Nestled in the south-west corner of the Diocese of Parramatta is the sprawling Sacred Heart Parish of Luddenham-Warragamba.
Sacred Heart is one of the largest parishes in the diocese, estimated to be over 400 square kilometres large and comprises four distinct churches: Sacred Heart Church, Warragamba; Holy Family Church, Luddenham; St Mary’s Church, Mulgoa; and St Francis Xavier Church and Cemetery at Greendale.
The parish is so vast it takes in Warragamba Dam, Bringelly and the soon to be built airport at Badgerys Creek.
The first recorded Catholic presence in the area dates back to 1818 at Greendale. By the 1950s the population of Sydney was growing and the need for more stable water supplies was needed. As a result, Warragamba Dam was constructed which saw more people move into the area and a new parish was officially opened in 1951.
Parish priest since 2015, Fr Giovani Presiga Gaviria attends to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the parish with the assistance of pastoral associate Carmel Fenton, parish secretary Tracey Caruana and Administrative Assistant Colleen Nicholas.
Carmel has lived in the parish for 30 years serving in various ministries at Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba. In that time, she has helped with baptismal preparation, music and liturgy coordination, sat on the liturgy committee, been a catechist and a member of the sacramental team, as well as helping to coordinate both ministries.
The current parish population is a mix of older people and younger families hailing from a variety of ethnic groups. There is the more traditional Anglo-Celtic and Maltese families, in addition there are also people of Italian, Croatian and European backgrounds.
Colombian born and possessing a reassuring and gentle manner, Fr Giovani explains that his parishioners work mainly in their own business ventures including market gardens, trucking and chicken farming.
Roughly 250 people a week attend Mass across the four churches and “younger family attendance at Sunday Mass is growing” Fr Giovani points out.
When asked what is the best thing about the parish, Fr Giovani is quick to point out “the people.”
“I love the area. This is a good parish and we have a good connection with the school.
“Pastorally, this parish is totally different compared to my work in Colombia. In Colombia, sometimes when you help, you save a life” Fr Giovanni explains referring to his previous work in hostage mediation situations.
Fr Giovani goes on to describe his parishioners at Luddenham-Warragamba as “very devoted and very generous”.
“At a Christmas Vigil Mass I asked for donations to replace the carpeting for the church. Immediately after Mass, two brothers came up to me and donated all the money needed to replace the carpet.
“Another time, I asked for donations to fix the sound system and again, the funds were donated straight away.
“They are very generous. I love the area.”
As parish priest, Fr Giovani sees his biggest challenge as how to involve more families in the life of the parish. “It will be a challenge to have a youth group, to have a carer group.
“To be a vivid community, an inclusive community, to reach families.
“We need to connect the families in our school with the church and the parish.”
Carmel goes on to say that she sees the challenge as how to make everyone feel part of the one family “because we are so spread out.”
With the expected population boom that will accompany the new airport at Badgerys Creek, that challenge is set to grow for this parish.