Toongabbie farewells Shirley after 35 years as parish secretary

By Jordan Grantham, 15 November 2017
Fr Joe Manjaly MS, Shirley Stewart and Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta / Jordan Grantham

After 35 years of service, St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie farewelled much loved parish secretary Shirley Stewart, whose musical laugh and bright smile lit up the office with positivity and joy.

Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv joined the parish staff of St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie for an afternoon tea in appreciation of Shirley Stewart’s 35 years of service as Parish Secretary.

Shirley served during the time of four Diocesan Bishops and four parish priests.

“I’ve had the best job in the world, that’s what I keep telling everyone!” the enthusiastic Shirley told the gathered room.

Deacon James Phelan commented that Shirley always went beyond the minimum requirements, sometimes working up to six days a week.

“Shirley is very hands on,” parish administrator, Fr Joe Manjaly MS said, showing a photograph of Shirley atop a ladder, cleaning during a working bee.

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Bishop Vincent noted that Shirley had served not only with longevity but distinction and he listened closely to her experiences as a parishioner for 45 years.

“The area has changed a lot but the community is just as great,” Shirley said.

“The people are just amazing. They kept me here,” she said.

Shirley Stewart logged off and signed out for the very last time on Thursday 19 October 2017. Parishioners then gathered that weekend in St Enda’s Hall, after the 10am Mass on Sunday 22 October to thank Shirley for her service.

Devotion to St Anthony is strong in the parish, with a popular Tuesday night Novena to St Anthony of Padua after the 7pm Mass.

Morning tea was a moving occasion, far exceeding Shirley’s expectation of tea and biscuits.

“It was absolutely brilliant. I didn’t want any speeches or presentations – they went ahead and did it anyway.”

“The hall was full of people wishing me well. It was so beautiful. A couple even gave me gifts. And the spread was just incredible. Fr Joe spoke so well – he’s such a lovely bloke.”

There were a few tears, Shirley noted, though none shed by herself.

Shirley shared jokes with Luisa, the new parish secretary, about praying to St Anthony whenever anything went missing in the office. St Anthony of Padua is Patron of Lost Things.

“It’s my spiritual home and the parishioners are my spiritual family. They’ve been there during the good times, the not so good times and we supported each other just like a family would.”

Shirley’s childhood family called Campsie home, where she was the fifth of six children. She and her husband moved to Toongabbie to raise their three children, two of whom now live in Brisbane.

Shirley and her husband will soon move to Brisbane to be closer to their children and young grandchildren.

“You’ve just got to be with your family,” Shirley said.

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