Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains stands at the gate to the Blue Mountains, on the west bank of the Nepean River.
It is thought Captain Watkin Tench named the area ‘Emu Island’ after sighting the birds there and mistaking the land for an island in the Nepean River.
Parish Secretary Christine Rannaste has not seen emus in the area but has seen them within a ten-minute drive.
“I used to see emus there all the time, in Jordan Springs,” she told Catholic Outlook.
She joined the parish 26 years ago, was on the parish council and has been parish secretary for the past nine years.
“My prayer is that those shoots will grow and people will really come and want to feel part of the Church,” Christine said.
The parish is named in honour of a modern image of Our Lady, the Madonna of the Street, an image that suggests poverty, hardship and toil.
The parish celebrates the Feast Day on May 24, the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.
Tony Abbott, 28th Prime Minister of Australia, served in the parish as a seminarian on pastoral placement for one year from 1985 – 1986.
In 2015, Mr Abbott delighted a group of students from Our Lady of the Way Primary School visiting Parliament House, Canberra.
He quizzed the students about Fr Kevin Hannan, the founding parish priest, who he worked with during his twelve months at Emu Plains.
Fr Kevin was parish priest for 17 years and built the parish, which has its roots in St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith. Fr Kevin was also prominent in the formation of the parish’s schools, Our Lady of the Way Primary and McCarthy Catholic College.
The Church was built from the bricks of the old St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Blacktown and Kingswood Parish and Our Lady of the Way Parish, North Sydney, provided some of the pews of in church building.
Fr Michael “Mick” O’Callaghan is the current parish priest and at 75 years is still going strong, despite a recent hospital visit in New Zealand.
In his 20s, Fr Mick studied accountancy and worked in banking. His hobbies included lawn tennis and volunteering in the Young Christian Workers and currently include reading and classical music.
In the 1970s he discerned a vocation to the Carmelites and was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of St Monica, 27 August 1976.
In addition to ministry at Leura, Fr Mick has ministered at Seven Hills, Richmond and Baulkham Hills.
Fr Mick has a warm smile and natural laugh. “I have always considered myself a bit radical,” he said cheekily.
“Parish ministry is the greatest joy of my life as it enables me to touch and be touched by people from all walks of life,” he said.
Since 2016, the Epiphany Pilgrimage across the parishes of the Blue Mountains has departed from Our Lady of the Way, Emu Plains.
“Briony and Jesse Mowbray start off from here,” Christine said.
“It’s a place people depart for bush walks and explorers came through in the old days.”