s retirement as Vicar General and Dean. In response the Bishop, in consultation with the Priests of the Deanery,has graciously supplied the following warm and appreciative account of Mgr’s priestly life.


Monsignor John Copland, when he retired recently as Vicar General of the Diocese and Dean, remained parish priest at St. Thomas’, Keith and, until Bishop John Dukes takes up residence at Huntly, also of St. Margaret’s there. It is however an opportunity to say something about Mgr. Copland in order to underline the debt of gratitude which is due to him from the Bishop, clergy, religious and people of the Diocese, whom he has’ served as Vicar GeneraL over most of the years during which Bishop Mario has been our Bishop.

Mgr Copland was born at Tombae in 1920 of parents whose roots are embedded in the soil of Banffshire, and whose loyalty to the Church extends back into the past. This sense of belonging to an ancient heritage has never abandoned him, and although never making boast of it, is undoubtedly the heart of his sense of loyalty and dedication to the local Church.

Mgr. has one sister, Anna, who, while widowed, is still alive and active and provides him with a holiday home at Newton Abbot in deepest Devon. She annually migrates to Keith where she is a familiar figure.


Msg John was educated at Blairs, as were half the priests of Scotland until the closure of Blairs some years ago. As a young man he was sent to the Scots College in Rome, but unfortunately had to return rapidly on account of the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Italy. He likes to recount the excitement of that time, and though his time at Scots College was short it has nevertheless helped to form his priestly character. On returning to Scotland he studied at St. Peter’s, Bearsden and was ordained at Blairs in 1946.

He was a curate at St. Peter’s in Aberdeen between 1946 and 48 during which time the famous Andrew Grant retired as parish priest having been at St. Peter’s, Aberdeen from the year before Mgr. John’s birth. There followed then a three-year period at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the nursery of most priests of the diocese, and thereafter the young Fr. John was sent to Portsoy which he served for 13 years, becoming not only a faithful pastor of a small Catholic congregation, but a well known and active member of the local community. There followed a short period at Braemar between 1964 and 66. Again John was active in the local community Catholics being more populous at Braemar than at Portsoy. He was one of the founders of the Mountain Rescue Group.

For John it was back to Aberdeen to take over the pastoral care of St. Joseph’s, Woodside where he was parish priest for eight years until his appointment to Keith in 1974. All who knew him at Keith will bear testimony to the fact that his earlier characteristics as a faithful pastor and an active member of the local community have been displayed to the full. His chairmanship of the Local Community Council is evidence enough of his wider commitments. At the time of his appointment to Keith 1974 Bishop Foylan was able to underscore also John’s considerable contribution to the wider community with his membership of the Education Committee. Bishop Foylan wrote:

"I have admired your earnest and industrious co-operation with the Education Committee of the County. Your presence in the new Regional Authority for Education will be appreciated by your colleagues in the Committee, and will be a great help to the Catholic parents and children over the wide area of the region. I want, too, to tell you how much I appreciated your work for the needy, and indeed for the welfare of any unfortunates and misfits of Aberdeen society".

When in the Autumn of 1979 Bishop Conti was looking for a successor to Mgr Michael Fitzpatrick as Vicar General, he naturally alighted on the name of John now Canon Copland, and in his letter of confirmation of appointment echoed Bishop Foylan’s earlier sentiments:

"Such an appointment reflects the regard that I, and I am happy to add the priests of the diocese, have for you. It is also an expression of the trust we are confidently prepared to repose in you for the faithful and worthy discharge of the (VG’s) duties".

In 1985, following the retirement and subsequent death of Canon David Keith, Canon Copland became Dean of St.Thomas’ Deanery, and two years later the Bishop wrote to the Holy Father recommending that the Title of Prelate of Honour be conferred on Canon Copland. In this letter in addition to pointing out the other merits of the candidate recorded that:

"He has -done much to foster devotion to St. John Ogilvie. Scotland’s only canonised martyr, who was born in the confines of his present parish in the 17th century".

The honour was soon granted.

In  the late lamented Provost Lewis McWilliam, Mgr John had an agreeable companion at the neighbouring parish of St. Margaret’s, and following Canon Lewis’ death he was appointed as acting parish priest also of Huntly which he has served faithfully along with Keith over these latter years. Mgr John succeeded Canon Lewis McWilliam also as Provost of the Cathedral Chapter of the Diocese, which role he still fulfils. It has given him great pleasure in recent years seeing the addition of some younger members to the Chapter.

At a time of shortage of clergy Mgr Copland has given eminent example of generous service which has included taking under his wing the pastoral care of Dufitown, now looked after by Fr Cohn Stewart of Toniintoul. As Dean also he  has been exemplary showing the vigour of a much younger man, and the mentality of one open to the profound changes in the life of the Church which have taken their inspiration and strength from the Second Vatican Council. It is no secret that the Bishop considers St Thomas’ Deanery as a model for the other deaneries of the diocese.

