TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Happy Days with Helene

I’m often asked “What do you do exactly in your role as Parish Family Liaison Officer?” Well, after four years on the job it’s fair to say that it’s a responsive ministry where no two days are the same. I sub- title the role ‘Faith, Family, Food and Fun’.

Teresa Brierley is enjoying some loving family time on the Gold Coast and following a conversation we shared last Wednesday she offered me the opportunity to fill in for her today. I did suggest I would prefer a week on the Gold Coast but small mercies.

Let me share with you my experience last Wednesday, not only to illustrate what I do, but also to reinforce that collaboration is a recipe for faith development within a parish.

The day began with Mass at St Pius’ X High School’s Sr Marie Centre. Nothing extraordinary except that working with Fr Terry (Blackbutt South’s parish priest) and St Pius Ministry Co-ordinator Adam Frost, the morning Mass at Kotara was moved to St Pius’. And the 8.30am staff prayers at Pius was also replaced with the 8am Mass in the centre. The Kotara parishioners were initially concerned about an unknown area and the availability of parking. No worries there as the top carpark at St Pius’ is enormous!

Staff rolled up, parishioners rolled up and with the number attending approaching the 40 mark – equal parishioners to staff − this Mass will now be a fortnightly event.  The parishioners’ fears were dispelled and the staff was happy to share facilities and welcome the locals.

I stayed on at St Pius’ as Fr Terry celebrated the bi-weekly class Mass at 9am. Three classes attend each Mass in the Sr Marie Centre and it’s always great to see the students from the feeder primary schools making their way through their high school years.

I then headed across to St Columba’s Adamstown where the principal, Justin, invited Fr Terry and me to join in the kinder orientation session. It was low key and personable and just before the compulsory cuppa I asked if I could welcome the parents to the parish.

No need for lots of words. Throw in ‘welcome’ and ‘invite’ and it certainly puts everyone at ease. I reminded the parents that they would not be judged on their Mass attendance and that in itself drew a collective thanks.

I did invite the parents for a walk through the church if they desired. I was amazed by the number who took up the invitation with their child. There were lots of questions but I sensed that this was a new beginning for many. The kids loved the experience and I heard many say as they walked out “Yes we will be back.”

My day continued at the University of Newcastle. My friend Anne Millard, musician extraordinaire from the City region parish, is the Uni chaplain and she invited me to their weekly 1.15pm Wednesday Mass. I love the buzz around the Uni campus.

When I arrived at the Chaplains’ office Frs Dom and Camillus were there along with Deacon Greg and a host of students who were in the midst of their exam period. The Mass is celebrated in a small space and you feel very connected (not unlike the home Masses many older parishioners speak about from days gone by).

The impromptu singing accompanied by Anne’s ukulele and Baden’s guitar is an added bonus to the celebration.  There’s a real sense that for these students it’s a vital part of their time at uni – where Faith meets Friends.

That evening it was Blackbutt South’s parish Reconciliation service. We have a great sacramental team made up of young teachers who reside in the parish, parents and parishioners.

We spent the past four weeks on the Reconciliation program with the children and their parents meeting 45 minutes before the weekend Masses. The families then attended the parish Mass and Fr Terry always geared his homily to include the children.

All 65 participants gathered at St Columba’s Church, Adamstown, with families and friends. As each child entered the church s/he was given a coloured heart – five colours as we had the services of Frs Terry, Gordon, Greg, Max and Barry. The church was divided into the five coloured areas making it accessible for the families.

The evening began with a liturgy and Fr Terry expressed his thanks to the families for their commitment and to the four priests who participated. Each child was presented to the priest by his/her parents and at the completion of the liturgy all prayed the ‘Sorry’ prayer printed on the back of the heart. They then hung the heart on the Sorry tree and it was special to see the smiles of the face of each child.

This truly was an example of a ‘family first’, parish-based and school-supported program as there was a strong show of support from teachers from the three parish schools (Kotara, Adamstown and Cardiff).

When I arrived home that night it was time for the Food part of my role finally. But as I reflected on the day, I know we can achieve great things in our parishes if we all work together. There’s no room for power, oneness or control. But there are plenty of opportunities for Faith, Family, Food and Fun times.

Oh − there was a one hiccup in my Faith day. I turned on the TV when I arrived home and Donald Trump was declared President-elect of the USA. But I remembered God’s command to ‘Love one another’ − even Donald.

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Helene O'Neill Image
Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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