In the south of Scotland two or three small neighbourhoods still hung on to their Catholic Faith, centred on the houses of recusant landowners; in the North East there was a larger community, living mainly on the lands of the Catholic Duke of Gordon; and on several clan estates in the Western Highlands and the Hebrides, where the chiefs and remoteness afforded them protection, almost all the tenants remained Catholic. In these areas the Church had a chance of surviving, and priests could operate with a degree of safety.
It was to these communities that the religious orders came as missionaries. Here, and from here, they began the mountainous task of rebuilding Catholicism in Scotland. Dedicated, well read and widely travelled, they were in many ways ideal for the task. Through the seventeenth century they played an indispensable and often heroic part in keeping a tiny and fragile Church alive through the worst years. Their one shortcoming was that as members of orders they could be withdrawn at any time by their superiors, leaving vital work half done.