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Monsignor John F Copland


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MONSIGNOR Copland was an authority on history… the history of Scotland and, in particular, the history of the Catholic Church in Banffshire and the North-east.

He carried out extensive research and there was little he did not know about the churches in which he served, be it Portsoy, Keith, Dufftown, Aberlour and Huntly.—

There was another place about which he was passionate—Scalan in Glenlivet where he was born and brought up. He never tired of educating us in the hardships encountered by these young men training to be priests at a time when Catholicism was outlawed.

Scalan represented a beacon for our Church in Scotland, ensuring the light of hope flickered on in the gloom of persecution. Scotland owed a debt to the men of Banffshire and Glenlivet who went out to spread the word

Monsignor John fought hard to re-establish Scalan’s place in history, acting as a driving force for work to restore the buildings and site, and organising annual pilgrimages there.

He deserves to take his place alongside the priests of the past, and none of us will visit Scalan again without offering thanks to him.

MONSIGNOR’S last Christmas at St. Thomas’ was marked by a very special present—the news that his parish had paid off its massive debt for restoration work. Being confronted by the need for a huge fund-raising effort was a daunting task for a small congregation but he inspired us to rise to the challenge and was so proud of the magnificent response.

That St. Thomas’ is restored to its former glory is testament to his drive and enthusiasm.




JOHN Forbes Copland was born on 26th December, 1920, at Eden Cottage, Tombae, Glenlivet, the second child of Peter and Anna Copland. His home overlooked Tombae Church which was to prove a focal point of his early years in the lead-up to entry into the priesthood.

At age two-and-a-half, John and his family moved to Tomnavoulin but in 1926 tragedy struck when his father, who had worked as a joiner at Minmore Distillery. died.

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The local seat of learning was Tombae School; then in 1933, at the age of 13, John enrolled into Blairs College to start his studies and training for the priesthood.

In 1939, he was off to Rome and the Scots College but the stay there was short-lived. As war escalated in Europe, Mussolini’s Italy decided to side with the rampaging German forces and the students had to return home. Studies resumed at Blairs, and continued at St. Peter’s College, Bearsden, Glasgow, and at St. Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, London.

On 29th June, 1946, John Copland was ordained by Bishop George Bennett at Blairs College.

Father John served as a curate at St. Peter’s Church in Aberdeen and at St. Mary’s Cathedral, then in 1951 he received sole charge of his first paris-the Church of the Annunciation in Portsoy.

In 1964 in moved to St. Andrew’s Church, Braemar, and two years later was appointed parish priest at St. Joseph’s, Woodside, Aberdeen.

In 1974, he returned to his beloved Banffshire as priest at St. Thomas’ and within two years had the privilege of leading a band of pilgrims to Rome for the canonisation of John Ogilvie, the Jesuit martyr born in the Keith area.

In 1977 he was installed as a Canon of the Diocesan Chapter, soon to be followed by elevation to Monsignor and Vicar-General of the Diocese. Mgr. Cop-land took over responsibility for St. Mary’s Church, Dufftown, and Sacred Heart, Aberlour.

In 1988 he was awarded the high honour of Prelate of the Holy See, presented to him by Bishop Mario Conti, on behalf of Pope John Paul II, in St. Thomas’.

In 1994 he traveled to Rome for the appointment to Cardinal of Archbishop Thomas Winning, a firm friend since their student days. and Monsignor was presented to the Pope in the Vatican’s Papal Audience Hall.

He returned to Rome in 1996 on a holiday provided by his congregations to mark his 50 years as a priest

More changes saw Mgr. Copland give up Dufftown and Aberlour and take over St. Margaret’s, Huntly, until the arrival of Bishop Jukes.



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A FEATURE of Mgr. Copland’s spells in Portsoy. Braemar, Woodside and Keith was the keen interest he took in life beyond his parish.

In just over 12 years at Portsoy, he helped form and was president of the Town Improvement Association and much of the success of the gala week was put down to his energy. He was president of Portsoy Old Age Pensioners’ Association and president of the regional OAP association, covering an area from Inverness to Insch, and organised concert parties for the old folk.

He was also closely involved in the Boy Scout movement, serving as Group Scoutmaster for Portsoy, Fordyce and Sandend; and a love of amateur dramatics saw him become a leading light of the Banff County Drama Guild and a principal player in the development of the open-air theatre in Portsoy, where annual productions were staged.

In just two years at Braemar, he helped establish the Braemar Mountain Rescue Association, which later saluted him with an honorary membership.

At Woodside in Aberdeen, he continued as the church’s representative on the county, and later the regional, education committee, and helped establish the Cyreneans, a charitable group working among the city’s destitute and homeless.

Then at Keith, he was the first chairman of Keith Community Council - a post he held for many years - and was involved in and supported a number of groups and causes, not least the Keith Initiative which aimed to breath new life into the economy of the town. Last year he was named as Keith Citizen of the Year.

When he had left Portsoy in 1964, the local newspaper ran a story headlined

"Portsoy will miss him", which went on to say: "MFather Copland has endeared himself to the whole community. Portsoy’s loss will be Braemar’s gain. Portsoy will not readily forget the services to the church and community of this much loved native of Tomnavoulin, who had endeared himself to young and old by his selfless labours …"

Those sentiments were to echo round all the parishes in which he served.


HERE we have told a truly remarkable life story ... of a man committed to his priestly vows, devoted to his Church and to his parishes, patriotic about his beloved Banffshire and intensely interested in community life and the circumstances of people all around. Now that life story has completed its final chapter.

But John F. Copland leaves behind a rich legacy, having shown people the way to live their lives for God and for each other. He will forever stay in our hearts and In our prayers. We have lost a much loved pastor and friend and the Church has lost a good and faithful servant.

Text copyright of Michael Collins "Northern Scot"