When Fr Peter Minh arrived at St Michael’s Parish in Geelong one-and-half years ago, the impact and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were yet to strike. He was newly appointed as the pastor for three churches in the parish – St Peter and Paul’s in Geelong West, Holy Spirit in Manifold Heights, and Holy Family in Bell Park.

Looking back, Fr Minh says the community was a ‘God-send and dedicated collective’. ‘I’ve been very lucky that the parish and people work tirelessly together,’ he says.

Collectively, the three churches share a 200-year history of parish life. Representatives from each church form part of the parish’s leadership team, with some long-standing members including David Lunn (who has been with the parish for 35 years), members from the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Angels (originally from Sri Lanka), as well as John McCarthy and Mary Fiorillo who regularly assist in visiting the sick.

‘When I arrived at St Michael’s it was just before the pandemic had hit,' Fr Minh says. 'And when it did, I had the full support of the parish leadership team right behind me every step of the way.'

Not only did the team provide leadership support and assistance, but they also helped Fr Minh practically, coordinating the online Masses and parish Zoom meetings.

The parish of St Michael’s with its three churches consists largely of a European migrant community of families. Each weekend Masses are held in Croatian, Slovenian, Italian and Filipino.

The parish has a strong connection to its three primary schools and works together with the school communities to raise money for various causes. ‘We have a fundraising mission for the Philippines in Santa Cruz,’ explains Fr Minh. Last year, the parish managed to raise nearly $25,000 for the Philippine orphanage. The parish levy also helps support local families facing financial difficulty and parishioners regularly raise funds for the works of Catholic Mission, CatholicCare Victoria, the local St Vincent de Paul Society and Geelong Mums, a local organisation that helps young families.

He is pleased that the parish was able to complete all sacraments for their primary school children during 2020, despite the challenges.

‘During the first (COVID) restriction we couldn’t do anything in a big group, and we had 100 students,’ explains Fr Minh.

‘It took me three to four weeks to finish each school, but it was a good way to do it during restriction time and it was also a good opportunity to talk with the families,’ he says.

Looking to the future, Fr Minh says he hopes to create more opportunities for youth faith formation.

‘All in all, it has been hard to plan because of the COVID pandemic, but there is little doubt that the unwavering support will cease anytime soon,’ he says. ‘The people in Geelong, they love their church so much and they love their community.’

St Michael's Geelong Parish incorporates three churches: St Peter and Paul’s in Geelong West, Holy Spirit in Manifold Heights, and Holy Family in Bell Park.