Holy Trinity Parish in the western suburbs of Melbourne is a thriving, multicultural faith community. Spread across three Mass centres—St Martin de Porres in Laverton, Queen of Peace in Altona Meadows, and Stella Maris in Point Cook—the parish also includes five primary schools, a co-educational secondary school, girls’ and boys’ secondary schools, and five aged-care facilities. As the area and population continue to expand, so too does the hope of parish priest Fr John Healy and his leadership and mission teams that Holy Trinity might continue to foster a spirit of prayer, welcome and hospitality for all.
Fr John has been parish priest at Holy Trinity for the past nine years, serving around 20,000 Catholics across the three Mass centres, with about 1,700 attending Mass each weekend. Emphasising the multicultural nature of the parish, Fr Healy says that 55 countries were represented among the congregation at this year’s Pentecost Mass.
He explains that since 2020, the parish has embarked on a slow and intentional journey of restructuring, as it hopes to transform from a ‘maintenance parish’ to a missionary one. ‘We are restructuring our parish community to that of a mission parish, which is about shared responsibility, collaborative decision-making and people leading in their own way,’ he says.
Franca Zannoni is Holy Trinity’s Safeguarding Officer and Mission/Alpha Coordinator. She has been part of the leadership team with Fr John for the past two years, though she’s been in the parish for six years. Recently appointed assistant priest, Fr Samuel Kapani is also on the leadership team. Franca says, ‘We spent about four months talking about what it is to be missionary. We had conversations, we reflected, and we prayed.’
‘Prayer is integral to everything we do,’ adds Fr John, saying, ‘When the leadership team finally came to a clear understanding of what mission meant for us in our own parish context, we shared this with the principals, religious education leaders, the St Vincent de Paul team, our finance team, Preca and our parishioners. And they all helped us redefine what mission means for us, too.’
Fr John explains that having accepted the invitation from Archbishop Peter A Comensoli to ‘Take the Way of the Gospel’ in order to renew and reinvigorate the life of their parish, they discerned that the approach of Divine Renovation had the most resonance and connection for their local context. Divine Renovation comes out of Nova Scotia in Canada and is led by Fr James Mallon. ‘It’s about acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit, encountering Jesus and, from that, raising up leaders,’ says Fr John. ‘So we’ve used that as the basis of what we’re trying to do in our parish.
‘And through this, we’re bringing life back into the community, re-engaging people, helping people to rediscover Jesus, and raising leaders.’
At the beginning of each Mass, following the welcome, parishioners now spend some time in silent prayer calling on the Holy Spirit to be with the congregation. ‘We realised the importance of creating a space to call on the Holy Spirit to be with all of us, and there is dead silence and stillness when we do this,’ says Fr John.
Calling on the power of the Holy Spirit has been at the heart of the parish’s journey, with prayer and discernment playing a central role in any decisions. Each weekly leadership meeting starts with prayer, as do the monthly mission team meetings, and the team takes whatever time is needed to come to a decision. As Franca explains, ‘Discernment is about patience and listening to the whispers within me, and those around me. There’s an element of trust and prayer, and it’s about waiting and having the wisdom to know if it’s the right time or not.’
Fr John shares that following an intentional time of discernment and prayer, a number of decisions resulted in a ‘no’ rather than a ‘yes’. For instance, Franca had spent considerable time developing a welcome module for training purposes, but following conversations and discernment, the mission team decided, ‘It’s not the right time.’
‘It’s important that we’re free to say “no” or to change our mind,’ says Fr John. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that.
We’ve learnt that we need to constantly listen to each other, talk, think and reflect, and perhaps come back to something at a later time. And that’s okay.
Franca says this is a message they have shared with parishioners since the start of their restructuring journey. She says parishioners were told from the start, ‘We’ll always listen, but sometimes we just have to say, “No, we’re not ready for that.” But we always say, “Please walk with us. We’re going through change. Formation is happening, but it’s going to take time. It’s going to take trust and patience. Walk with us as we go through this.”’
It is an invitation that has been taken to heart and kept in mind as 300 parishioners have contributed their time and talents to one or more of the parish’s seven ministries: proclamation, service, music, environment, social justice, education and training, and communication. Each of these ministries was launched in the parish over the past few months, with a special one-hour prayer and information evening held for each ministry and for those who expressed interest in being involved.
Emphasising again that ‘prayer is integral to everything we do’, Fr John explains that each of the seven ministries is grounded in Scripture. ‘There is the Great Commission in Scripture, and then we look to Pope Francis or a saint, and what the Church is calling us to do, and the words of Archbishop Peter, and this all flows down to what does this mean to us and our local parish.’
Reflecting on the recent information evenings, he says, ‘I had a sense that the ministry evenings really empowered our parishioners to see that their role was very important. For instance, for the ministry of environment, we had cleaners, people who do flower arranging and the gardening come along, and we always have questions about this ministry. And following this, they felt empowered to continue, to know that the work that they do is acknowledged and really unique and special.
‘Another story that inspired me was the Ministry of Proclamation, where a commentator noted that “If we don’t do our job well at the beginning, in welcoming people, how are they going to listen to God’s word? Our role is to gather people, to welcome them, set the theme, so that they’re ready to listen to God’s word.” And I thought, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.”
That’s the other beautiful thing about what’s happened in these ministry sessions: we’ve had these gems from parishioners sharing why they became a minister and why they do what they do. It’s been quite powerful.
In December, Holy Trinity will host a leadership summit, where the three core values of the parish—prayer, welcome and hospitality—will be the focus. And again, turning to discernment, the leadership team have decided to ‘open up’ the summit to those in the parish who feel themselves to be leaders. ‘Initially we thought of identifying specific people,’ says Franca, ‘but along this journey and through our discernment, we’ve realised that people may see themselves as leaders, and so we’re going to invite everyone that sees themselves as leaders to come along to the summit.
‘We want to give people the confidence to see themselves as leaders in any way or any aspect that they would like to see. So we’re taking a more open approach, rather than having something that’s closed and just inviting specific people. We’re putting it back onto them: “Look at yourself. Do you see yourself as a leader? Then come along. You’re invited.”’
Fr John adds, ‘Every person has a unique gift and every person’s contribution is valued. And this is how we raise leaders, through empowering people to see that the gifts that they have are acknowledged and they are worthy. Every person is worthy of contributing in some way, no matter what you do in our church, in our parish.’
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal26 July 2023
Melbourne Catholic30 May 2023