The mission statement for St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong says that they are “an active and welcoming Catholic community where people of all ages draw closer to God. His love is expressed through each one of us by prayer, liturgy and reaching out in service to one another.”
“We don’t always see it ourselves, but when visitors come in, they always comment on how welcoming people are here and how much they make them feel at home,” Monsignor Ron McFarlane, parish priest, said.
St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong is located a few kilometres north-west of Blacktown. “When I got appointed here, I didn’t know where Marayong was,” Monsignor Ron said with a laugh.
The parish at Marayong was founded on February 1, 1961, when it separated from a larger Blacktown parish and was designated as the Parish of Doonside and Quakers Hill. In January 1963, Doonside became a separate parish and Quakers Hill separated ten years later in January 1973.
The first Mass said in the temporary parish church was on November 5, 1961. The church was then reconstructed and held its first Mass on November 5, 1977. Due to a population increase in the early 1990s, it was necessary to extend the church once again. The present extended church was blessed and dedicated on May 14, 1994.
“There has always been talk of building a new church in the future, but I certainly will not be here when it happens,” Monsignor Ron said. “If a new church were to be built, I would look at building it where our grassed area is, so that it faces Breakfast Road, and you’ll have access to the carpark, the hall, to the offices and have a gathering quadrangle – but that’s a future decision that the community may have to or may not have to make.”
Fr Kenneth Byrne was the first parish priest of Marayong and came up with the parish’s patron saint. “Fr Ken Byrne had been an army chaplain in Japan, and it seems he came back to Australia with St Andrew in mind,” Monsignor Ron said.
Fr Kenneth was parish priest for 27 years until Monsignor Ron was appointed on October 19, 1988. He has been parish priest ever since.
“The intention was not to stay here this long. I was appointed permanently to the parish, even though permanent placements weren’t a thing. I didn’t even realise this until years later when I looked back at the letter of appointment and it was without limits. Actually, the question of moving never really came up at the time it could have come up,” Monsignor Ron said.
“I think the parish has been able to take forward the vision that Fr Kenneth Byrne had for it, in that it has a church, a schooling system from Kindergarten to Year 12 and facilities for people to congregate and meet,” parish co-ordinator Joyce Inglis said.
Monsignor Ron relies heavily upon the parish community and the priests appointed at Marayong to help with attending to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the parish as he is also involved with a number of diocesan commitments as Chancellor of Administration in the Diocese.
“What makes the parish work is that so many people are involved in ministry and so many are also prepared to take responsibility for the activities in the parish. The various groups in the parish have always been prepared to be involved in the total parish family and to co-ordinate many of the events that we celebrate. We have also been very fortunate in the wonderful and unique qualities of the priests who have ministered here throughout the years,” he said.
Monsignor Ron is assisted by “wealth of knowledge” Joyce, the sacramental co-ordinator Maria Hyson and members of the office staff Michelle Sultana and Joe Clemson.
Joyce has been a parishioner of St Andrew’s since 1980 and has worked on and off for the parish since 1983.
“My first role was typing the bulletin, which would take me a couple of hours a week. Fr Ken Byrne did his own parish administration, and he had friends that used to do his typing. As they got older and he got older, he went looking for younger people and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve gone from part time to working five days a week to now working one day a fortnight.
“I was originally from Toongabbie and it was ‘if you wanted things to work, you have to put the effort in.’ When I came to Marayong, I wanted my children to have the same relationship with their church that I had with mine, and it just grew.”
“Joyce knows everything about the place, so she comes in and answers any questions that Joe and company have got, so she’s the support person, but the one of oversight as well,” Monsignor Ron said.
Joe Clemson started working for the parish in June 2013 but had previously volunteered during the mid 1970s and 1980s mowing the lawns.
“My family were parishioners of the church that had the Mass on at the appropriate time to fit in with my father’s shifts, so it was here, Doonside, Blacktown and Seven Hills.”
On a given weekend, St Andrew’s has a total of between 2,300 and 2,400 people attend its four weekend Masses – Saturday Vigil 6pm and Sunday 7.30am, 8.45am and 10.30am.
“We have one of the highest percentage Mass attendance of any parish in this diocese at about 27%,” Monsignor Ron said.
“We have been gifted by a great multicultural parish with people who have come with their own approach to faith from all over the world and have been willing to share it. One of the wonderful gifts has been the number of young people involved in the parish and in the celebration of the liturgy. It is a real treasure to have whole families coming together to celebrate Mass.
“I’ve had over 20 assistant priests since I’ve been here, some staying for six months, some for a couple of years, some coming back from leave. We’ve had priests from all around the world, all of whom have added to my understanding of priesthood and also have added to the culture of the parish. Each of them has brought their own gifts and talents.”
