The Catholic Parish of Our Lady of the Pines has been serving local families in the Melbourne suburb of Donvale for more than 30 years. Fr Jerald Mariadas has been parish priest there for the past five years and says those who encounter the parish feel warmly welcomed.

To understand the warm and welcoming spirit of the parish today, former parish associate John Lazzari says one needs ‘to reflect back on the very foundations, where it all began.’

‘At the time, our founding parish priest, Fr Tony Hally was at St Peter and St Paul’s in Doncaster East so the church we used was actually Our Lady of the Pines school with Masses said there. From the beginning, Fr Tony’s vision was to create a spiritual and social hub.’

With the help of the parish committee, Our Lady of the Pines in Donvale was established in 1989, with the new church blessed and officially opened in 1990.

Parish worker Trish Keley says the parish is very inclusive and over the years has enjoyed hosting 'tribute bands, trivia nights and all sorts of things. It’s helped bring the parish together and [the events] are always well attended,’ she says.

Our Lady of the Pines Donvale
Fr Jerald Mariadas, Maryanne Payne and parishioners from Our Lady of the Pines Donvale (Rite of Election 2015)

Faith and family go hand in hand at Donvale, which has for many years been home to the Passionist Family Group, one of the first to be formed in Victoria. The Passionist Family Group Movement was established in 1972 by Fr Peter McGrath cp and aims to build Christian community through the development of extended families. There are now eleven Family Groups at Donvale that meet once a month.

‘It’s great for a lot of parishioners that come from other countries who don’t have immediate family here,’ says Trish. Likewise, the family groups ‘are a wonderful way we can connect with each other which creates friendships.’

Hospitality flows through all parish ministries, especially the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA). Trish shares that local parishioner Mary Anne Payne has been leading the RCIA group for many years and ensures a warm welcome for anyone seeking to know Jesus and learn more about the Catholic faith. And when someone wants their baby baptised, a team of four local mothers undertakes home visits to get to know the family.

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Before the pandemic, parishioners would often stay and gather after Mass to chat

The parish is home to more than 25 different ministry groups with close to 180 volunteers across the board. This includes a music group called Arkios, which provides a mixture of traditional and contemporary music for Mass, the liturgy team which meets on a monthly basis, and the local St Vincent de Paul Society ("Vinnies") group, which has been serving the community for more than 20 years.

‘Just about every parishioner in the parish makes a contribution somewhere,’ John adds.

And despite the challenges of the pandemic, the parish has worked hard to ensure the spiritual and social aspects of parish life continue. ‘We’ve had virtual Masses each week and after Mass we have a well-attended cup of tea and chats on Zoom,’ Fr Jerald says. The parish also hosts regular online prayer groups and the Rosary, attracting more than 50 families from the community.

Fr Jerald is hopeful that after all the lockdowns, the parish can focus its efforts on welcoming families back into the church, particularly younger families, and that the community can once again come together.

‘We are working on it!’ he says with a smile.