The changing face of inner north parishes
The changing face of parishes in Canberra’s inner north offers a chance to create opportunities for the future, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Vicar General Fr Richard Thompson and Chancellor Patrick McArdle have said.
Parishes in Watson, Dickson, Braddon, Campbell, and O’Connor are the focus of discussion at the moment after a series of events resulted in the need for a review of operations across the region.
During a short period of time, Fr Paul Nulley of St Joseph’s in O’Connor departed to undertake study overseas, the Dominican Fathers at Holy Rosary in Watson gave notice that their community would be leaving the Archdiocese in November, and the Provincial of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers from the Province of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Philippines suggested the possibility of establishing a Eucharistic religious community in Canberra.
“The first thing and the last thing I want people to understand is that we are not closing any churches,” Dr McArdle said.
“We intend to create an opportunity to evangelise in this changing part of Canberra.”
Fr Thompson said the most important consideration was engaging those affected by the upcoming changes.
“This is an opportunity for us to sit and listen to the people. The meetings have been valuable and greatly appreciated, and people have been very honest and respectful,” he said.
“They can share in the decision-making with us. It is a slow response rather than a reaction because we aren’t just looking for a solution to get us through until the end of the year. This is a long-term solution, so it is a process.”
Parishioners attended meetings across the parishes to share concerns, voice opinions and discuss potential outcomes.
“We care about these relationships,” Fr Thompson said.
“People do have strong relationships with their priests and that is part of the reason we have started this process with a series of open meetings in the parishes – so everyone could come and ask whatever they wanted. We want to hear their concerns and needs.”
Dr McArdle said another important element to consider was that parishes in O’Connor, Campbell and Watson also had schools attached to them.
“When we are talking about these parishes, it is not just church and mass on Sunday – it is also a school community which is connected to each of those parishes,” he said.
“It is very important we do everything we can to strengthen that relationship between the school and parish.”
Fr Richard said there was a strong sense of history in the parishes, and it was important to recognise its value.
“We certainly acknowledge the tradition, and we are not trying to dissolve that, but we are looking at this not just as a reconfiguration of the past – it is creating opportunities for the future in the changing demographic of Canberra,” he said.
“While there is an older population that reflects the church, there are also younger families moving into the inner north area, and perhaps we need to start to understand a new way of reaching out to these people.”
“Naturally enough, people get attached to the services in their area,” Dr McArdle added.
“But because of the age of these communities in Canberra, there is still a not insignificant number of people who physically contributed to the building of these churches and the building up of the parish community, for whom there is a strong sense of things changing.”
After meeting with the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, and noting the particular Eucharistic charism of the Order, the pastoral care and administration of O’Connor parish was considered a good fit as the potential community house for the local Blessed Sacrament Fathers.
Fr Anthony Riosa has been appointed as Administrator of O’Connor Parish with Fr Renoir Oliver as his assistant. A third priest is finalising his visa requirements and will join the order at O’Connor.
The SSS ‘Mother House’ future location will be part of the inner north configuration discussion.