The Strathmore parish of St Vincent de Paul, nestled in the suburban streets of Melbourne’s north-west was established in 1941. Eighty years on, the community continues to be a place of welcome and, despite the challenges of COVID, remains ‘highly connected’ according to new parish priest Fr Anthony (Tony) Doran.

That ‘connectedness’, he says, was first witnessed in his first 24 hours as parish priest, just before the July lockdown period this year. ‘I was able to celebrate one Mass with the regular morning Mass goers with a morning tea afterwards,’ he said. ‘We went into lockdown that night.’

Strathmore Parish Fr Tony Doran
Fr Tony Doran takes a selfie with his new parishioners upon arrival.

Upon reflection, Fr Tony says, that while times have been challenging, the parish has kept connected during lockdown through its Facebook page. ‘While social media doesn’t give us face-to-face contact with others,’ he says, ‘I feel as though I know a lot of people through our social media presence.’

Prior to the pandemic and outside of Melbourne’s lockdown periods, the community traditionally had a variety of ways of connecting, says Fr Tony. Among them, had been a parish book club. The baptism preparation team has also remained active with meetings taking place via Zoom.

The three members of the baptism preparation team include long-standing volunteer Miriam Gauci and recent members Steve Boyle and Joe Debiuyn. Miriam, who has been serving the team since 2008, has been a parishioner since 1972. Though she moved out of the area in 2016, she continues to work and be involved with the parish.

Of her journey, she mentions ‘if you’d told me I’d be doing this 20 years ago, I would have laughed.’ Miriam is an accountant by profession and mentioned that up until that point 20 years ago, she had been ‘focussed on money and wealth’.

It took what she calls ‘an inspirational moment’ where she was ‘touched by the Holy Spirit’ at an anointing Mass she attended at the parish church with her mum that saw a shift in her faith journey.

Around 12 months later she realised ‘there was more to life than material things’. Then, having spoken to former parish priest Fr Peter Ray, she began theological studies which eventually led to her involvement in the baptism preparation work.

Around seven years later Miriam was diagnosed with breast cancer, however, this didn’t stop her from continuing her work. She found the relationships she built through her volunteer work helpful during those challenging times.

‘Being involved and just meeting other people really helped me to get through the treatment,’ she says. ‘It’s really wonderful just being a part of that faith community.’
Strathmore Parish Miriam Gauci
Miriam Gauci pictured with former parish priest Fr Peter Ray at a baptism she helped prepare and was a Godmother for.

Fr Tony says that there are many other long-time parishioners who have been the ‘back-bone of the parish’ and with 400 children who attend St Vincent de Paul Primary School there are ‘lots of young families as well’.

‘In the nine days we were open in July, I was able to meet with the children preparing for their first Holy Communion,’ he says. ‘The grade five children have had to face waiting between lockdown periods to receive their first Holy Communion since last year.’

Fr Tony says a further challenge has been the fact that he’s the parish priest and hasn’t been able to meet with the people.

‘By the same token,’ he says, ‘I’ve never felt isolated. In my time here a number of people have rung up and sent emails welcoming me to the parish.’

He says that people have been ‘willing to give things a go and try new ways to be the presence of Christ’. ‘I think if we can harness that good will and that desire to serve their brothers and sisters, we can do great things.’

The feast of St Vincent de Paul is celebrated on 27 September.