By Samuel Pearson
The Catholic parishes of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Deepdene and All Hallows in Balwyn, amalgamated some years before to become one parish. About three years ago they were joined by the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories in Camberwell. All three churches reside in the picturesque, tree-lined avenues of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. I recall an initial drive in the area and seeing the streets seemingly wrapped in a golden cloak of autumn leaves, in the dappled light of the setting sun. Turning a corner, I saw, atop the hill, the golden statue of Mary crowning the basilica dome, glinting in the sun, seemingly praying over the autumn splendour below. Even now, I never tire of driving down these elegant streets, peering through the leafy veil of the great plane trees, at the stately homes seated magisterially beside the road.
The very capable Fr Brendan Reed, along with assistant priest Fr Sang Ho (known respectively as ‘Holy Father’ and ‘Cardinal Ho’ within the presbytery...and parish office!), divide their time between the three church’s, two parish councils (or ‘Leadership Teams’ as they’re called), eight weekend masses, a primary school, too many nursing homes to count, a parish office in Balwyn and one rather grand presbytery in Camberwell (nicknamed ‘the white house’!).
It’s already been a little over a couple of months into my pastoral placement and I’m surprised at how quickly it’s gone. But the days fly by between office administration, school and nursing home visits, liturgical involvement, lunches and dinners with parishioners and priests, various parish meetings, St Vinnie’s work, RCIA, Confirmation catechism classes and the often slow flow of traffic between all these numerous engagements.
Parish life is busy. The parish office is testament to this, consisting of an administrative assistant, two pastoral associates, a business/finance coordinator and a director of music, all of whom work most days a week. It’s a big team, yet the work is constant, as are the phone calls for weddings and funerals in particular. The parish also hosts the “Youth Engagement Project” (YEP), which is a combined initiative with Kew and Hawthorn parish’s and Genazzano and Xavier College’s.
In a time of uncertainty for the church, when the tried and true ways seem to have reached their limits, I have learnt much about the subtleties of parish governance and administration, the network of relationships that uphold parish life and the personal discipline both physical and spiritual that sustain one in carrying out parish work.
I’ve so far enjoyed my time here, especially those unique moments of encounter after mass (or over cake and tea...or wine and cheese...sometimes all together!) with parishioners, staff and the various people who come in and out of the office and presbytery. It’s often as inspiring as it is interesting, to sojourn with them on their pilgrimage through life, however briefly. I feel an inner peacefulness about my vocation and I think this is perhaps what God is calling me to in life. I’m reminded of Newman’s words;
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work”.