Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast Day of Maronite priest St Charbel Makhlouf. The Diocese of Parramatta is fortunate to have a bell in the St Patrick’s Cathedral peal of bells named in honour of St Charbel, which was lovingly donated by Cathedral parishioner Yvonne Malouf and her family to be enjoyed by future generations.
“Our whole family prays to St Charbel,” says Yvonne Malouf. Both she and her late husband Joseph, born in Australia, are Lebanese Catholics to whom St Charbel Makhlouf is often thought of as the “Miracle Monk of Lebanon.” St Charbel was a Maronite monk and priest who died in 1898 and was canonised in 1977.
“Our family has a number of relics. We also have one built into our home,” says Yvonne. Over the years, she and her family have trusted in St Charbel to keep them safe. Their family of 11 children and 32 grandchildren are loving and close, and often turn to St Charbel. “I feel he is always there for me and my family,” says Yvonne.
When the Malouf family gifted a bell to St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, they dedicated it in St Charbel’s honour. “We have always felt a closeness to St Charbel.”
After travelling from Adelaide to Parramatta in 1948, to live with her new husband Joseph, Yvonne credits the St Patrick’s parish with the happiness of their home. It was an unequivocal decision for her to make a generous gift to the church to be enjoyed by future generations.
“My husband said we would build our home in the shadow of the church,” she says. He had a lifelong association with the parish. “When my children were small, Joseph took the older ones to Mass first, then I took the younger ones to a later Mass,” she explains. “Our children were altar servers, played in the church orchestra, joined the youth groups, and attended the local Catholic schools,” she says.
“The church was always open to us,” she says as she recalls how her husband visited the church every day on the way to work, the friendships they had with Bishop Kevin Manning and the priests, and how she became a catechist to children at public schools.
Drawing on her own family’s deep connection to the church, Yvonne is sad that in today’s society, many children no longer attend Mass with their families. “It’s disheartening,” she says.
Yvonne’s story of how the parishioners of St Patrick’s rebuilt the Cathedral explains why the people of the diocese feel so close to it.
“Rebuilding the Cathedral brought everyone together,” she says. Sharing a common grief when it was lost to the fire, they formed committees and had regular meetings to plan for the rebuild.
“We were listened to – it wasn’t taken away from us,” she says. She recalls how exciting it was for the parishioners to see the Cathedral going up and to have an ongoing sense of involvement. It was clear this experience only added to the community of the parish, particularly with the formation of the hospitality group which has hosted morning teas for over 20 years.
“There is no elitism,” Yvonne says of the parish community. “You can talk to anyone and we shared whatever needed doing around.” While today Parramatta is a city, when Yvonne and Joseph moved there, it was like a small town. People like The Catholic Weekly seller knew everyone’s names. The priest did as well, and wasn’t afraid to let latecomers know when he saw them sneaking in!
“Others lift you,” says Yvonne of the friends she has made through the parish. “You feel comfortable and secure. You don’t feel lonely. You’re buoyed by their presence and generosity and friendship. And it all comes through the Church. It’s a blessing. It has confirmed our devotion to God. When you have good people around, you just can’t help but follow.”