On Thursday 13 May this year, the New Lambton conference of St Vincent de Paul “turned 50” and celebrated its golden jubilee with a well-attended Mass at St Therese’s church.
The congregation prayed for 35 deceased members, 17 retired members, and the five remaining members. Of those five are two originals, Joy Loas, president, and Margaret Wheeler.
In May 1971, St Therese’s parish in New Lambton was enduring an unusual situation. In a short timeframe, four women had lost their husbands, all at an early age. Those women faced a future of caring for 17 young children between them.
Realising the need for action, Monsignor Casey arranged to support the ladies to start a St Vincent de Paul conference.
“As far as we know this was the first ladies conference,” says Joy. “We started with five and it soon grew to 28.”
But it almost stalled at the outset. The first “assignment” involved Joy and Margaret visiting an elderly St Therese’s parishioner at the Calvary Mater hospital.
“It was quite harrowing for me,” says Joy. “This lady was only hours from death and the experience made me wonder if we would continue.”
It did, and over the ensuing 50 years its dedicated membership has helped look after God’s poor and disadvantaged. This has included visiting the sick, caring for children, transporting people to Mass, organising anointing Masses for the elderly, providing personal care for the elderly including bathing an old man one-legged man, and working at the Islington Centre “op shop”.
“When clothing was scarce, we washed, ironed, and mended enough quality clothing for the needy,” says Joy. “We visited the homeless at the Matthew Talbot centre in Wickham and regularly ran the evening meal roster at the aged-care home at New Lambton.
“One of the most rewarding calls to God’s care was to assist a family from Wee Waa. We met them doing interviews at Islington. The husband had lost a leg in a tractor accident, and they had a young boy with special needs. We organised the We Waa conference to assist them when they returned home but we continued to source and send medicine from Newcastle for the special needs boy. The letters of thanks in reply were heartfelt.”
What goes around often comes around. In February 1987, 20 members won $500,000 in the Opera House lottery. The ticket had been purchased with left-over money from a Christmas luncheon.
The biggest changes in the past 50 years relate to compliance.
“There are a lot of regulations we have to deal with for our caring,” she says. “This includes police checks, working with children checks, children life-training, and a child-safe familiarisation program every two years.”
The five members are proud of the new generation coming through. Mini Vinnies at St Therese’s Primary School provides an abundance of non-perishables for the senior organisation to distribute.
“The children contribute about two carloads twice a year,” says Joy. “At least eight of the St Therese’s Mini Vinnies students were at Mass recently. Their principal Duilio Rufo is a champion for our work and always willing to assist in any way.”
St Therese’s reciprocates the sentiment. Anne Sturt, the teacher helping organise the school’s Mini Vinnies says: “It is with great admiration that the children of St Therese’s look to the ladies of our St Vincent de Paul Society in the parish of Holy Trinity. For many years, the children of Year 5 have been involved in Mini Vinnies, collecting groceries, and organising fund-raising events for the poor.
“Joy and her co-workers have shown the children Jesus’s message in action. Her hard-work, generosity, and humble approach to helping others has inspired the children in their lives. How wonderful to be blessed with Joy!”
Another memorable effort was helping a Sri Lankan family. The parents brought their son to the John Hunter for leukemia treatment, leaving behind an older daughter. The husband suffered a heart attack while they were living at Ronald McDonald House. The family experienced many difficulties, not the least financial, and the plight of the daughter being unable to reunite with them.
The ladies of New Lambton St Vincent de Paul offered extraordinary and long-lasting help. The boy survived and is doing well, and the daughter, who finally came to Australia aged 16, has graduated as an engineer.
“We’re a spiritual organisation,” says Joy. “We fought a battle for ladies initially. It was a man’s domain at the time. I was doing talks for the Formation team then. And we’re still here doing a lot of outreach work.”
The five extraordinary ladies would welcome some help. Anyone interested in joining should contact Joy Loas on 4952 2664 or Margaret Wheeler on 4957 1266.