CollectionGB 3380 Scottish Catholic Archives, Historic Archives
Ref NoSCA B/6
Alt Ref NoB-GI
TitleBishop James Gillis, Eastern Vicariate
Extent8 files
Administrative HistoryBorn in Canada but brought to Scotland at an early age and enrolled as a student at Aquhorties Seminary in 1817. Further advanced studies at Paris diocesan seminary of St. Nicholas and at Issy les Moulineaux. For health reasons completed his studies in Scotland. Was ordained in 1827 and stationed in Edinburgh for eleven years. Introduced the first religious congregation of women, the Ursuline Sisters, to Edinburgh in 1835. Under his auspices, other religious orders of men and women settled in Edinburgh and made significant contributions to the education work of the Diocese. Appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Lymira and Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District in 1838 and succeeded Bishop Carruthers in 1852. Was much in demand as a preacher and produced many pamphlets on the religious controversies of the time, vigorously defending the Catholic cause. Died in 1864.

James Gillis was the son of Scottish parents who had emigrated to Canada and built up a successful business there. They returned to Forres in Aberdeenshire and enrolled their son in the Catholic seminary which Bishop Hay has opened in 1799 at Aquhorties. Gillis went to Paris for higher studies for the priesthood. This was a time when the foreign colleges were emerging from a dark period when all of them had been closed down as a result of the French Revolution. Because of ill-health, he returned to Scotland to complete his studies and to be ordained in 1827.

Very early in his career as a priest, he demonstrated his flair for organisation, his enthusiasm for splendid liturgical occasions and his gifts as a fund-raiser at a time when new buildings and schools were needed by the expanding Catholic community. These attributes made him an invaluable assistant to succeeding Bishops. He made frequent trips abroad, especially to France, and was much in demand as a preacher. Extensive alterations were made to St. Marys Cathedral. His lofty ambition was to replicate in Scotland the beauty, dignity and splendour of the Church on the continent.

A particular ambitious move, in view of the extent of anti-Catholic prejudice and suspicion in the city, was to set up in Edinburgh for the first time since the Reformation a convent of Ursuline nuns. He recognised the importance of the education of women of the upper classes and the Sisters were to establish a school for them as well as teaching in schools and ministering to the many poor families in the town. He arranged for the schools to be inspected by the government in return for Privy Council grants. The St. Margarets Convent site was large and well-situated and he envisaged that eventually a new Cathedral and a Seminary would be built there- a plan which never came to fruition because of the expense involved. But he also invited other religious orders- the Oblates, the Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits to establish themselves in the city.
As Bishop of the Eastern Vicariate he was responsible for raising the profile of the Catholic community. A prolific writer and public speaker, he produced many letters and pamphlets, most of them in defence of the Catholic Church. In the last years of his episcopate, his health steadily deteriorated and he died in 1864.
DescriptionCorrespondence to Bishop Gillis; draft letters by Bishop Gillis; personal papers; compilations; student notes; sermons; printed pamphlets
Access StatusOpen
Physical DescriptionPrinted; manuscript
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