LEANNE Menyweather has had to set her neighbours straight – they had the wrong idea about her life.
“Bruce (her husband) and I bought a unit on the waterfront ten years ago, and my neighbours, most of them are retired, and they go, ‘Oh, you poor thing, going to work …’,” the parish secretary at Redcliffe City, on Brisbane’s northern bayside outskirts said.
“And I say, ‘Please, please don’t feel sad for me going to work. When my car goes out the driveway, that’s exactly where I want to be … (on my way to work).
“It’s like walking into home, isn’t it?,” she said to receptionist at the parish office Chris Jones, a friend and colleague, and Chris agrees.
“I’ve just had a week off, and I came back yesterday and I thought, ‘Oh, you know, it’s good to be back …’,” Leanne said.
“I love my job.”
It was part of a life others dream about – married to the love of her life, “three lovely children, five grandchildren”, living by the bay, financially comfortable and in a fulfilling job.
And then, suddenly, that was shaken to its core.
Leanne and Bruce were on a river cruise in Germany in June last year when he died of a heart attack.
They had been together for almost 40 years since a chance meeting in Mount Isa when Leanne was an 18-year-old working in a bank after graduating from high school.
She had moved from Brighton to Mount Isa to take that job, and Bruce was on his way around Australia with some mates.
“Mount Isa was his first stop, after leaving Sydney,” Leanne said.
“We just met one afternoon at the local hotel … and I was actually sick with laryngitis, which he always said was my saving grace, because he thought I was quiet and shy.
“He was just on a travelling holiday and his sister lived in Mount Isa and that’s as far as he got, from Sydney.
“Our dream was always to finish that – we were going to go around Australia when we retired but that’s not meant to be …”
Bruce’s death came on top of a line of grief that started with the death of Leanne’s mother in 2015, the death of a sister three months later, and her father’s death in 2016.
Apart from her faith and her family, Leanne’s job and the people she works with have helped her through.
“I love every day. I love every day,” she said.
“I have worked, and work, with the most amazing people.
“Chris Jones, our receptionist, she and I just have a great camaraderie.
“We work well together, we work hard, we’ve got a strong work ethic.
“I have to say, I wake up every day and I want to be here.
“A lot of people don’t get that job satisfaction.
“And particularly the last year-and-a-half, this place has been my rock, because they’ve helped me through my tough journey.”
The parish recently held a dinner to celebrate Leanne’s 30th anniversary as a parish secretary, and 60 people attended, including her five “bosses” over the time Fathers Graham Gatehouse, Peter Gillam, Michael McCarthy (now Bishop of Rockhampton), John Conway and Bob Harwood.
Three decades as a parish secretary would never have happened if Leanne had had her way.
She and Bruce had two daughters – Renee and Emily – and, when their son Luke came along, they decided Leanne would be a stay-at-home mum.
“And that’s where I thought my working career ended, however my sister Gail Maller – she was school and parish secretary at St Kieran’s (Brighton) – (stepped in),” Leanne said.
“Bruce and I had just built a new home at Bracken Ridge – and Gail rang me up one day because she wanted to go in a new direction with her career and she asked would I fill-in for four months from August until Christmas – Fr Graham Gatehouse at that stage was parish priest.
“And I said, ‘No, no, I just want to be a stay-at-home mum …’
“And my husband came home from work that day and when I mentioned it to him he said, ‘Well, Leanne, we’ve just built a house so if you go back for four months there’s your curtains paid for’.
“And then I did that, and thirty years later, I’ve got lots of curtains bought,” she laughs at that.
At the end of four months, Fr Gatehouse asked Leanne if she would stay on and she said yes.
Fr Gillam succeeded Fr Gatehouse as parish priest and then was transferred to Redcliffe in 1999.
Soon after, he learned the parish secretary there was moving on so he asked Leanne if she would be interested in the role.
She started there on January 1, 2000, and has been there ever since.
The job satisfaction, the priests, the people, the parishioners and her own faith have all played a part in Leanne staying so long.
“I think what I admire most is our parishioners and their dedication to the Church. They inspire us …,” she said.
“Even on holidays, I’m looking forward to coming back to work.
“People say to me, ‘What do you do as a church secretary?’
“And, you know, it’s a tough answer because the role is so diverse.”
Why has she stuck at it?
“Because I think I love the people, the volunteers, and everyone I work with,” she said.
“We have met so many lovely people on our journey …
“It’s helped me with my family. It’s given me a grounding.
“And every priest has brought their own special talent.
“Every priest has come into my life and taught me so much.
“They’re all just special. I love them all.”
The Redcliffe parish staff work hard at ensuring the administration of the parish runs smoothly so the priest is freed as much as possible for pastoral ministry.
“I think the priests here in this parish know that they can step out and be pastoral because the administration staff here are so connected and do their jobs well,” Leanne said.
“That sounds vain, but we do.”
And what have the past 30 years in a parish office done for Leanne’s own faith?
“At times, it tests it here,” she said with a laugh.
“If I’m being honest, I’m a little bit angry with God at the moment because he took the love of my life away from me,” she said.
“But that’s okay – I’m allowed to be a little bit angry.
“What it’s done to my faith, it’s enhanced it.
“I’ve got a deeper faith for it – a little bit rocky at the moment, I’m being honest – but I know that everything happens for a reason, this is my journey, and some people go through life and never have the love that I had for my husband.
“I’m really blessed in the fact that when my sister asked me to fill in for those four months, and I did, little did I know where it was going to take me.
“It’s helped me grow as a person – like nothing I would’ve ever imagined.
“It’s helped me in every aspect of my life, this job. It’s helped me be a better wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter.
“I’ve just been touched with a lot of great people in my life. I’ve really been very fortunate. God must love me – he must.
“And my children, they are amazing too. They’ve been my rock …
“I’m very fortunate. I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m blessed with three lovely children, five grandchildren.
“I had a husband that I didn’t want for anything material-wise but moreso I didn’t want for love.
“I’m grateful, and I think God has given me an inner strength the last couple of years that I really have got to stop being a little bit cranky and thank him for, because he has given me a strength, that I don’t think I was ever going to get through but I have.
“I’m up the other side now and I’m growing. It’s been a tough journey for me though.
“It’s been an amazing journey. I’m lucky.”