Peaceful and joyful.
Those are the two words assistant priest Fr Pio Jang would say about the parishioners and the community of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Rydalmere.
“When we repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary with reverence, we can soon find peace and joy in our heart. Peaceful and joyful are two adjective words that I wish to use to describe Rydalmere, the Holy Name of Mary Parish,” Fr Pio told Catholic Outlook.
“This is a parish where we can experience the true love of Christ and of our Blessed Lady,” he said.
In 1876, Rydalmere Parish was cut from a larger Ryde Parish, although at the time, it was probably known as Dundas. The first mention of Rydalmere as a separate parish was when Cardinal Patrick Moran, the third Archbishop of Sydney, blessed the church-school on 18 September 1889.
In 1915, a fire destroyed the original church, and in 1916, Archbishop Michael Kelly, the fourth Archbishop of Sydney, laid the foundation stone for the second church-school. This building is currently used as the parish hall.
With changes to the Mass liturgy following Vatican II and the need for extensive repairs to the existing church, the parish decided in 1988 to construct a modern building across the road from the pre-existing church. The current church was dedicated by then-Bishop of Parramatta Bede Heather in August 1989.
44 priests and administrators have served at Rydalmere in its 130 year history, with many priests serving lengthy appointments.
The current parish priest is Fr Peter Lamont, who is also the 29th hereditary Chief of Clan Lamont in Scotland, a title he inherited upon the death of his father in 1972.
He was appointed parish priest of Rydalmere in February 2006 after serving as administrator and assistant priest for several parishes throughout the Diocese of Parramatta.
“I’ve been here nearly 14 years next year. It’s my longest [appointment] by far. I must like it,” he chuckles.
“He’s a very supportive parish priest, he acts on the initiatives that the parish needs, he’s approachable, and everyone feels that he’s always personable when he’s dealing with them,” Michael Sobb, parishioner and volunteer, said.
“Fr Peter as a parish priest is a welcoming priest. This has a great influence to other parishioners, especially new parishioners. He has good sense of humour, always supportive,” parish secretary Linda Rachmat added.
Fr Peter is assisted in his ministry by Fr Pio, who has been in the parish since February.
“It has been a peaceful and joyful experience working at the parish,” Fr Pio said.
“Fr Peter is very aware of forming the parish as a real Catholic community. I believe that he wants to promote the faith, rooted in God’s word, grown with prayers, firmly grounded by the Church’s teachings, and producing abundant fruits of charity. I can see that he has been putting his efforts into making the parish as such. This can explain how joyful it is to work with such a pastor who has such a good vision.
“Overall, I must say that the people here at Rydalmere are participating people and happy people, being joyful in Christ,” he added.
On an average weekend, the parish has around 700 people attend its three Masses – 5.30pm Saturday Vigil and 7.30am and 9.30am on Sunday.
“We had an increase [in parishioners] because we’re getting a lot of migrant families moving in [to the area],” Fr Peter explained. “Because of the development of units in our area and an increase in population, we’ve benefited in the sense that we’ve had a lot of people coming from Asian Catholic backgrounds coming into our parish, so we’ve gained a number of new parishioners.
“Our parish here is a good cross-section of Australia. We’ve got a good cross-section of all people. I think it’s healthy having a cross-section because the Church is universal, and it reflects the universality of the Church. We all get on well together,” Fr Peter said.
Michael added, “you see when you have activities [in the parish] where people have to volunteer to do things, it’s always a mixture of the people. There’s no one group that seems to have to provide all the support.”
Holy Name of Mary Parish has a local primary school, St Mary’s, across the road, and has a close relationship with nearby high school St Patrick’s Marist College, Dundas.
Fr Peter explains that he used to be the sole chaplain for St Patrick’s Marist College, but he now shares with priests from local parishes including St Monica’s Parish, North Parramatta, Christ the King Parish, North Rocks and his ‘brothers’ at St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley.
“It’s been a practice over the years that this parish and priest provides the orientation Mass at the beginning of the year and for the Year 12 [graduation],” Michael said.
“One thing the high school does very well is they supply young people as catechists – it’s an excellent program, because it helps us and gives the young people a younger face at the five public schools in the area,” Fr Peter said.
