Cora Lijnders, a long-time parishioner of St Jude the Apostle in Scoresby, was astounded when she found out that her name was to be included on the King’s Birthday honours list this year.

On receiving the email announcing that she had been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community through the Church, she says her first reaction was one of disbelief. ‘I thought, There’s more deserving people than me. I thought, Why me? I didn’t expect anything. It was quite a shock really … there’s others that have done so much more.’

Clearly, though, her many years of quiet but dedicated service in her parish and the broader community had not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. She doesn’t know who nominated her—‘You never find out who’—but she feels honoured to have been recognised.

Cora came to Australia from Holland as a five-year-old with her parents and five siblings, settling first in St Albans and then moving to Blackburn. In fact, on 17 June, a few days after hearing about her OAM, she celebrated the 70th anniversary of her family’s arrival. ‘So it’s a double-whammy celebration,’ she says.

In 1981, Cora married her husband Harry, and the couple moved to Knoxville, joining St Jude’s parish in its early years, not long after the current church was built. The mother of six children, and now grandmother of eight, Cora recalls that there were lots of other young families in the parish during the years when her own children were young, and she has fond memories of their involvement in the parish’s family group.

‘We had all these things going on,’ she recalls, ‘outings with the families, which was good fun, and the children all mixed in, so it was all good. But they’ve all moved on since, because they’re married, of course, with families of their own.’

While her own children attended the local state school (so that they wouldn’t need to cross a busy main road), she made sure they attended religious Education (RE) classes at the parish each Monday evening. ‘I used to take … a whole van full of kids there,’ she recalls. ‘There were all the neighbours’ kids, my sister’s kids, all together—a community bus you could almost say.’

For many years, as well as caring for a large family of her own, Cora provided before- and after-school care in her home, bringing ‘half the classroom’ home with her and caring for up to 12 children in addition to her own. They were busy years, but she seemed to thrive on the challenge. ‘You just fit one more thing in,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t matter; you’re busy anyway.’

As her children became more independent, though, and Cora found herself with more time to spare, she saw an opportunity to become more involved in parish life. She says she has always had God in her life, has always been committed to the Church, so it was natural to seek ways to become more deeply involved.

‘The children were off my hands,’ she explains. ‘They didn’t need all my time, so I could just volunteer to do different things. And that’s what I thought: I’ll just help. And of course, once you put one little finger in, then the hand goes in and then it’s the arm and then it’s the whole lot. You know what it’s like: “Cora can do that” and “You can do that.” So that’s how it all happens: it just snowballs.’

Cora describes herself as a shy person, but says she became more confident in volunteering for things as others in the community encouraged her and expressed their belief in her abilities. Feeling a bit shy and hesitant shouldn’t stop people from getting involved, she says. ‘I used to be like that too. Until somebody drags you in, until they say, “Yeah, you can do that.” … And once you get involved, it’s quite easy.

‘I volunteered to be a special minister. That’s how it started. So I’ve been doing that probably for about 28 years I think now, because I had to wait till the youngest child was of age so they wouldn’t run behind mummy in church!’

She also served as part of the parish’s outreach group, Catholics Returning Home. ‘That was the first thing I got involved with.’

From there, opportunities continued to present themselves, and Cora continued to say ‘yes’. She served on the parish fete committee, spending ‘night after night, week after week’ organising the raffle books, as well as running bingo for 20 years. For a while, she also taught an RE class to ‘the little ones’. Other contributions were more ‘behind the scenes’—she served faithfully on the parish cleaning roster for 30 years, for instance. She estimates that she’s volunteered in about 26 different roles over her years at St Jude’s.

There have been a few challenges along the way, she says, but many more blessings.

‘Bingo was the biggest [challenge] because you had to do the shopping and the bingo … and the money side of it. It was a big job to run it all.’ While she recalls ‘many long evenings setting up the bingo tables and chairs, dragging them from one hall to the other’, she believes it was worth it for the friendships that were built.

Bingo eventually stopped because of COVID, and because ‘you couldn’t get your helpers anymore … We’re getting too old to push chairs around.’ While she acknowledges that ‘it was a good time to stop’, she misses the social opportunities it provided. ‘People got together.’

Similarly, she says the parish fete was much more than just a money-making venture, providing another great opportunity to connect with people and a wonderful ‘family atmosphere’.

‘It did bring a lot of people to the parish. You met a lot of old parishioners that had moved on, and they used to come back because the fete’s on, and it was a very big thing, and all the fireworks—well that had to stop—but it was a good family, community celebration.’

Over the years, one of the things that has given her the most joy, though, has been her involvement in special ministry to the sick and elderly at the local Arcare aged-care home in Knox. ‘I used to visit 11 people there,’ she says. ‘I used to chat with them.’ She also felt incredibly privileged to serve as a special minister of Communion at Mass: ‘You just smile and give them the host, and they just smile back at you. It’s just nice, you know; it’s just all the little joys.’

Reflecting on what has motivated and sustained her through all the countless hours she has given the St Jude’s community, she says simply, ‘I just like to help people. I thought it was nice just to volunteer the time. I mean, other people were doing lots of things, and I thought, Well, if they can do it, so can I.’

To those who might be thinking about becoming more involved in the life and mission of their parish, she says, ‘Do join because you make a lot of friends. And I think it’s an honour really to be able to serve people in the parish. That’s how I look at it. You’re really serving people. You’re helping out, but you are doing lots of good. It doesn’t matter if you’re … serving teas or coffee before or after Mass or whatever it might be—handing out the Mass sheet or saying good morning to somebody … Just be friendly. And I think it’s nice to be able to do that, to be part of the parish family.’

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St Jude’s other OAM

Margaret Addicoat

It turns out Cora is actually the second St Jude’s parishioner to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia in as many years. Last year, in 2022, Mrs Margaret Addicoat also received an OAM.

Margaret was born in 1936 in Ballarat and has devoted so much of her life to serving others. As a girl, her father was too sick to work, so she boarded at Sacred Heart College and a relative paid for her education. In 1981, she moved to Melbourne.

Her OAM was awarded in recognition of her service to the community through volunteer roles. Margaret was a founding member of Peplow House in Ballarat, a shelter for homeless young men. She was also an active fundraiser in the diocese, organising movie nights, fashion parades and fete stalls. More recently, she has been heavily involved in the charity KOGO (Knit One, Give One), acting as a local coordinator and organising for scarves, beanies and blankets to be knitted for disadvantaged children.

Margaret was surprised to discover she had been nominated for an OAM. ‘I had no idea until three weeks beforehand,’ she says. ‘And apparently my son and daughter put it in three years ago!’

‘It really was a great honour. It was very humbling to receive that, because there’s a lot of people also doing great work.’

For the last 15 years, Margaret has been living happily in a retirement village, but even there she hasn’t retired from service. In the village, she has recruited 50 other women to knit clothes for KOGO! Her three children, all in their 60s, are also very active with charitable works.

‘I’ve had a very blessed life,’ she says. ‘I’ve had ups and downs like everyone, but I’m still going … If you can help somebody else, you get a lot more back by helping.’