Walking through the doors at St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith, and one would often be greeted by parish secretary and office manager Lyn Olander.
After 25 years of dedication and service to her parish community, Lyn has decided to move into retirement.
“It feels unbelievable and I feel very proud and thankful to God for affording me this opportunity to grow spiritually,” Lyn told Catholic Outlook.
“My emotions were very mixed leading to my decision to retire. I thought I wished to stay at the parish, but I sensed that it was time. I prayed daily, ‘help me dear God to make the right decision,’” she said.
Before her role as the go-to person in Penrith, Lyn worked in the Customs Department, now the Department of Home Affairs, as a stenographer for 15 years, before taking up part-time administrative positions at Hawkesbury Home Care and St Marys Community Health.
Having been a parishioner at St Nicholas since 1975, it was through her participation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program in 1992 that led Lyn to her new career.
“I was approached in 1992 to sponsor an RCIA candidate and this gave me a more in-depth understanding of our Catholic faith. The practice of my faith through prayer, words and actions reminds me to find God in every situation, which was of great assistance prior to applying for the position at the parish,” Lyn explained.
“When I first started [in 1994], my role included data entry, preparing and typing the weekly parish bulletin and keeping rosters and registers updated. As the years progressed and computers and internet became an integral part of day-to-day work, I gained knowledge on finance and accounting programs. I later became involved in the Finance Council and the Parish Pastoral Council, as well as helping organise parish events.
“I have also appreciated the ability to complete courses through the diocese [Diocese of Parramatta], especially the two-year Diploma in Pastoral Care in a palliative setting, death and dying, ageing and dementia,” Lyn said.
Looking back over her career, Lyn’s dedication to service and helping those in her parish and community stand out as some of her highlights.
“A memorable time was being a Host Parish for World Youth Day in 2008 and the overwhelming unity of so many countries, the early starts and late nights and being part of so many various activities.
“I have cherished the opportunity of assisting so many individuals and their families when they were at their saddest, having suffered illness or loss of a dear family member. The memories of these individuals will stay close to me forever.
“I have enjoyed the years spent with work colleagues and the support we offer each other daily and our ongoing friendship.
“I have also been fortunate to have been given the opportunity in 2014 to travel on a pilgrimage to India with Fr Joe Manjaly [now parish priest] and learn about the Indian culture and food and the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette community,” Lyn explained.
During her 25 years, Lyn has had the pleasure of working with five different parish priests, all of whom formed an “integral part of my ministry.”
“It has been extremely rewarding and a privilege that I had the opportunity to minister to five amazing parish priests.
“The most difficult aspect is getting to know the parish priest and working well with him and then having to let go as he moved on.
“Each priest had their own unique persona and were very prayerful and spiritual in their own individual ways.
“It is most important to also mention the amazing 18 assistant priests and four deacons, they too were an integral part of my ministry,” she explained.
Fr Joe, who worked with Lyn as an assistant priest for four years before becoming parish priest at Penrith in February 2019, said that Lyn always showed hospitality.
“Lyn is a very friendly person, and very hospitable and compassionate when people come to the office. Lyn brought a strong sense of hospitality and friendship to all the parishioners, priests and visitors to the parish,” Fr Joe told Catholic Outlook.
“I always felt that she is such an awesome person who is easy to talk to and will always understand and help make our burdens easier to bear,” Fr Joe added.
Fr Chris de Souza, Vicar General and Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation, Diocese of Parramatta, was parish priest in Penrith for nine years from 2003 to 2012.
“Lyn is loyal, efficient, hard-working, caring, generous with her time and her abilities, and someone who cooperated and worked with others.
“We had very exciting exchanges about the nature of the Catholic faith. We used to have discussions both one-on-one and then also in groups over morning tea about the structure of the parish and how best to live the Gospel values in a parish context.
“I encouraged her, which she responded to, to take up a more pastoral role in her approach to the administration and also within that, the challenge of maintaining that balance between professional and pastoral, which I think she continue to navigate with due care and a significant degree of excellence.
“Lyn brought [to Penrith] an informal quality of care. I think Lyn has an abundance of empathy with people who are in distress and I think she brought that grace and talent to work most efficiently in the community,” Fr Chris said.
Stepping into retirement, Lyn is looking forward to spending more time with her family, and continuing her work in the parish in a volunteer capacity.
“I enjoy walking daily, pottering in the garden, and, as unusual as it may sound, I love to clean. I enjoy being on the go and love spending time with my many grandchildren.
“I’m going to mix my time a few days a week doing before and after school pickup and babysitting, as well as catching up with many friends and parishioners for that long-awaited coffee.
“Fr Joe has encouraged me to visit aged care facilities and minister pastoral care.
“My husband Ken and I intend to spend time travelling and I am looking forward to a trip overseas next year with my girlfriend,” she said with a smile on her face.
In his farewell note to Lyn in the parish bulletin, Fr Joe explained that Lyn will not be forgotten in Penrith.
“We will certainly miss her in the parish office, but we pray God will lead and guide her on the next journey of her life.
“We won’t forget her for a long time for all the wonderful ways she has made a positive difference for so many who have sought her assistance throughout the years.
“On behalf of the Church, we want to wish her all the best and pray that she may keep the same faith she had when she was with us.
“Let us continue to pray for her and for her family that God will be with them and guide their footsteps and bless them with good health, happiness and joy,” the notice read.
Lyn said, “I will miss the parishioners, my work colleagues, the day-to-day activities and happenings in the parish, especially our most impromptu and enjoyable morning teas, and the many people that seek assistance or need consoling when at their most vulnerable.
“Most importantly, I wish to thank my husband, Ken, for listening to my every conversation at the end of each day for 25 years and supporting me in every way.
“I sincerely thank the parishioners for their love and support shown to me over the many years. It is very humbling and heart-warming.
“I would genuinely like everyone to welcome Jacinta, who has taken on my role, and wish her many years of happiness as she ministers to Fr Joe and all in the parish.
“Let our patron, St Nicholas of Myra, continue to guide Fr Joe as he leads our parish through the coming years.
“My heart overflows with gratefulness, blessings, gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation to God,” Lyn says with a quiver in her voice.