“The primary school is [very involved]. We have a Sacramental team, and there’s always a teacher or the REC (Religious Education Coordinator) who’s always involved in the Sacramental program. But anything we need, they’re very helpful. If I need any help, they’re always available.
“[The primary school] comes to Mass [when] we have feast days, for example, the school will come over for Grandparents’ Day, [the feast of] Mary MacKillop, [the Feast of] the Assumption,” Fr Peter added.
Over the next few years, Holy Name of Mary plans to redevelop the sacristy and construct a new parish office with meeting rooms and a new presbytery.
When asked what the best thing about the parish is, the parish team mentioned the dedication and service of the parishioners.
“We have a good community here. Like every parish, you get people who have been here for many years, who are very committed to the parish, they’re involved and take initiative. There’s a lot of people who you don’t see much of, but they do a lot of good work in the parish. They’re very active, but they’re quietly active,” Fr Peter said.
“We have a very active Catholic Women’s League here, and they also have a social committee which organise a couple of events each year for the elderly of the parish and they go out to different places.
“Our Vinnies is very active. Not only are they active, they’re actually initiators because they initiate programs in the Ermington community in particular. Our Vinnies not only do the visitations, but they’re liaising with the St Vincent de Paul head office and they organise services for parts of Ermington and trying to build communities in the housing commission areas. These are people in their 60s and 70s doing this work, and they do a lot of advocacy for the people. Our conference are extraordinary workers,” Fr Peter explained.
Michael added, “it’s always been noticeable that the parish attracts people to Sunday Mass, and they have that as a major part of their life, and I think that has repercussions in terms of they then support the parish.
“Because they see the Mass as important and coming on Sunday and bringing their children, they then are quite cooperative in other areas of the parish. It has a carry-on effect, it’s not just a routine that you come to Mass and then nothing else,” he said.
Fr Pio explained, “the parish and parishioners really value our Catholic identity, trying to make real good efforts to live their faith in accordance with Gospel values and the teachings and the traditions of the Catholic Church.
“Using the two characters of Martha and Mary from scripture, I wish to describe our parish as both attentively listening to God’s word and praying (like Mary) and also actively participating and engaging in different ministries (like Martha).
“It is a joyful parish who love God and their neighbours, who pray together and come together. It is also a really multicultural parish not only on an outside level, but also on an inside level – respecting each other’s differences and seeking real unity,” Fr Pio said.
A challenge that the parish currently faces is the redevelopment of the areas surrounding the church.
“More units were built near the church, parking becomes and issue. [I] worry that parishioners will go to other parishes,” Linda said.
“We’re getting units here all the time, we’re surrounded by units. It’s depressing me a lot, because it’s taking people’s car parking away. I don’t know if it will affect my congregation because if they’ve got nowhere to park, they’re not going to go to a church where there’s no parking,” Fr Peter added.
The ageing congregation is another challenge.
“[The parish] takes in three areas – Ermington, Dundas and Rydalmere – and there’s a lot of needs, particularly, we have an ageing congregation. Constant sick calls and we’ve got parishioners who are extraordinary ministers of communion take communion regularly and I anoint them [the ageing parishioners] as well, and Fr Pio’s helping me now, so that’s good. There’s a lot of demand, we have quite a few funerals here because of the elderly people, not many weddings in the parish, and we get a good number of baptisms too,” Fr Peter explained.
Fr Peter hopes that in the future, more people will come to embrace Christ.
“I’d like to see parish as a place where as many people as possible can practice their Catholic faith, not just Mass and the sacraments, but living it in the sense of society – its teaching and proclaiming its teaching,” he said.
“This is my third term, and when that expires, I’ll stay on here, but one day, if I do retire, I’ll stay as pastor emeritus, then I can help the parish priest,” he laughed.
Linda said, “[I hope] parishioners will continue attending Masses in this parish, whoever the parish priest will be when Fr Peter retires. [I hope] my replacement will use the opportunity available for the best of this parish.”
Michael added, “I’m so committed to the fact that the Catholic way of life is the way, and that I want to do my best to encourage it, and I believe one of the best ways is by example.”
Fr Pio described, “[I hope] the parish becomes a real good model of a Catholic community of faith, hope and love – praying as well as engaging in the proclamation of the Good News to the world and to our own families. And also a focal model of a real multicultural community where people can experience true unity and true love of Christ and love of our Blessed Lady.”