By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, December 2016
Jacinta Sullivan met her future husband just after he spent Christmas in Bethlehem. The two young travellers were staying in an Israeli kibbutz in 1980. Little did Jacinta know that her journey had just begun.
Today, Jacinta is parish secretary of St John the Evangelist Parish at Riverstone. She has lived a life dedicated to family and service. Born of a rich cultural heritage, her faith has guided her across the world and continues to inspire her in the Riverstone Parish community.
Jacinta was born in Basel into a large and devout Swiss Catholic family, with Italian heritage on her father’s side. A polyglot, she speaks French, German, Swiss and Italian.
In her early 20s, Jacinta took a break from work at Zurich Insurance to travel across Egypt, Israel and Europe.
In Egypt, she visited Alexandria and travelled to historic Luxor, taking in the sights and reflecting on life.
She made it to Israel and after travelling through Jordan, she was based near Haifa in a kibbutz, a communal centre where young travellers work in exchange for accommodation.
There she met Peter Sullivan, who was also travelling during Christmas-tide in Israel in 1980. He had just made it back from Christmas in Bethlehem and was only staying in the kibbutz for two days.
Peter was assigned orange picking while Jacinta worked in the kitchen. Despite her little English and their separate work duties, they instantly connected. After changed plans and rearranged flights, they travelled Europe together, met Jacinta’s parents and married.
Today, Peter is a firefighter and Jacinta’s “right-hand man”. Their whirlwind romance took Jacinta across the world from the kibbutz farm near Haifa to the semi-rural area of Riverstone in the Diocese of Parramatta.
Many Maltese families had small farms and acreages in the area, which have been blessed on occasion by the Parish Priest, Fr Zakaria Gayed.
Jacinta said the area was becoming more multicultural. “There are some young families – Filipinos, Indian, Sri Lanka, Fijian and Chinese.”
The changing community makes the parish an encounter between old and new.
The historic parish dates back to 1865, when the Catholic Church purchased the property. The current church building dedicated to St John the Evangelist dates back to 1904, when Cardinal Moran laid the foundation stone.
Minor renovations have just been completed, including polished floorboards and grand pews from the former Poor Clare Convent next door to the church.
Fr Zakaria said this was made possible because of the generosity and involvement of the parishioners.
“The parish is like a small family,” Jacinta said.
Parish groups include the Catholic Women’s League, St Vincent de Paul Society, the parish play group, a family group which has continued for 22 years, bringing together parish families for BBQs and mutual support.
The Poor Clare Sisters taught at St John’s Primary School, which continues to educate children of the parish. The school has regular Masses.
“The community is all about making people feel truly welcome,” Jacinta said.
The parish arranges big morning teas after Mass and people often stay another hour to chat. A BBQ is organised for each 3rd Sunday of the month and a local Filipino choir adds beautiful music to the Mass.
The historic parish is alive and well, continuing into the future with a changing community and growing area.