MASS attendance has caused a major challenge for Sunnybank parish priest Fr Dan Ryan – and for all the right reasons.
Increasing numbers of Catholics at the six weekend Masses at Our Lady of Lourdes, Sunnybank, convinced Fr Ryan to sign the papers for a major church expansion this year.
The new church project, which will cost up to $2.3 million, should easily seat up to 600 people, increasing the seating capacity by 200.
Fr Ryan said the church’s Sunnybank location, one of Brisbane’s fastest growing migrant neighbourhoods, had raised the parishioner numbers to well over 2200 people.
“There’s always 1800 people come to Mass at Sunnybank, and of recent days the Asian, South American, African, Indian, Filipino people have come to boost the numbers now,” he said.
While the rising numbers are a sign of hope for the community, it has also made for a cosy fit in the church which was built in 1963.
“It needs to be a bigger church,” Fr Ryan said.
“So we’re putting in an extra 20 pews. At the moment there are 42 pews in there, so basically (we’re) extending everything by a third.”
Parishioners moved out of the church on May 10 to the parish-owned Paloma Reception Centre, conveniently located next door.
Four weeks since the moving date, the church is now unrecognisable.
“The parishioners were slightly shocked when they saw the bare bones of the steel but they’re looking forward to a new worship centre,” Fr Ryan said.
In addition to fitting more pews, the old church’s stained-glass windows are also being cleaned and repaired for the new build.
Remarkably, the stress and hassle of moving an entire community to a new location has not dampened Mass attendance.
The national count of attendance, administered by the Australia Catholic Bishops Conference, organised a four-week head count in the parish during its moving week.
“So we had official numbers counted recently in May and we had first weekend 1850, next weekend 1950, and third weekend we had 2250 and then we dropped back to around 1950,” Fr Ryan said. “They were the first four weekends in Paloma, and the numbers actually grew, they didn’t drop off.”
The community’s faithfulness has also extended to the parish’s bank account.
“We’re currently sitting at $250,000 in donations, money that parishioners have donated,” Fr Ryan said.
“We’re restoring all the old pews, so people have donated that already at $1500 each.
“We’re getting 20 new pews at $6000, and parishioners have already donated (for) about 17.
“And we’re also doing ‘Buy a cubic metre’ of the new church, $100 per cubic metre and we’ve raised $43,000 with that – easy.”
Fr Ryan said the parish hoped to receive at least $500,000 in donations, although more would help to decrease a potential $1.9 million loan.
Construction on the new church is expected to continue through to November with hopes of a mid-December opening and blessing.
By Emilie Ng