CANON James Friel, who has died aged 86, was a loving pastor of souls renowned for his intelligence, love of music and teaching ability.

Parishioners at St Mary’s RC Church in Haddington, where he served from 1993 to 2013, fondly remember him.

Friend Allan Doyle said: “During Fr Jim’s tenure in Haddington, the old organ gave up. We looked at all sorts of options for replacement, including a new pipe organ which would have cost a very large amount of money.

“He was keen to do the right thing to support the church and enhance the liturgy, but couldn’t bring himself to go ahead. He looked at me and said: ‘God didn’t put us here to buy organs – that money must be used to do good.’ A digital alternative was sourced.”

At his Golden Jubilee Mass in 2006, pupils from St Mary’s Primary School presented Canon Friel with his own stole. It included images of his favourite things, including the Eucharist, coffee, chocolate, football and France.

Mr Doyle added: “He was so delighted with this work of art that he refused to wear it under his chasuble, saying: ‘It wouldn’t be fair to the children to hide their beautiful work.’ He wore the stole on all the children’s special occasions.”

James Friel was born and raised in Lennoxtown and was one of eight children.

His sister Claire Gonet said: “Mum wanted him to finish St Ninian’s before going to [junior seminary] Blairs College but he insisted, and our parish priest at the time said you might as well let him go now because he’s going to go anyway!

“He was the first to have a car and he used to take us on trips down the coast – so I remember him being the fun brother.”

After Blairs, he attended the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris as a seminarian of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh.

Fr Thomas McNulty attended both Blairs and Saint-Sulpice with him and they were ordained to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral on August 5, 1956.

Fr McNulty said: “He was an extremely intelligent person and a good preacher. I remember as a deacon he was the only one among us invited to preach during advent in Saint-Sulpice. His French was very good to be given that accolade.

“It’s quite remarkable that, 65 years later, I can still remember he preached about John the Baptist being used by God to prepare the way for the Lord.”

Immediately following ordination, he served for 14 years on the seminary staff at both Blairs and St Vincent’s College at Langbank in Renfrewshire. He then served as Archbishop’s Secretary to Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray and also in the parish of St Mary’s in Leslie, Fife.

Canon Friel’s longest periods in parish life, however, came in Stirlingshire and East Lothian, with many years of service given to the parishes of Christ the King in Grangemouth (1983-1993) and St Mary’s in Haddington (1993-2013).

For the last two years, he lived at the Holy Rosary Residence care home in Greenock.

He concelebrated daily Mass up until a week before his death when he became unwell.

Claire, a volunteer at the care home, said: “The staff here called him ‘the smiler’– he always looked content.

“He was a very vibrant priest – he was a servant of God and did that to the best of his ability. He was a talented teacher and a very loving pastor.”

Canon Friel died peacefully at the Holy Rosary Residence on December 24. A requiem Mass took place on Monday at St Mary’s Church in Haddington, with burial at St Mary’s Cemetery.