Family grateful for support after fire

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Gabriel, 13, with a treasured prayer card that was left intact in their burnt-out home. Photos: Giovanni Portelli
Gabriel Wilson, 13, with a treasured prayer card that was left intact in their burnt-out home. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Smithfield comes to the aid of parish stalwarts Warren & Amelia Wilson

After decades of selfless giving to the church and wider community they love, Warren and Amelia Wilson were overwhelmed by support when they lost their home to an electrical fire on 20 June.

Now the couple from Sydney’s south west are trying to rebuild their lives with their nine children aged 21 to four, strengthened by knowing that they aren’t doing it alone.

The faith-filled family are deeply involved and respected in their local Catholic and sporting communities. At St Gertrude’s Parish, Smithfield, where Warren is an acolyte and has served as a catechist, the whole family offers music ministry at Sunday Mass and supplies floral arrangements for the church every week without fail.

And even last Sunday, the first one after their shocking loss, the family was determined not to skip a beat.

“But at the end of the day we are alive, we are safe and we’ve got a beautiful community helping us and so we are not alone.”

“Father told us not to worry about the flowers this week, but I said no,” Warren said. “It is a blessing for us, my wife loves it. We love our church and our faith is everything to us.

Every single night we say our rosary together, the children never muck up, they take it seriously.”

Warren told The Catholic Weekly he thinks of the priests, Pauline Fathers Peter James Strohmayer and Wojtek Sliwa not only as his Fathers but his “brothers”.

The proud dad said that while his family was coping the shock of that terrifying morning had affected them deeply. “But at the end of the day we are alive, we are safe and we’ve got a beautiful community helping us and so we are not alone.”

Warren and Amelia Wilson with their nine children aged 4-21 show the few possessions they were able to save. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Warren and Amelia Wilson with their nine children aged 4-21 show the few possessions they were able to save. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

A bedroom heater caught fire and exploded while the family were waking and getting ready for school and university. Despite Warren’s attempts to put it out they were lucky to escape the house with the clothes they were wearing seconds before it was gutted by intense flames.

They say they have seen a number of small miracles. Warren’s favourite religious framed picture, depicting Jesus resurrected beside his tomb, was soot-covered but intact. Similarly Alister, 17, found his guitar blackened but otherwise unscathed. “It’s a blessing from God that I still have my guitar because we have Mass this Sunday and I can still play for it,” he said.

His sister Esther, 18, said she was touched at the outpouring of support from so many people from the first day. “I can’t describe how much we appreciate it,” she said.

Now they are trying to get back to normality and begin to rebuild their lives and hopefully their home. Their community is equally determined to help them get back on their feet again.

“They are such a big part of our parish and are so active in helping out and offering help with whatever is needed.”

Last weekend hordes of helpers from the parish descended on a simple three-bedroom house the Wilsons found to rent, to help clean and furnish it for the family who are determined to stay together.

“We’ve told Warren and Amelia that we’ve got them and we will not let them go until they are back on their feet and in their own house. We’re in it for the long haul, it’s not just about helping them meet their immediate needs,” said parish administrator Fr Strohmayer, who was “devastated” when he first heard the news.

“They are such a big part of our parish and are so active in helping out and offering help with whatever is needed.

“As soon as I mentioned it to parishioners at St Therese’s at Mass the next day I hadn’t even reached the sacristy before they were there wanting to know ‘Father what can we do, what do they need?’

Two of the Wilson children with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Gabriel and Alister Wilson with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their home. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“The next day the envelopes started, vouchers, donations of clothes and furniture. And the school [St Gertrude’s Primary School] has been absolutely fantastic as well.”

“These are people who haven’t got a lot themselves but they are praying and giving what they can to ensure this family stays safe and well. It really is the Gospel in action.”

The parish is promoting a Go Fund Me page set up by family friend and parishioner Teresa Culjak, which had reached almost $30,000 last week.

Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield principal Peter Wade said he had also been overwhelmed by the generosity of staff, families, and students and by the manner in which they have shown compassion for the Wilson family after the devastating loss of their family home.

“It is a testiment to the family that they have been so humble in receiving anything that they’ve been given.”

“People have shown great empathy and been guided by the words of Saint Mary MacKillop to ‘never see a need without doing something about it’, digging in to help the family. From crisis we see the best of human nature and see the face of Christ in one another.”

Principal of St Gertrude’s Catholic Primary School Linda Katsibras said that as soon as the school community learned the news they responded in “the most beautiful and compassionate way”, with offers of help and donations.

“It is a testament to the family that they have been so humble in receiving anything that they’ve been given.

“But whenever there is a need in the parish, they are the ones who are also very happy to help.”