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Married couple of 50 years spend lockdown hand-stenciling Sandgate church

Lockdown beauty: Jean-Jacques and Genevieve Audibert are spending their 50th year of marriage hand-painting a stencil around the perimeter of their local church, Sacred Heart Church in Sandgate. Photo: Sandgate parish

CHURCHES in Brisbane have been closed to the public for the better part of three months, but not for Jean-Jacques and Genevieve Audibert.

The Catholic couple from the Sandgate Brighton parish, who celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend, have spent the last month of the coronavirus lockdown inside Sacred Heart Church, Sandgate, hand painting a stencil of a grapevine around the church walls.

It has taken the couple, who are 71 and 70, three weeks to hand stencil the walls of the two side chapels, and they are making their way around the entire 175 metre perimeter.

Mrs Audibert said the idea came from another church with the same name, located in a similar coastal suburb in Adelaide’s northwest.

“Five years ago, we went to Adelaide and I entered a church there, Sacred Heart Church (in Semaphore), and I was in awe and I was breath-taken to see how well kept it is, and I just wanted that for our church here,” Mrs Audibert. 70, said.

“Our church is over 100 years old, and it’s not been very well maintained.

“So I took some pictures and slept on it.”

Just before the nation went into lockdown, Sandgate Brighton parish priest Fr Joseph Kannatt announced the parish would be repainting the interior and exterior of the church, which is heritage-listed.

“And I jumped – I said, ‘Father, I need to show you this, and we need to do that’,” referring to the photos she took of Sacred Heart Church, Semaphore.

The next day Fr Kannatt received approval from Brisbane City Council to undertake the paint works, including the hand stencils, and Mrs Audibert “got everything into gear”.

This meant learning how to paint a stencil.

Called: “I’ve never done it before, but I wanted it so badly, and it came to me – God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”

Surprisingly, it is the first time the couple have painted a hand stencil on any building, let alone a 130-year-old, heritage-listed church.

“I’ve never done it before, but I wanted it so badly, and it came to me – God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called,” Mrs Audibert said.

“I went on YouTube, it took me two months to get the artwork ready – my brother did the artwork – and get the stencil ready.”

She felt “like a horse in the starting stall” waiting for the professional painters to finish the interior walls.

The initial nerves were there at the start, but prayer has been helping them through the pain-staking work.

“I always light a candle before Our Lady before I start,” Mrs Audibert said.

“I do a prayer, I say, ‘I dedicate that work to you’ and so far, so good.

“I feel like it’s a kid that brings a painting to a mum and dad.”

There is 175m of wall to work on, and Mr and Mrs Audibert are not even halfway through the project.

“It’s a long process – this is not instant coffee,” Mrs Audibert said.

As a bonus gift to the parish, the pair found a local signwriter, Chad Polinski, who offered to manufacture at no cost a sign of 23 carrot-gold leaf lettering above the altar.

Special anniversary: The Catholic couple from the Sandgate Brighton parish are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend.

Mrs Audibert hopes people will have a similar reaction to the day she walked into the church in Adelaide.

“The lift I got in South Australia when I entered that church, I’m hoping the people’s spirit will be lifted,” Mrs Audibert said.

Her husband is no stranger to maintenance work on the church – for 12 years he’s been the parish’s “maintenance guy” but went into retirement a year and a half go.

“When I turned 70, I said, I’ve had enough, I’m going camping, resting … but it wasn’t long before I went back into it, full time,” Mr Audibert said.

“It’s very time consuming but it’s very rewarding.

“Everything is dead but the church is alive.”

Mr Audibert said the project, which the pair were doing voluntarily at no cost to the parish, was a way of paying God back for blessing their lives, which has produced 50 years of marriage, three children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“What God has done in our life, I try to pay him back – I know we’ll never be able to pay back, but such a little job I can give him back,” Mr Audibert said.

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