The new Northern Deanery, established on 1 August 2016, comprises eight parishes: Baulkham Hills (incorporating South Baulkham Hills), Castle Hill, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens, Kellyville, Kenthurst, North Rocks, Rouse Hill and Winston Hills.
It encompasses a large geographical area with some well-established and stable demographics as well as some large areas with predicted population expansion in the north-west sector. In the future new parishes may need to be created to meet the population needs in areas such as Box Hill and the like as this growth takes place.
One of the obvious challenges is having enough resources and personnel (particularly priests) to meet the future needs of these areas. Currently we have 13 priests working full-time in parishes with 3 Deacons (2 permanent and 1 transitional) we have cordial relations with the new Maronite parish being established in our deanery area led by Monsignor Shora Maree.
An interesting fact is that only 4 of the 16 clergy have been born in Australia which parallels to the broad multicultural and ethnic diversity of the people that we minister to in our Deanery.
Baulkham Hills parish has been working on the integration of the two communities of our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael’s under the leadership of Father Wim. Father Wim works with Fr Zvonimir and Fr John Ji, who also works part-time as the Korean chaplain.
St Bernadette’s, Castle Hill farewelled long-time parish priest Msgr John Boyle and welcomed their new pastor Father Fernando Montano-Rodriguez (former parish priest of North Parramatta and previously a member of the Guadalupe Missionaries, who has recently been incardinated as a priest of our Diocese). Cantonese and Spanish speaking, Father Fernando, works with Kenyan priest Father Michael Gitau Gathuku.
Father John McSweeney, pastor of St. John XXIII, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens works with the Vietnamese born Fr Thomas Bui in this relatively new but large multicultural community. Deacon Tan has been working in the parish but will shortly retire to lesser duties in his home parish of Kellyville.
The Conventual Franciscans still administer the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, Kellyville (where our Bishop was formerly parish priest) with the American-Cuban pastor Father Alejandro Lopez and Filipino, Father Gerardo LoFranco. Father Robert Melnick OFM Conv, the former Rector of the Shrine at Kellyville, returned to the United States early in 2017.
Father Vincent Savarimuthu is the parish priest of Kenthurst which has been discerning the building of a new purpose-built Church.
Father Ian McGinnity is pastor of Christ the King, North Rocks. Deacon Tony Hoban who has been working in this parish since ordination is leaving at the end of the year to be coordinating director of the new parochial district of Marsden Park.
Father Warren Edwards continues to be the founding parish priest of Rouse Hill, having built a new church and school in Rouse Hill, a new school will begin on a temporary site at Schofields in 2018 to provide for the burgeoning development area of Box Hill.
The Filipino Fr Ranillo Creta is pastor of St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills and works with part-time Samoan chaplain Fr Tovia Lui and Father Shinto Francis was ordained a priest on 16 December 2017 and will be moving to Castle Hill.
Most of our parishes conduct large sacramental programs for children as well as RCIA courses, some jointly with other parishes. Parishes are busy also with the usual ministry to the sick and dying, officiating at funerals marking the end of people’s lives, celebrating new life at baptism and although fewer in number nowadays, witnessing the sacrament of marriage in our churches.
Many of our parishes try to encourage young people’s participation through youth groups with varied success. Considering the population growth in areas of our parish we are still witnessing a steady decline in baptised Catholics regularly attending Mass. The average age of our mass going community is increasing. The questions of how we attract more of our nominal Catholics to participate actively in the life of the church is a vexing one but not unique to our Deanery.
Some of our parishes have attempted to nurture adult faith formation with the formation of social justice groups, some of which are doing great work with refugees and asylum seekers others have attempted to respond to the devastating revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse by organising forums for conversation on how to address these issues and some have even organised Liturgies of Lament to acknowledge our corporate culpability for these events.
Most of our parishes have active parish pastoral councils and we are awaiting the beginning of the new Deanery Council the Bishop has requested to be established. One of the more constructive learnings of the Royal Commission was that the Church needs more leadership from the faithful and particularly women so hopefully the Deanery Council is a means of achieving this.
This year Christmas day falls on a Monday which is always a challenge for priests and faithful with the multiplication of masses over three days, particularly with the shortage and ageing of priests.
May the celebration of the birth of Christ renew our hope, confirm our faith and enrich our love as we rejoice once again in the God who saves us.