Older parishioners lead the way with a song and prayer
The humble ukulele is bringing people together in a parish outreach that is as good as it sounds.
Every Thursday evening about 20 people gather in the small hall of Holy Name of Mary Church in Hunter’s Hill to play and sing an eclectic repertoire from Amazing Grace to You are My Sunshine, and Show Me the Way to Go Home.
Age and experience are no barrier to the diverse group. It includes youngest member Archie Seiler, 9, who also plays the piano, violin and trumpet, and more senior members who for decades were convinced they didn’t have a single musical bone in their body.
“It’s a marvellous outreach within the parish and the wider community as well and just goes to show that it’s possible to do things you never dreamed you’d be capable of” -Deirdre O’Dowd Page
The only requisite for joining is having a desire to play the instrument and be willing to learn under the guidance of assistant parish priest Marist Fr Aliki Langi.
Deirdre O’Dowd Page cheerfully asserts she is the least musically-gifted in the group but would not miss a session, which always begins and ends with a prayer.
“They are a great bunch of people and we have so much fun each week,” she said. “It’s a marvellous outreach within the parish and the wider community as well and just goes to show that it’s possible to do things you never dreamed you’d be capable of,” she said.
Barbara Pye said she was feeling adrift after the death of her mother and looking to reconnect with the Catholic Church. “I was having some issues and recently started coming back to Mass when [parish priest] Fr Kevin Bates invited me to come to this group.”
“It’s just a happy group and we get on well, and we have something special with the music.”
Selona Forrester, 13, says she loves going each week because it is something she can do together with her grandmother, Susana. “She got me into it, she gave my brother and me each a ukulele when I was about 10 or 11,” she said.
“So I love coming her with her and also it helps me to express my emotions and feelings and it just soothes my mind.”
The musicians have been the star attraction playing in nursing homes, schools and Christmas carols with some members even making a successful tour to Father Aliki’s native Tonga in December 2019.
Older people have “so much to offer”
The former parish priest the Marist parish in Gladstone, Queensland, Father Aliki said he is inspired by the progress of his students in such a short time as he only arrived in the parish earlier that same year.
“For me, the main focus of this group is empowering lay people and supporting the dignity of older people,” he said. “They are matured spiritually, and have much to offer but can also enjoy the joy of learning something new.
“Most of the people in this room had never held a ukulele before, and I think that’s very uplifting for them to see what they are capable of as they grow older.”
Janet Bolster said everyone appreciates Fr Aliki’s patient and gentle leadership. “The main prerequisite for this group was to have no musical ability and no musical brain and that’s what he’s been working with in us,” she said. “He sets the tone, which is one of joyful sharing.
“Everyone walks away rejuvenated and with a smile on their face.”