St Mark’s parishioners ask the most powerful question

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Parish priest Fr Michael McLean says St Mark’s is looking to deepen its outreach. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Plans to revamp Drummoyne parish are underway, underpinned by a deepening understanding of its identity and mission

A much-loved church in Sydney’s inner west will be restored as part of a physical and spiritual revitalisation of a parish that has quietly graced the city for a century.

Fr Michael McLean and his team of lay parish leaders are preparing to cast their nets deep into the waterfront suburb of Drummoyne which is nestled between Iron Cove and Five Dock Bay.

Blessed with a family-friendly village atmosphere, the suburb has seen population growth in recent years with increasing urban development and ethnic diversity.

“The Church is richer the more people there are able to share their stories of encounter with Jesus, to reach people who may relate to Him in a similar way.” – Celine Cheng, St Mark’s parish pastoral council chairperson

Now plans to revamp St Mark’s church are underway, with approval to restore the entrance foyer and the sanctuary, modify the confessional to align better with archdiocesan safeguarding guidelines, install air conditioning and repair damaged roof tiles.

The parish primary school has been upgraded with a state-of-the-art two-storey building built to replace ageing demountable classrooms. But more importantly, an expanded Parish Pastoral Council is preparing to launch a program later this year to revitalise St Mark’s mission and ministry.

Called Parish 2025, the plan is aimed at fostering a stronger sense of identity and a great co-responsibility between the parish priest and the council on nurturing a welcoming and evangelising parish.

“We struggle with similar issues to many parishes, there is so much pressure on people and competing priorities, and they find it challenging to make regular church attendance or commitment to a parish community,” Fr Michael told The Catholic Weekly. “So we’re looking for opportunities to deepen that connection with them in a richer way so they want to continue to be part of the community where they can be supported and encouraged in their faith development and nurture their children in the faith.

The Cavallo family of St Mark’s parish felt welcomed by Fr Michael and parishioners when they returned to regular Mass attendance. PHOTO: Supplied

“And we want to strengthen our outreach further to the community as well, which has seen a lot of change in recent years, with lots of people moving into Drummoyne including young families.

“As with each community, we all get comfortable with who’s here and who we know, and we want to maintain what people find nourishing here but also to welcome others.”

Despite the COVID pandemic notably accelerating trends of declining Mass attendance, Fr Michael knows there are parishioners wanting to deepen their understanding of their faith and dive deeper into Scripture, and young people “thirsting” for a deep level of prayer, reflection and sharing.

Elizabeth Arblaster, Parish Renewal Manager, and Helen Wagner, Evangelisation Officer in the Parish Renewal Team, which is part of the Sydney Centre of Evangelisation, recently visited Fr Michael and his lay leaders to assist them in refining their vision for their parish, aided by Go Make Disciples, the Archdiocesan Mission Plan.

“We started our process before the launch of Go Make Disciples but we paused what we were doing and took a look with them to help hone our focus on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Fr Michael.

A statue of Mary showing signs of age will be restored as part of the physical and spiritual revitalisation of St Mark’s parish. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“[The Parish Renewal Team] were very helpful with that process and I think it helped us to be a bit more reflective and a bit more targeted in what we aim to do and how we do it. I’ve got people wanting to do really good work and it’s going to take us some time to build up those ministries and the allocation of resources to those areas. We’re building on great work done over the years by Mons Vince Redden who was very responsive to the community.”

For parish pastoral council member Romina Cavallo, her ‘powerful reason why’ she is involved in the parish’s life includes being warmly welcomed by Fr Michael and others when returning to Mass after years away.

“My children were three and four at the time, and there was something in me saying come back to Mass and then Fr Michael said, ‘Come and really be part of it, don’t just be a bystander’,” she said.

Parish pastoral council chair Celine Cheng said that having encountered Jesus herself she is passionate about sharing the light and warmth of his Holy Spirit with others.

“Jesus gives me meaning in life and enables me to love, and I think that is really important to share that with others,” Celine said. “I’ve gone through a few difficult things in life when every time I’ve asked a question God has answered my prayer in some way,” she said.

Stopping sacramental ‘freefall’ with Go Make Disciples plan

“Other people have different stories and we’re very cognisant of the fact that Jesus touches our hearts in very different ways. The Church is richer the more people there are to share their stories of encounter with Jesus, to reach people who may relate to Him in a similar way.”

Elizabeth said it was a joy to work with Fr Michael and his team. “They are seeking to be quite intentional about how they grow as a parish, in a way that gives people opportunities to enter into an ever-deepening encounter with Our Lord,” she said.

“We discussed steps to take in planning, and how Go Make Disciples could practically support them. Key to our time together was the discussion that – at the heart of all our planning – is the gift of our relationship with Christ and our desire, as individuals and as a community, to share that gift with others through our welcome and witness.

“We are looking forward to supporting many other parishes in a similar way at our ‘Parishes for Mission’ Days where, supported by the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, parish priests and their leaders can unpack Go Make Disciples in the context of a reflection and planning day, and be guided through a process of articulating a vision for their parish in the years ahead, together with a concrete, actionable plan to make this come to life.”

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