At 12noon on Friday, Canon Gerard Tartaglia turned in his keys and said farewell to 18 years of being part of Whitecrook.

It isn’t an easy goodbye. It’s part of the job as a diocesan priest that you go where you’re needed. But Whitecrook and Clydebank has felt like home since his first day back in October 2004.

The parish priest for St Margaret’s and Our Holy Redeemer leaves behind a legacy of compassion and care through dramatic times for the community, the world, and his own life.

Thousands of pupils have known Canon Tartaglia. He has been with families when they welcome new lives, when they get married, and when they pass on.

In his last week, he had three funerals to lead as he packed up his collection of books for his new parish in Kirkintilloch.

“It’s passed like a flash – it’s incredible,” he says overlooking the garden behind St Margaret’s.

“I can honestly say I have not been disappointed to be here for one moment. I have been totally at home here.

“I don’t know why that is, because you would expect a bit of adjustment. But I found it a very amenable right from the beginning.

“And I always found the people here to be very genuine - and that really helps.

“I think that’s part the reason why the time has passed so quickly here.”

'He will love it'

Father Gerald Sharkey, from St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, stepped into Canon Tartaglia’s shoes on Friday in Whitecrook. What will he find?

“Father Sharkey will have a great time here,” he adds. “He will love it.”

Canon Tartaglia, originally from Glasgow’s east end, served in Pollokshields, Pollokshaws, Newlands and Crosshill before moving to Whitecrook at the age of 43.

He had big shoes to fill when he arrived, following the retirement of Monsignor James McShane, who had 28 years in Whitecrook and who he described as a “legend”.

Now aged 61, Canon Tartaglia says he feels part of the community.

“It’s been really good and the people here are colourful, characterful,” he says. “They’re real people. This is a real community.

“It’s funny how, living in Whitecrook, how quickly you’re ready to associate yourself with Whitecrook.”

Clydebank Post: Tristan Stewart-RobertsonTristan Stewart-Robertson (Image: Tristan Stewart-Robertson)

The area has developed in the past 18 years – though he notes most of the former John Brown’s site is still largely empty that time.

He continues: “Because we have a real core of good families and individuals, that holds the community together – just an undercurrent of very good people who are solidly committed to the area and to the parishes and to people doing better here and to things improving here.

“It dilutes some of the problems that would be really apparent maybe if you were in the city of Glasgow.”

Canon Tartaglia was part of the fight to save the former St Andrew’s High before it merged with St Columba’s to be St Peter the Apostle High. And he joined with the massive community effort to protect the neighbouring St Margaret of Scotland Hospice.

It’s one of the institutions Canon Tartaglia says is a foundation for the community.

He says the area benefited from politicians who are all from the area, care about and have connections to it. That’s not something you find in Glasgow, he says.

They appreciate him too.

Praise and thanks

Clydebank’s MSP Marie McNair said: “I have known him for many years – I hold him in high regard and I know his parishioners do too.

“He has taken a compassionate and caring approach to the welfare of his parish and congregation.

“Such strong commitment to our community and a friend, a mentor and confidant to so many, he will be missed.

“I thank him for his 18 years of service to Our Holy Redeemer’s and St Margaret’s Parishes in Clydebank and wish him well as he moves on to Kirkintilloch.”

And Provost Douglas McAllister said: “Canon Tartaglia provided spiritual guidance to us all. I have no doubt that his parishioners will be very sad to see him move on but I’m sure he will always retain their affection.

“May God bless Canon Tartaglia in his new endeavours and I look forward to welcoming and working with Canon Gerald Sharkey.”

And Joanne Graham, head teacher at Our Holy Redeemer Primary, added: “Canon Tartaglia has been a great support to all the pupils, staff and families of Our Holy Redeemer Primary school for the past 18 years. We will miss him greatly but wish him well in his new parish.”

'God has an interest in us'

It’s care for those good people that has made the responsibility in the community’s darker moments all the more present.

There have been high-profile losses in Whitecrook over the past 18 years - young people who died before parents, and then parents who died too soon from Covid and the cancer legacy of a century of Bankie industry.

What did Canon Tartaglia ask of God in those moments when his community needed him?

“What I did ask for myself in those very difficult and high-profile moments was that I could speak in a way that was comforting and that it was generous,” he explains.

“My hope is that I’m going to communicate a message of hope. And that God has an interest in us and loves us.

“And we know he came amongst us as a man and he knows what it’s like to suffer because he died on the cross. And that through death on the cross and suffering came life.

“It’s hard to believe, but we see it all the time in nature and in our lives. It’s just reflecting the nature of God. You’re hoping you’re going to reflect that message of hope.”

The personal impact of Covid

The pandemic left Canon Tartaglia with regret. With hindsight, he says the first weeks of lockdown saw him push too much with the message from government of isolation – and he wanted to see the community more, even if standing outside windows talking to parishioners.

He says he didn’t handle it well and was “too strict”. He found it “unhuman”.

The church had just started more online connections before the pandemic hit so they were able to respond quickly with services over Facebook and other ways to minister – including cooking videos and gardening from Canon Tartaglia.

He was full of praise for their youth leaders and efforts to keep in touch with the youth of the church.

But Covid impacted Canon Tartaglia too. Just before Christmas, he caught it as did his brother, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.

They saw each other for lunch usually once a week but Covid took the elder brother Philip, who died in January. Canon Tartaglia took three months to recover fully from the virus himself.

Local heroes

Did that loss and experience with the coronavirus change his perspective on the pandemic?

“My own spirituality,” he says, “is much more along the lines of God has given us this world, I’m here and I ask for God’s goodness and for things to be as good as they can be. But I know they won’t always be perfect.

“I trust we will find a way through things. I have this generally optimistic belief that we are going to find a way through things. And I kept that. I wasn’t searching for miracles.”

Pupils at Our Holy Redeemer Primary and St Peter the Apostle High said their own goodbyes, many of whom he would have baptised.

“I’ve buried people’s grannies, I’ve married them, I’ve baptised their children, so I’ve been here long enough to do that.” he says.

“It makes leaving that much harder because you’ve built up relationships and friendships in faith. You grow to love your parishioners and they grow to love you.”

Canon Tartaglia says his experiences in Whitecrook have confirmed his spirituality, that God is good and people are good.

“A lot of people are living heroic lives,” he says. “The sacrifices they make for their families, the care they give to relatives and other people and it’s secret, hidden.

“What some people are living with, the level of discomfort or disappointment, but they carry on and live really good and heroic lives. And it’s humbling.”