When Fr Eric Alleaume OMI arrived at St John Vianney’s Church in November 2020, it was not the first time he’d set foot on the parish grounds. He had been ordained at the parish 30 years prior, so he says ‘it was nice to be able to celebrate 30 years ordination back in the parish, even though it was during the week of lockdown.’

‘One thing about this parish is you become part of a family’, Fr Eric explains. ‘There’s always that tradition of being baptised, married and buried here.’ The parish community is comprised of a mix of Italians, French, Mauritian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Chinese and Anglo-Australians.

Fr Eric also mentions the parish’s primary school, St John Vianney’s, and its strong connection to Mazenod College, located nearby.

‘One of the big things here is our youth ministry,’ he says. ‘It’s a part of our Oblate charism and parish, so we’re kind of a headquarters for Oblate Youth Australia. The youth group runs two sessions for school-aged kids and then for a year afterwards.

‘I’m very upfront about talking about Eugene de Mazenod, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate founder. So, on the cover of our newsletters I always include a relevant part of Eugene’s story that fits with the gospel.’

Fr Eric explains that they also have ‘four guys working at Mazenod Ministry from this church’.

‘One of the things with Oblates is that we try to build Oblate Family, and that sense that you don’t have to be a priest to be an Oblate, you just have to be a part of our mission and ministry.’

As with many parishes, St John Vianney’s has encountered challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘So many people have missed out on so many kinds of celebrations and religious anniversaries,’ he says.

‘It’s also just been about helping people to pray.’

And the parish may be small but its heart is full and always willing to assist. Fr Eric mentions the “Tinnies for Vinnies” request that is made each week where parishioners donate small goods like pasta sauce and coffee. There’s also the local bingo group and gardening club, as well as ministries to the nursing home next door to the parish, the John R Hannah Aged Care Residence, run by Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH). The residence was named after another local Oblate, Fr John Hannah OMI.

‘It’s really good to see some of the occupants come across for Mass at times and I go there once a month to say Mass,’ says Fr Eric.

Despite the challenges that COVID has presented, Fr Eric sees signs of hope. He believes it is about surviving through the pandemic and building community. ‘The bonus is we’ve got guys from the seminary and hopefully this time next year we’ll have another priest,’ he says.

He also hopes to reconnect with those he went to school with now that he’s back in this parish.

‘I hope to try and reconnect and help this whole new generation to feel that they are part of a family and encourage people to become involved and realise what you put into the life of the parish, brings a whole new life and a whole new way of doing things.’