Home' Aurora : Aurora April 2012 Contents 5
www.mn.catholic.org.au Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
1HELENE, WHAT'S the title of your new
position and what does it involve?
My title is Family-Parish Liaison Officer. The
broad aim of this twelve month pilot project is to
provide support to families by connecting them to
the life of the parish, their school communities and
to new and existing networks so all can participate
in family, faith, social and educational activities in
the local community. The project is centred on the
Blackbutt Region which includes the schools and
parish communities of Adamstown, Kotara, Cardiff
(Blackbutt South), Lambton, New Lambton and
Waratah (Blackbutt North).
Given your experiences in so many diverse
areas, what do you feel you bring to this
My love of community is the greatest gift I bring to
the project. Also, my genuine desire to see all who
are involved in the faith communities experience
the real meaning that belonging can bring. And of
course I love a good, fun time which is one of the
key components of creating community!
What do you think is the Church's hope which
underlies the work you've been employed to do?
As the Church faces a time of greater public
scrutiny, I believe it's up to the faith community to
create the good news stories. I would like to offer
the families whose children attend our schools
support in both their faith and social pursuits. No
doubt there is a hope that I can be the conduit as
we strive to create one community.
As a woman who is clearly not a priest, a nun,
a theologian, or a teacher, what draws you to
engage with people in this way?
Many people have told me that my 'down to earth,
tell it as it is' approach is a refreshing change
from what they may have previously experienced.
Also, the Church has been a huge part of my life
and I want others to see what happiness that can
bring, albeit in ways they may not have previously
considered. I meet the people 'where they are',
be it the swimming carnival, welcome barbecue,
Surfest or playgroup.
Can you share some of your experiences
working in the Blackbutt Region?
The diversity of my role is immense. On the faith
side, Corpus Christi Waratah has hosted a family
Mass with support from the school's families
and parishioners, and the parents who belong
to sacramental teams providing the hospitality.
St Kevin's Cardiff will re-introduce the Sunday
Children's Liturgy. I attended the St John's
Lambton Stage 3 retreat at Glenrock Lagoon and
St Pius X Year 10 retreat at Collaroy. Socially I met
the families at St James' Kotara South welcome
barbecue; pulled out weeds at St Kevin's Cardiff
working bee; met some supportive parents and
parishioners when St Pius X and St Francis
Xavier's competed in the high school Surfest
challenge and enjoyed the company of the Catholic
Women's League at St Columba's Adamstown.
What are the challenges?
I see them more as opportunities! We live in a
world where change is a constant, yet one that
many people struggle to deal with. We all have to
face the realities of fewer priests and recognise
that the Church is also changing. Priests are also
affected by this change and should be buoyed by
the willingness of laity to get involved and be a part
of the new direction. Lay people aren't there to
take over but to allow the priest to fulfil the role he
was ordained to fulfil.
Families today have so many choices and activities
available to them that time pressures become a
reality. But if they feel welcome to contribute to
the Church in ways they are able without any guilt,
we can achieve a true sense of community. I have
found that people want their spirituality nourished
and so searching for ways to involve them is one of
What are the joys?
Being out there amongst the schools and parishes
where every day is a new adventure makes life
sweet. The playgroups are fun and provide hope
that our future is in capable hands. I loved the
craft group at Kotara -- a group of long time
parishioners and friends getting together to knit,
sew and drink tea. I have been touched by the
willingness of young families to be involved in the
after Mass cuppa and to express a desire to have
a children's liturgy introduced. The staff at the
schools have been so accommodating and open to
ideas. But the greatest joy is getting amongst the
simple things that can make the biggest difference.
Obviously Helene you are committed to
the Church, while living in an increasingly
secular society. What is the foundation of your
commitment, and what is it that draws you to
want to draw others to the Church?
If I divided my life up into a pie (vegetable, of
course) I would cut equal parts to represent
home and family, sport, work, friends and faith
(the Church). I attended Mass every morning with
my brother while we were in primary school. He
would serve on the altar, I would play cricket in
the playground. He ended up a priest/theologian,
I ended up a sports junkie! For me that was the
start of combining Church and community.
I was fortunate when I was in high school that the
Catholic youth dances were the 'in' place to be so
there was no peer pressure if you attended such
activities. When I began work I travelled away most
weekends for sporting commitments but I always
found time to practise my faith and was proud to
proclaim I was a Catholic.
I've shared the faith journey through married life
with Mick who is now a guitar playing member of
the St Philip's Kotara church band. But it's always
been about the people I meet and how I can enjoy
attending a church gig as much as I can a sports
awards night, a weekend surfing trip or a play at
the Civic Theatre.
I've had twists and turns in life but my faith has
remained constant. Being a Catholic isn't about
blaming or harbouring guilt, it's about welcoming
others in a true sense of community.
Helene O'Neill is a woman who wears many hats, all but simultaneously!
She is known to some through her involvement in sport on all
levels, to others because of her work with fellow cancer survivors,
to Novocastrians as a former City Councillor and to parishioners of
Blackbutt South as a committed and active member of their church
community. Last year Helene was Education Officer (Sport/PDHPE)
with the Catholic Schools Office. This year she is pioneering a new role.
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
Helene arrives at
St John s Lambton.
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