From paddock to vibrant community: Our Lady of the Way Parish celebrates 50 years

By Isabell Petrinic, 4 June 2024
Members of Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains, celebrate the parish's 50th anniversary. Image: Alphonsus Fok/ Diocese of Parramatta


The Golden Jubilee celebration at Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains, on Sunday 26 May was a sentimental journey, awash with nostalgia and optimism for the future.

The Emu Plains congregation heard how sweat, faith, and 22,000 bricks saved from a church set for demolition, helped build Our Lady of the Way Church and Primary School.

“We collected the bricks from St Patrick’s in Blacktown,” Carmel Patterson, one of the founding members, told Catholic Outlook.

The bricks were hand loaded by volunteers and were cleaned by parishioners.

“My husband [Bernie] was booked towing the cleaning machine back,” Robyne Le Breton, 81, said with a laugh.

The Mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plain. Image: Alphonsus Fok/ Diocese of Parramatta

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, the Bishop of Parramatta, presided over the celebratory Mass on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.

He prayed for those who had contributed to the founding and development of the Emu Plains faith community 50 years ago, and for its beneficiaries “who take that legacy forward, so that this community can continue to shine as a beacon of hope for the broader society”.

RELATED: Bishop Vincent’s homily: Resetting the Church with the Trinitarian model

The congregation sang hymns written by two parishioners, Wendy Thompson and the late Kevin Rose.

After the Mass, they gathered in the school hall to share a meal and listen to speeches, including from founding members. Everyone, including founding students, joined the “Happy anniversary to us” sing-along led by Bishop Vincent, who was given a commemorative t-shirt to mark the historic milestone.

Parishioners watching the cake being cut. Image: Alphonsus Fok/ Diocese of Parramatta

Built with community spirit

Our Lady of the Way Church and Stage 1 & 2 of the school were built in a paddock, which had been a government grant from about 1860.

Fr Kevin Hannan was appointed the first Parish Priest of Emu Plains in January 1974. Prior to this, for about two years, Mass was celebrated by one of the priests from Penrith in nearby Melrose Hall.

Bishop Vincent said he read that the first Sunday collection was taken by an intruder.

The choir singing during the anniversary Mass. Image: Alphonsus Fok/ Diocese of Parramatta

“I didn’t know about the whole catastrophe,” said 14-year-old Charlotte Tuballa, the grand-daughter of the late Victor Tuballa Snr, a founding musician at Our Lady of the Way.

Founding members collectively spoke of the joy of togetherness, feelings of community, and a tremendous sense of camaraderie in the early days of the parish.

They regaled Catholic Outlook with reminiscences of volunteering, digging trenches, and fundraising — ranging from car rallies, picnics, balls, fetes, Trivial Pursuit nights, and everything in between, “all to keep costs down” — to the formation of a youth group and committees and lobbying for female altar servers, to be affectionately known as “serviettes”.

“Interest rates in those days were 15% and the government paid 11.5%,” said Leo Bahlmann, 83.

The congregation during the Mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains. Image: Alphonsus Fok/Diocese of Parramatta

Josephine Ul, 76, fondly remembered the former prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott serving in the parish as a seminarian on pastoral placement, from 1985 to 1986.

“Tony very quickly became part of the community and the youth group,” Josephine said.

So much to celebrate

Trinity Sunday also marked the 90th birthday of parishioner Tony Donley who happily joined in the fanfare with wife Irene, 85, and daughter Christine Sultana.

“It nearly knocked me flat,” Tony said with reference to Bishop Vincent mentioning his birthday during the Mass. “I started to cry.”

The Donleys joined the parish in 1998 and still live at home together. In fact, Tony still drives a car and is thinking about buying a new one.

Tony and Irene Donley, centre, with Parish Priest Fr Michael Gathuku, left, Bishop Vincent Long, right, and clergy and lay assistants after the Mass. Image: Alphonsus Fok/Diocese of Parramatta

Cutting a dapper figure in a suit and tie, Tony expressed his delight at seeing his old priest, Fr Robert Anderson, at the Mass.

“He gave me the last rites three times,” Tony said, recounting the heart attack he survived at 78. “I think He [God] keeps me here to look after my wife. She has Parkinson’s.”

Asked why attending church was so important, Tony said: “You’ve got to get to know Him because He wants to get to know you, so why not come.”

View more images from the Jubilee celebrations here or below:



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