A parish at the margins: St Bernadette’s, Dundas Valley

By Jordan Grantham, 23 August 2017
St Bernadette and Fr Christopher Sharah FSF, Parish Priest of St Bernadette's Parish, Dundas Valley. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta.

St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley is devout and intimate, energised by the presence of the Friars of St Francis. It is deeply connected to the local community on the eastern edge of the Diocese of Parramatta.

The Parish Priest, Fr Christopher Sharah FSF, told an amusing anecdote about the presence of the Friars in the local community.

“Fr Ruben and I went to Epping Boys High the other day and we walked into the gate, by the time we got to the classroom, the whole school was buzzing with ‘Jedi Knights are here!’”

“And one of the teachers came running to the classroom to see who we were and it turns out she was one of our parishioners . . . She couldn’t believe we were the ‘Jedi Knights’! The kids were so funny,” Fr Christopher said.

Read more about the Friars of St Francis here.

Meet the Friars of St Francis here.

The parish spiritually nourishes the local community through daily Mass and Thursday night devotions and Confession. Lots of families visit the parish, which has close to a hundred altar servers. The parish has a school, St Bernadette’s Primary. It also supports the Manning Foundation, a local charity begun in honour of the late philanthropist, Stephen Manning.

Fr Benedict MacKenzie FSF says the parish can be characterised as somewhere that preaches the Gospel in an open and pertinent way. Fr Benedict heard this from a parishioner who came to love the Faith in the years the Friars have been at St Bernadette’s.

“[The parishioner is] a – wow – wonderful, generous, charitable character. You can see it in her kids, how much love she shows for her kids and her husband and her family but also, it overflows into her love for helping out the poor and also passing on the Faith in catechetics,” Fr Benedict said.

This parishioner likes to come to St Bernadette’s, even though it is very difficult because of family commitments.

“She likes to come and hear the Gospel proclaimed but with an open and freely discussed kind of way that pertains to a number of the issues going on now…and to sort of talk about them openly, honestly and pertinently, I suppose,” Fr Benedict said.

“The Gospel actually gives us a lot of clarity and guidance with regards to how to lead our lives towards goodness, even through very cloudy, very grey areas…to help others as well and to do it with a lot of charity and patience,” he said.

The area has many poor residents in the large Housing Commission developments from the 1950s, though Dundas Valley has changed significantly since then and is undergoing much new infrastructure and property development.

The Manning Foundation runs a special prayer group for the disadvantaged members of the local community, including non-Catholics. A number of these people have requested baptism or admittance to full Communion with the Church as a result. The Manning Foundation Van is also parked at the church.

The parish has a wonderful devotion to its patron saint, St Bernadette Soubirous.

“I love St Bernadette,” Fr Christopher said.

Many images of her life adorn the entrance room to the church. The parish email is named after Nevers (neversdv@bigpond.com), the home of St Bernadette’s Shrine in France.

The Friars and parishioners have lovingly restored the church building, which now has an operational bell, polished floorboards and a processional cross hand-crafted by a parishioner.

Another special way the parish and Order come together is the celebration of the Feast of St Francis. This is a major feast in the parish, celebrated first with a nine-day novena, the text of which was published in a booklet by Fr Christopher.

Read more about the Friars of St Francis here.

Meet the Friars of St Francis here.

“We do the nine days novena, which is based on the writings of St Francis and we go through the life and we give a homily every night. We get a beautiful turn up for it,” Fr Christopher said.

The novena culminates on the night St Francis died, known as the Transitus.

This is “an ancient custom in the Franciscan order, centuries old, I think it goes back to the first or second century after he died,” Fr Christopher said.

“And it goes through all that happened when he was dying– all the things he said and the events that happened, it’s quite beautiful, it’s unique to the Franciscan order,” Fr Christopher said.

The parish usually transfers the Feast Day to Sunday to encourage parish involvement. The Feast of St Francis has a Solemn High Mass with incense and a full choir, followed by a BBQ picnic and the colourful tradition of blessing animals.

The unique St Bernadette’s Parish is a font of life and grace within the Dundas Valley.

Click here to find out more about St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley.




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