We are here to create the good news stories

Regular contributor Helene O’Neill updates readers on a diocesan initiative linking families, parishes and schools. 

In 2012 the role of the Parish Family Liaison Officer was conceived. The overall objective was to provide support to families in the Blackbutt region by connecting them to the liturgical life of their parish and their school community.

This objective would lead to the initiation of new forms of family ministries as well as co-ordinate and strengthen existing family networks which would lead to greater relationships between parishes and schools. The 12-month pilot scheme enjoyed a degree of success and was expanded to include the City region.

Fast forward to 2015 when a Catholic Schools Office (CSO) Stakeholder Consultation Report received from the Council of Priests identified a perception that the Catholic school as an instrument of the church was “a community in its own right”. Further, it was reported that Catholic schools were “not badged as a work of the church and the connection between parish and parents was missing”.

Moving along to 2016, when the role of Family Community Faith Co-ordinator was born, encompassing the Parish Family Liaison role I had held and expanded to include Melissa Fenech and Samantha Hill as team members. The diocese was divided into three areas with one assigned to each member. My summary of the ministry is that we are here to create the good news stories. 

Melissa Fenech was born and raised in Sydney and relocated to Maitland three years ago where she worked as a youth ministry co-ordinator for the Chisholm Pastoral region. Her particular focus and interest area is assisting volunteers to be an integral part of the church where lay leadership administers the parish.

Mel views her role as “a wonderful opportunity to connect with and support the Catholic parishes and schools in the Myall and Watagan Deaneries. I am enjoying learning from the parishioners and leaders of each parish and Mass community I visit. I am trying to carry the spirit of Mary MacKillop with me in my travels and ‘never see a need without doing something about it’.

The Hunter Deanery is supported by Samantha Hill, former Youth Group co-ordinator in the Chisholm Pastoral region. Sam epitomises the country lifestyle and appreciates the tyranny of distance of her region as well as having an understanding of the strong camaraderie that exists in smaller communities.

“The breadth and diversity this role brings are exciting. I’m enjoying the challenge and am looking forward to the continued engagement with the Hunter Deanery,” she adds.

Meanwhile, I cover the coastal regions of the Newcastle Deanery stretching from Stockton to Swansea, where the predominantly city lifestyle influences faith and its practice in a secular culture. “The challenge is to meet the people where they are and parallel their lifestyle with faith practices.”

Despite the uniqueness of each deanery and also each team member, the desired outcomes are the same. We strive to explore new models and embrace existing ideas to support a shared mission across the diocese. We will each face significant challenges but we are there to support (not take over!) parish ministry.

The key to our roles is to connect − perhaps reconnect − using strategies to support parents as primary educators in faith of their children and to enhance the faith life of parents, schools and parishes. Our ministries in the field challenge us to maintain the spirit of our work.

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Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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