Fort William’s Father Tom looks back on 60 years in the priesthood

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The war against Nazi Germany still had more than six months to run when a young Tom Wynne entered the Catholic seminary in Aberdeen in 1944.

What followed was 60 years’ devoted service to communities across the Western Highlands, culminating in more that two decades as the popular parish priest at Roy Bridge.

And in an emotional event staged at St Margaret’s Church recently, its parishioners, along with those from St Joseph’s and St Finnan’s, bade farewell to Monsignor Wynne after 21 years as their priest and helped him mark his diamond jubilee as a member of the priesthood.

A native of Fort William, where his family were in the butchery trade, Father Tom is now settling into retirement at the home of his nephew and wife in the town.

This week he looked back over his life as a clergyman, sharing stories and memories with The Lochaber Times.

‘I grew up in the Fort William of the 1930s and it was a lovely community to be part of,’ said Father Tom.

‘My parents were devout and we lived near to the Catholic church so we attended every service.

‘My father was a very good fiddler and I played the piano and we would often perform at fundraisers for local Church of Scotland ministers. There was never any religious prejudice. We always saw ourselves as one big community.’

Father Tom said joining the priesthood had been something he had set his heart on at a young age: ‘I think I first told someone I wanted to be a priest when I was only about 10 or 11. I had served as an altar boy and there was nothing I wanted to be more than a priest.’

One of three brothers, Father Tom’s first posting was to Oban following five years in the senior seminary in France.

After eight years at the town’s cathedral, he went to Rothesay for a year followed by a stint in Kingussie before returning to Oban in 1966 for the next 17 years.

‘I was very sorry to leave Oban which I suppose isn’t surprising after spending 25 years of my life there,’ he recalled.

After the Oban years, it was Arisaig’s turn to benefit from Father Tom’s care and compassion, before he made the move to what would be his last parish in Roy Bridge.

He said: ‘The country areas haven’t really changed much at all during all these years. If I had to point to one thing that has changed it would be the number of young people who leave the area to find work or go to college and then don’t come back.

‘It’s one of the reasons I got involved with the setting up of Lochaber Housing Association, as a lack of affordable housing was a big issue.’

At last month’s farewell event, Father Tom was showered with gifts and there was a rendition of a new hymn composed especially for him.

A buffet was followed by the presentation of a beautiful painting of St Margaret’s by local artist Helen Critchley and it is a sign of the deep affection in which he is held that Father Tom was then presented with a £3,000 cheque from parishioners and friends from the community and elsewhere.

Asked what his plans were for retirement, Father Tom, who will be 87 at the end of this month, said he hopes to read more.

And he added with a laugh: ‘I have offered to play the church organ on Sundays when the regular organist is away so they haven’t quite got rid of me completely just yet!’