At the Cathedral recently Mgr saw to the handing over of his task as Vicar General and Dean to his neighbour Fr Eddie Traynor of Buckie. It must have been a poignant moment for him. It was at his own wish that he be relieved of some of the tasks which he had shouldered so well for so long, and the Bishop took the opportunity of paying the following compliment to him:

"Mgr Copland has been Vicar General of the Diocese since 31st October 1979. He has consequently been my primary assistant for most of my time as Bishop, and 1 owe him a great measure of thanks for his uufailing courtesy, support, and wise counsel. He has been a true friend to me in the discharge of my office, When I requested the Holy Father to confer on him the title of Prelate of Honour I wrote~ ‘this honour would win wide approval’ as it has done. In recent months it is his courage in the face of illness which has won him great admiration".

What the Bishop has written will be applauded widely, and we in this deanery are happy to be among those who applaud most loudly.


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Some Personal Memories

The two attributes that spring to my mind with regard to Mgr. Copland are:

Enthusiasm and Community Spirit In many cases his enthusiasm has been for the Community. As a young priest he was appointed to Portsoy, and when I went there a decade or so later, people were stilt talking about Fr. Copland and his enthusiasm for the village. He organised and ran a drama group, put on village pageants and ran the Portsoy Scouts. After. more than twenty years people sail regarded "Fr Copland" as their priest This enthusiasm for the comnwnity was evident in his other postings. In Braemar he was a member of the Mountain Rescue Team: in Aberdeen he was a member of the Aberdeen County Education Committee and in Keith, he is a member of the Community CounciL It must have been from his Portsoy days that he became interested in stone polishing. I remember visiting him when he was in Aberdeen and watching him polish pieces of Portsoy marble, explaining the various bits of machinery as he did so. No one who has talked to him about Glenlivet or Tombae or Scalan could miss his enthusiastic grasp and love of the history of these places. As he eases off in some of his offices, I wish him well in his "enthusiasms’  Lang may his lum reek.

Canon A Doyle




Mgr Copland is a source of profound inspiration to all of us who know him, and we all join in wishing him a time of peace and spiritual enrichment, so that he may, with certainty of touch, find and harvest the fruit of his kindness and courage.

Fr Colin Stewart


I wish to add my own thanks to "Mgr." (as everyone in St Thomas’ Deanery knows him) for his unfailing kindness and support to me personally over the last 13 years in Buckie. He has always been most generous with his time and gentle in his advice and wisdom gathered over a lifetime of pastoral experience. Whenever I have had a problem or simply needed to bend his ear, his door was always open as was his heart and his mind. His pastoral zeal is legendary in all the parishes he has served. His community spirit and practical application of Gospel values is a witness to his deep faith which springs from the "recusant roots" of his native Braes of Glenlivet. His exemplary courage in his illness is a poignant witness to the reality of his faith in practice. As Vicar General, Dean and Parish Priest of his beloved Keith and Huntly he has more than borne the "burden of the day in all the heat’.

May the Lord continue to support him in his continuing ministry among us

Fr. Eddie In acknowledging the many innovations for which we, in St Thomas’ Deanery, are deeply grateful to Mgr Copland, we recall:

Scalan Society

Living Stones,

the formation of the Deanery Pastoral Council,

Deanery Newsletter,

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Heritage Committee ,


the list goes on!

He has shown us the meaning of ‘Deanery’ and we are honoured to have had the privilege of serving and working with him Our thoughts and prayers are with him in his partial’ retirement.



Rev. Msg John Copland’s Sermon at St Margaret’s Huntly

Sunday 4th November 2000

( Retiral fom Huntly as Parish Priest )

Homily for the 31st Sunday of Year B


Not all the scribes & Pharisees were opposed to Jesus, some, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea, were secret followers of his.

In today’s Gospel we have a scribe who is genuinely seeking the truth. In his reply Jesus quotes from the very basis of Judaism, the book of Deuteronomy viz, that our love of God must come first and foremost, but to this he adds:

"You shall love your neighbour as yourself"

as the second most important, in fact that the two are inter-related.

The scribe accepts this and goes on to emphasise that the Commandments are far more important than outward observances and ritual sacrifices.

Christ approves of what he has said; m fact he has stressed this in his own teaching. For example in the Parable of the Good Samaritan he forces the questioner to accept that it is the Samaritan who binds up the wounds of the injured man, and not the Levite or the Priest who are hurrying of to their ritual sacrifice, who has shown himself to be the true neighbour.

On another occasion his advice to one who has fallen out with his brother is that he puts things to rights with him before he goes on to offer his gift at the altar. He is saying that there can only be true love of God where there is true love of neighbour; anything else is hypocrisy.

But in this second Commandment, Jesus goes even further. We have not merely to love our neighbour, but to love our neighbour as ourselves. So often that second part "as ourselves" is ignored; yet it is essential to the whole.

The man who does not esteem himself cannot esteem his neighbour, and in turn cannot love God to the full. Only when we appreciate our own value in the sight of God can we really recognise that value in others, God made us in his own image and God the Son died for love of us. Only when we grasp these tremendous truths in ourselves can we apply them to all men.