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Volunteers keep wheels turning

Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues is a journalist for The Catholic Weekly. She also writes at marilynrodrigues.com. Email her at [email protected]
Members of the congregation listen during Mass for the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians on 24 May 2022. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Members of the congregation listen during Mass for the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians on 24 May 2022. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

For some people, a smile and hello from a St Mary’s Cathedral usher may be the only truly human interaction they have received all day. For others, becoming a cathedral volunteer is a chance to find a community and grow in faith.

Tim Ryan, the cathedral’s warden, says that among the remarkable variety of those who come through the doors each week, some choose to stay for a while or, like him, for years as part of its life as a cathedral volunteer.

Each Saturday and Sunday he travels from Oatley in Sydney’s south to St Mary’s where he’s one of the longest-serving volunteers.

Volunteering there is a simple way of expressing your faith, he says.

“Tim has many favourite moments over the years, including the installation of Cardinal George Pell as the Archbishop of Sydney …”

“The cathedral is an amazing place, not only because of its physical beauty but the ushers themselves, who I coordinate, are a very diverse group of people including professionals, retirees and university students – as are the people who come to worship each week.”

Tim has many favourite moments over the years, including the installation of Cardinal George Pell as the Archbishop of Sydney, the funeral of his predecessor Cardinal Edward Clancy which was “extraordinary”, and his eldest son’s wedding which was held in the crypt.

“Then there was a funeral of a gentleman around 2008 or 2009 who had always sat by himself in the last pew of the cathedral down near the southern doors,” Tim explained.

“He was always well presented with a suit and a tie and rarely spoke with anybody. He’d organised his own funeral and four people attended including myself and the then-dean Fr Neil Brown.

While congregations come and go, the cathedral’s team of volunteer, such as those ushers depicted, are a constant in its busy life. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
While congregations come and go, the cathedral’s team of volunteer, such as those ushers depicted, are a constant in its busy life. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“It was a beautiful ceremony, quite amazing.”

Alma Argayosa said that ushering at the 10.30am Sunday Mass helps her connect more deeply with her Filipino Catholic heritage and find greater meaning and purpose in life.

“This is something I wanted to do to be of service to others and God and a way of deepening my faith and growing closer to God,” she said.

“Catholicism is important to my culture and family but I’ve not always been especially devout. I’ve come and gone from the Church but I always come back. And I realised that I can’t do this journey of faith on my own. I need help by being closer to the Church and the community; this is my home where I can grow.”

Alma most enjoys hearing Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s homilies. “They’re really inspiring and always well-prepared, so I really look forward to hearing them each week,” she said.

“We’re there when we’re needed and remain out of the way when not. It’s an interesting challenge for our new people who have the best of intentions to help …”

Fabricio Ricciardo became involved around World Youth Day 2008 when then-Pope Benedict XVI came to Sydney. He’s helped out with the collections, the lectors and ushering and with Eucharistic ministry and says that volunteering at the cathedral has given him his “community and my second family”.

Volunteer roles also include tour guide, bell ringer, lector or altar server. Tim says the challenge for new ushers is “to know when to stop helping”.

“We’re there when we’re needed and remain out of the way when not. It’s an interesting challenge for our new people who have the best of intentions to help, but sometimes people don’t want anyone to notice them. They just want to sit alone.

“Often it’s relatively young people, who after being away from the Church for a time will come in and sit, and talk to us if they want to, and sometimes we later find out they’ve settled in a parish somewhere else.”

Want to volunteer at St Mary’s? Call 02 9220 0453 or email: [email protected]

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