REGENTS Park parishioner John McClelland watched St Bernadine’s go from “just shrub” to a bustling Catholic community as he looked back on the 40th anniversary of the parish last Sunday.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength,” Mr McClelland, who is a member of the Order of Australia, said.
He chalked it up to community cohesion.
“We come together and we support and help each other, and if something needs to be done or someone needs help, there will always be someone within the parish that will come along and be happy to help that person.”
In his homily on Sunday, parish priest Fr John Conway thanked the many people who gave their time and talents to the parish over the years.
“When Archbishop (John) Bathersby said to Fr John (Nee) 40 years ago, build me a church, perhaps little did we realise that it would be an invitation that would reverberate through these four decades and come to rest upon our shoulders,” Fr Conway said.
“Today we have that dream and it is in our dreaming that we play our own part in the Kingdom of God.
“Let’s build it together.”
Fr Conway had big plans for the parish’s 40th anniversary before the coronavirus hit Australia’s shores.
His plans included a “parish expo”, which would showcase the parish ministries and groups.
Most importantly, Fr Conway wanted to collect and share people’s stories at the expo.
While the expo has been pushed to 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions, Fr Conway still wanted to collect the stories and was urging people who had stories from the 40 years of parish life to contact the parish office.
Last Sunday, parishioners made their own story, cutting cake and sharing a cup of tea after Sunday Masses to commemorate the anniversary.
Parishioner Juan McGrath, who has been with the parish since 1984, said it was a lovely time to catch up with people, even under the COVID-19 restrictions.
She had her own story to tell too.
It was in the early 2000s and Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge, had to be moved for major roadworks in the area, she said.
“They actually closed the church down while roadworks were prepared and the church was re-established,” she said.
“So during that time, the community still came together to share a Mass when a priest could join us, or we just celebrated the Word and distributed Communion, and that was out on a big block of land that had no development anywhere.
“We had Mass there for I think it was around two to three months; that was quite special because we could still come together and wait for our church to re-open.”
She said it was quite cool out in winter so they’d build a little fire for the children and share morning tea and go on their way the rest of the day.
“The new church was opened and we could get back in our new church with toilets and running water,” Ms McGrath said with a laugh.
Mr McClelland had a few stories about founding parish priest Fr John Nee.
“Where St Bernadine’s and the school was, was all just shrub,” he said.
He remembered the finance committee decided to buy a tractor with a slasher to clear the land for expansion of the site.
Fr Nee took to the tractor and spent a lot of time clearing the land.
“That was his way of winding down at the end of the day,” Mr McClelland said.
“The only problem was the first tractor we bought didn’t have lights and at 7pm at night, (Fr) John would still be slashing to get the last little bit he wanted done.”
Mr McClelland said Fr Nee was a “go-getter” and many parishioners deeply admired him.
It showed through at Fr Nee’s 25th anniversary of ordination when the parish plotted a surprise celebration.
Mr McClelland said if Fr Nee knew about it, he wouldn’t have shown up – “that was the sort of bloke he was”.
“A group got together and we decided to have a concert, and then we asked parishioners if they had any ideas to have the concert for John, would they like to contribute,” he said.
“Well, we actually turned people away because there were that many people who wanted to get involved to show their gratitude.
“We had singing and we had skits, we did everything – it was a lovely, lovely night and it was all a surprise.”
Looking at the future, Mr McClelland said “we will have nothing but future success”.