The ethnic diversity of St Andrew’s has changed over its almost 60 years. In 1961, the parish was made up of Maltese, Italians, Anglo-Irish, Australian, Polish, and a small number of Chinese. In 2019, the parish is primarily made up of Australians, Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Maltese, South American and many of central European heritage.
The land on which St Andrew’s stands was originally a dairy farm that went from Richmond Road to Breakfast Creek. With the space, the parish was able to build the church, the hall and meeting rooms, a Catholic primary and a Catholic secondary school on the one property. This was due to the foresight of Fr Kenneth Byrne. Currently, the parish meeting rooms are adapted from what was the first convent.
“Having the primary school, the church and the high school all named after St Andrew does complicate the mail and deliveries,” Monsignor Ron laughs.
Monsignor Ron said that the parish has been very fortunate to have the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth involved right from its inception. The sisters, he said, were very active in regard to education on a primary and secondary level and were a great support to Father Kenneth in his time as Parish Priest. The Sisters continue to be very supportive of the parish.
St Andrew’s was also fortunate to have the Patrician Brothers helping the parish, as they lead the John Paul II Senior High School, the first Senior High School in the diocese, when it was built in the early 1980s.
The advantage of having everything on the same property is that the parish is able to also focus on the spiritual and pastoral needs of the schools.
“It works wonderfully well. We’ve got around 1,800 students on the grounds. On Tuesdays, one of the homerooms from the senior high school campus comes to our weekday Mass. On Wednesdays, a homeroom from the junior campus comes to Mass. The primary school are now looking into doing the same thing for themselves. It makes it easier if the students are doing lessons on the meaning of the Mass or what’s in a church – they just walk down,” Monsignor Ron said.
When asked about what the best part of the parish was, Monsignor Ron, Joyce and Joe all said the parishioners.
“If you need a hand, the parishioners are willing to help, but you have to ask. Once invited, they are eager to help,” Joyce said.
“They try to live up to our mission statement of being welcoming, which they are,” Joe said.
“We are fortunate to have so many people in the parish who have the faith so central to their lives. The parishioners are more and more seeing themselves as the Church and taking ownership of the parish. It’s not just ‘I’m a person that comes to Mass’, to a lot of them, it is their parish, they are responsible for it, and I think that’s one of the big things that we’ve achieved,” Monsignor Ron said.
“The parishioners are very generous. When our St Vincent de Paul Society needed gifts for Christmas, there was an abundance. This has been going on for many years. In the last few years, we have also provided goods to other agencies in the diocese. We explain to parishioners that their donations go to people in the parish first and foremost, but also people in the general area. We’ve also explained to other agencies like CatholicCare if they need anything to come and let us know, we’ve got plenty here.”
With its large congregation, St Andrew’s has many parishioners involved in ministry. There are 150 Eucharistic ministers, a large number of readers, commentators and acolytes and seven different music ministry groups. “Our large numbers come from encouraging parishioners to participate in an active way in liturgical ministry,” Monsignor Ron said.
There are also prayer communities including the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Couples for Christ and three praesidia of the Legion of Mary. “The involvement of the different parish groups are part of what make it a great community,” Monsignor Ron said.
“We have a different parish council set up to most parishes. We have at least two representatives from every group within the parish on the parish council,” Joyce said.
But like any parish, St Andrew’s has its challenges.
“I think we need to be engaging the 20-to-30-year-olds and the newly married people who don’t tend to come back to the parish until they’ve got their own kids that they want them baptised,” Joe said.
Monsignor Ron said he wished to reach out to the parents in the parish. “Not just the parents of primary school kids, but parents who went to school in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s all very well to say we focus on the young people, but in many cases if the parents aren’t practising at home, their younger children aren’t going to see the faith that is important to themselves.”
“Sometimes our parish and prayer groups become insular, and we have to remind ourselves not to be insular, but to be welcoming and all-inclusive,” Joyce said.
“One of the things I’ve spoken about to all the other priest who have been appointed here is that they’re not just here for their ethnic communities, they’re here for all people of the parish,” Monsignor Ron said.
Looking towards the future, Joyce hopes that the parish keeps growing “not just in numbers but in their faith journeys.
“A lot of parishioners think that the change in assistant priests we’ve had will eventually reflect the change in parish priests that we get. A lot of them realise that we have been fortunate to only have two parish priests in our time.
“I think the style of the parish would change if Monsignor Ron were to leave in that it would depend on the personality of the new parish priest coming in. I believe the different prayer groups would continue to run.
“We’ve had a pretty good leader in Monsignor Ron, so I think a lot of parishioners have learnt from his example.”