FOLK of all faiths and none in Lanark were stunned by the sudden death of Father Joseph Brannigan, of St Mary’s Church, on Thursday. He was only 59 years old.
He was found in his bed that morning, it is understood having died peacefully in his sleep.
A post mortem is not due to take place until the end of this week and funeral arrangements will be announced after the results are known.
Although he came to the parish only in 2005, Father Joseph quickly became a highly popular member of the Lanark clergy and news of his sudden death was met first with near-disbelief, quickly followed by genuine grief.
His tenure at St Mary’s might have been tragically short but it saw several important milestones in the church’s history, including the celebration of the parish’s 150th anniversary, its transfer from the Vincentian order to the ‘mainstream’ Roman Catholic Church and the rededication of the church building after a huge restoration project.
Some said this week that Father Joseph shepherded in not only the physical renewal of the St Mary’s building but the morale and sense of purpose of its members.
He also saw St Mary’s becoming increasingly involved in the community and his modern thinking on many issues saw him fully live up to his favourite religious saying: “Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.”
Born one of nine children to an Airdrie family, he entered religious education at a junior seminary at the age of just 15, eventually being fully ordained in 1978.
He then went on to serve in very different kinds of parishes throughout Lanarkshire with a short stint in Aberdeen.
He came to St Mary’s from a happy tenure at St Brigid’s in Newmains and from the very start expressed his deep love of the Lanark church building, then still in need of massive renovation.
This he oversaw along with the colossal fundraising effort to pay back the Diocese for the works and he could look at the ‘new’ St Mary’s with a very justified pride in having played a major part in that rebirth.
Although his time in Lanark was brief, the building many think of as the town’s finest stands as a permanent reminder of his service.
The first formal tributes were paid at a mass held in his memory a few days after his passing.
One read out by a leading member of the church said: “This parish was indeed blessed when Father Joseph came to St Mary’s in Lanark.
“A few weeks ago, in our Christmas Vigil Mass, we heard a reading which said that a light has been shone for us; forgive me for saying that, at this time in St Mary’s, we feel that a light has gone out with the passing of Father Joseph.
“Since coming to Lanark in 2005, he has illuminated this parish with his dedication and commitment to serve his congregation.
“Yes, we have a beautiful church in a lovely setting and Father will be long remembered for his love of the building and his work turning the church grounds into something very special – but they are only stone, bricks and pavings.
“Father Joseph brought so much more, introducing new members to the church; his work with the children, with whom he enjoyed a great rapport; his desire to work closely with the other religious leaders in the town.
“The members of the Cargill Club will never forget his kindness when they had nowhere to go. He was quick to offer his help and give them use of the Clubrooms.
“Nothing was too menial a task for him in his efforts to serve his parish and its needs.
“His homilies were short and in their simple language carried a message which made you sit back and think – and pretty hard sometimes.
“There was so much more he gave and we will all have our own memories. He did not like eulogies and some did not always see eye to eye with some of his ideas.
“However, he had a determined nature and had a vision for what was needed.
“It was always clear to all that he was a man on a mission.”
The grief at the loss went all the way up to the head of the area’s Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Bishop Emeritus of Motherwell.
Rt Rev Joseph Devine said: “Father Brannigan, while small in stature, was grand in vision and a ball of fire in work and action.
“As a priest, he led from the front with dynamism and energy, adding considerable value and inspiring so many people in the parishes he served.
“Of particular note was his considerable contribution to Catholic education in his period as Religious Education Adviser to Catholic schools in the Diocese of Motherwell.
“A much admired and respected priest, he will be sorely missed.
“I offer our sympathy and support of our prayers to his mother and all of his family and friends, the parishioners of St Mary’s Lanark and those of the other parishes in the Motherwell Diocese in which Father Joe served.”