“As you walk into Greystanes church, you’ll always get a good feeling. It’s a good place to be.”
This is what Accounts Officer and parishioner of 30 years Sharon Finn believes Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes is truly about.
Located seven kilometres west of the Parramatta CBD, the parish of Greystanes was originally part of the Wentworthville parish.
The area where the church now stands was once a chicken farm owned by a member of the local Maltese community.
In 1958, the first permanent school, which was run by the Carmelites, and Mass centre were erected, with Mass celebrated for the first time on Christmas Eve that year.
In 1972, Greystanes became a separate parish, and the church building was blessed and opened by His Eminence James Cardinal Freeman, Archbishop of Sydney, on 20 April 1975. The parish was named Our Lady Queen of Peace in honour of the Maltese parishioners and their dedication to the Virgin Mary.
After extensive renovations, the current church building was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Bede Heather on 7 July 1996.
Fr Terry Duggan was the first parish priest of Greystanes in 1972 and was succeeded by Fr Roland Darmenia a year later. In 1975, Fr Brian Gallwey was parish priest until 1984, when Fr John Sweeney became parish priest until 1994. Fr Gerry Iverson led the parish through some turbulent years in the mid-1990s and was a stabilising presence between 1994 and 2010. Fr Bob Bossini was parish priest from 2011 to 2014, before being called to be Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
The current parish priest, Fr Paul Marshall, joined Greystanes from St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie in September 2014, and is assisted by Fr Chukwunonyerem Akamadu and new addition to the parish team, Fr Joseph Lam from Brisbane.
“When I was asked to move to Greystanes, there was a big shuffle around the diocese. I think they were looking for someone with a bit of experience because it’s a big parish. The need was here,” Fr Paul said.
“Fr Chukwunonyerem brings a sense of joy to his ministry, he works closely with the Nigerian community and has a good relationship with the parishioners.
“Fr Joe is only new here, but he brings a sense of enthusiasm, he has the ability to stir people into action and he has a solid academic background, so he’s very informed.”
“We’re so fortunate that we do have the three priests and each of them have their giftedness and uniqueness that we can learn and grow from,” Sacramental Coordinator Narelle Khoury said.
A large parish team work alongside the three priests and see themselves more as family than co-workers.
“I can do quite a bit of my role at home, but I choose to come into the parish office for the camaraderie and the family atmosphere of the parish,” Sharon said.
“I come from home to here feeling uplifted.”
“I find that the parish is my second home. I’m never leaving,” casual Administration Assistant Cheryl Percan adds with a laugh.
“There’s a lot of kindness working with the three priests. They see us as not just employees. Fr Paul understands that we all have our own families, and he supports us,” Receptionist Geraldine Ladley said.
“They treat us as people,” Sharon added.
“I’ve been really grateful for all members of the parish team,” Fr Paul said.
“Every day of my four years here at Greystanes has been a great experience. It’s been a great team of people.
“I couldn’t have done it without them.”
On a given weekend, Our Lady Queen of Peace has around 1600 people attend its five weekend Masses – Saturday Vigil 6pm and Sunday 7am, 8.30am, 10am and a 6pm Youth Mass.
What was once a predominantly Maltese community, the ethnic diversity of Our Lady Queen of Peace has changed to include parishioners from more than 40 nationalities.
The site of Our Lady, Queen of Peace parish is large enough to feature Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School, St Paul’s Catholic College and Our Lady Queen of Peace preschool on the one property.
“We’re working with the principals of the schools to look at the precinct as a whole and seeing it as a learning and faith environment, so we’re not just the schools and the parish,” said Fr Paul.
“One of the challenges I see in my ministry is trying to connect with the schools and getting their support on a larger scale,” Youth Coordinator Phil Grech explained. “We have a few students who are members of our youth groups, but I feel there is that separation.
“I feel we can build so much more because they’re on our doorstep.”
When asked about what the best part of the parish was, Fr Paul and members of the parish team said the parishioners and the sense of community at Greystanes.
“It’s like a big family,” Sharon answered. “I feel that our church has a welcoming environment. When you come to church, there are greeters outside. The layout of the church is pleasant and comfortable, and I think that makes people feel more at home.”
“When I joined Greystanes a few years ago, I felt that the parishioners do welcome you and make you feel at home. There’s a strong sense of faith in the precinct and a lot of people are strong in their faith and they pass that on to you,” new Parish Manager Christine Van Arsdale explained.
“The people are generous in their time and in their talents and in their charity,” Narelle adds.
“It is an extremely generous community when there is any call for a need – it always has been from the very beginning of the parish through to today,” Pastoral Associate and Liturgy Coordinator Ana Pintos said.
This sense of generosity and welcome is reflected in the 37 ministries that are active in the parish, split into three different areas. The parish has a large number of readers, commentators, acolytes and servers and four different choirs.
There are devotion groups including the Legion of Mary, The Catholic Guy Ministry and the Emmaus Prayer Community. Parishioners at Greystanes are also involved in outreach programs including the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Greystanes Maltese Seniors Group and the Social Justice Group.
Our Lady Queen of Peace acknowledges that it has had some difficult and troubling times in the past, but as a community they have emerged stronger.
“There was a lot of pain from past abuse in the parish 20 years ago,” Fr Paul reflected. “However, a few years ago, when Fr Matt [Digges] was here, we had listening forums for people who may have been affected by this abuse. Although this was 20 years down the track, the three listening forums surfaced a lot of underlying feelings.
“I wouldn’t say that it was ground-breaking, but it gave a forum for people down the track to articulate their experiences and hurt and it wasn’t just people who were affected directly, but indirectly also.”
“I think the most important thing about the parish is that it has hung in there and it’s expanded and grown. It’s involved in new processes and is forward-looking,” Sharon surmised.
Looking to the future, members of the parish team hoped that the community continues to grow in the likeness of Christ, as their parish vision declares.
“The introduction of The Catholic Guy Ministry and Alpha Programs in the parish has changed the way we see church – it’s not just about coming to Mass. The Catholic Guy and Alpha programs have helped parishioners develop a thirst for leadership and is laying the foundation for bigger achievements in the parish,” Fr Paul said.
Later this year, the parish plans to run the Alpha program in some grades at St Paul’s Catholic College and invite parents to participate in the adult Alpha program.
“Our parish has a leadership team that works with the parish priests that guides and nurtures people so that they’re not completely reliant on the one person [the priest],” Sharon said.
Christine added, “our parish renewal program aims to grow and nurture people to become leaders. I might be in this position, but it’s not my position forever, it’s for me to nurture and to teach somebody else so that I can move on in my faith journey.”
“It’s a form of succession planning,” Fr Paul adds. “What can we do now that will transform roles and structures to make them more fruitful for the future?”
“I hope to build up the youth in the parish,” Phil said. “I want to turn this new wave of youth coming to our parish into our new young adults, and I want our young adults to have somewhere they can call home.”
“My hope is that the parish team leads by example to be the church of the future in answering the Spirit’s call,” Ana said.
“Our parish priest has a vision of moving us from a maintenance church to one of a missionary church,” Narelle explained.
“We need to get out of our comfort zones and to carry out what we are called to do by our baptismal calling.
“We’re excited to be on this journey with our fellow colleagues, parishioners and our clergy.”