Located on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, St Mary’s Star of the Sea parish in Sorrento is a unique community. Parishioners are holiday homeowners, some of whom come up with their families for seasonal breaks, while others are retirees who now live in their holiday homes.

Parish priest of 18 months, Fr John McGinty OMI, says the demographics ‘really make this place quite different’.

‘You can go a whole street and find no one living there’, he says. ‘It’s basically a holiday place … It makes it a bit tricky visiting people in their homes.’

‘Some weekends you’ll see a whole lot of people down in their holiday home and they come to Mass in the morning, but by evening they are gone.’

Fortunately, there are a number of retirees who call Sorrento home, and who consistently attend Mass and actively participate in parish life.

‘I’ve been impressed by the kindness of the parishioners,’ says Fr McGinty, ‘They are very supportive of each other, and keep in contact with one another … That’s quite encouraging.’

‘They are mainly retired people, particularly those who volunteer with St Vincent de Paul. They form community as they do this.’

With an older generation making up the backbone of the parish community, St Mary’s Star of the Sea did encounter challenges during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic. Reaching out via the internet and via technological means received ‘a mixed reception’.

‘Basically, our secretary would send out a parish newsletter via email and so we had a bit of a task to get people to provide email addresses,’ explains Fr McGinty.

‘Quite a number of people are wary of all the technology and things, and others are quite good at it.

‘We still continue to send the newsletter via email and that’s been very helpful indeed.’

As restrictions lifted and parishioners were welcomed back into the church, Fr McGinty says activities such as morning teas after Mass have attracted a ‘slow but sure’ increase in recent attendance.

‘There’s been signs of hope but just in bits and pieces as people are only gradually returning to Mass after the lockdown,’ he says.

‘I think there’s been that sense of wariness.

‘And just when you thought you were safe it was straight into lockdown again,’ he says.

‘But it’s been encouraging to see people emerging and coming along to Mass and seeing people getting back to pray and practice together, and fellowship.

‘That’s a sign of hope.’

St Mary’s Star of the Sea is located at 1-15 Constitution Hill Road, Sorrento.