Having lived through world wars, moon landings and nine popes, Dorothy Boyd has a lifetime of memories.
A little closer to home, there have been 26 Australian prime ministers, the Sydney Harbour Bridge built, Phar Lap winning the Melbourne Cup and St Peter Chanel Church at Berala opening its doors.
Much has faded from her memory, but Dorothy said the church opening back in 1964 was something she’ll never forget and sparked a lifelong connection with the Berala Catholic community.
And in recognition of their foundation parishioner, they gathered last weekend to celebrate her 99th birthday in style, with a special Mass, blessing and—of course—cake.
Dorothy said that despite many parishioners having moved or passed away, her faith has been the one constant throughout her long life.
“All my memories are centred around the church, from my childhood, my wedding, my children’s schooling and still to this day, I go to Mass every Saturday night—it’s part of who I am,” she smiled.
“I’m pretty sure I’d be the oldest in the parish and the only one left who remembers when the church first opened in 1964 and we would walk through paddocks and down a dirt road to get there.
“Before that, the parish hall was used for the primary school during the week and set up for mass on the weekends, so it was pretty special when it opened.
“My husband used to run the housie there for many years and I looked after the Legion of Mary for 30. They were very happy times.
“I also remember always having a copy of The Catholic Weekly lying around, everybody did.
“Although while the population has grown over the years, sadly less people come to Mass.
“It used to be standing room-only and we were ushered to our seats. These days, it’s very different but I really don’t mind because I’m always guaranteed a seat.”
Reflecting on her long life, she recalls the pain of living through the Great Depression and the hardship everybody felt. Unemployment was rife, food shortages common and education “almost impossible”.
“Most children left school at 14 because parents couldn’t afford to send them,” she remembers.
“When I was little, I went to school run by the Josephites. It cost six pence a week but if you didn’t have it, it didn’t matter—they took you anyway.
“We were one of the lucky families. We had cows, so we could always get milk although they’d get out during the night and I’d have to go find them because they’d eat other people’s gardens.
“They were so smart, they’d use their horns to open up the neighbours gates and turn on the taps for a drink of water.
“When I reached 14 I left school and stayed home to help mum as there were seven of us kids.
“I remember when the war broke out. Then my father was killed in a work accident and Singapore fell. Times were very grim.
“Once we came out of the Depression, life was pretty good—not like these days: young people can’t afford homes and everything is so expensive.”
Her secret to longevity, she said, is keeping busy, her family, and maintaining her faith in God.
“You just have to keep moving,” she smiled.
“I used to walk for an hour every day. These days, I have a walker but still like to get to the end of my street and back.
“I just pray I keep my faculties and can keep going to Mass every week because my faith is very important to me.
“What else is there in life? It’s part of who I am.”
Parish priest of St Peter Chanel Berala Fr Thomas Kurunthanam said is blessed to have such an “experienced” parishioner.
“Dorothy is commended for her lifelong commitment to the parish and holds so many memories of who we are and how we got here,” he said.
“There’s only one Dorothy and every day is a blessing, having her cheerful and great witness of faith and we wish her a very happy birthday.”