New role for self-confessed sports junkie

Helene O’Neill is a woman who wears many hats, all but simultaneously! She is known to some through her involvement in sport on all levels, to others because of her work with fellow cancer survivors, to Novocastrians as a former City Councillor and to parishioners of Blackbutt South as a committed and active member of their church community. Last year Helene was Education Officer (Sport/PDHPE) with the Catholic Schools Office. This year she is pioneering a new role.

New role for self-confessed sports junkie

1. Helene, what's the title of your new position and what does it involve?


My title is Family-Parish Liaison Officer. The broad aim of this twelve month pilot project is to provide support to families by connecting them to the life of the parish, their school communities and to new and existing networks so all can participate in family, faith, social and educational activities in the local community. The project is centred on the Blackbutt Region which includes the schools and parish communities of Adamstown, Kotara, Cardiff (Blackbutt South), Lambton, New Lambton and Waratah (Blackbutt North).


2. Given your experiences in so many diverse areas, what do you feel you bring to this new role?


My love of community is the greatest gift I bring to the project. Also, my genuine desire to see all who are involved in the faith communities experience the real meaning that belonging can bring. And of course I love a good, fun time which is one of the key components of creating community!


3. What do you think is the Church's hope which underlies the work you've been employed to do?


As the Church faces a time of greater public scrutiny, I believe it's up to the faith community to create the good news stories. I would like to offer the families whose children attend our schools support in both their faith and social pursuits. No doubt there is a hope that I can be the conduit as we strive to create one community.


4. As a woman who is clearly not a priest, a nun, a theologian, or a teacher, what draws you to engage with people in this way?


Many people have told me that my 'down to earth, tell it as it is' approach is a refreshing change from what they may have previously experienced.  Also, the Church has been a huge part of my life and I want others to see what happiness that can bring, albeit in ways they may not have previously considered. I meet the people 'where they are', be it the swimming carnival, welcome barbecue, Surfest or playgroup.


5. Can you share some of your experiences working in the Blackbutt Region?


The diversity of my role is immense. On the faith side, Corpus Christi Waratah has hosted a family Mass with support from the school's families and parishioners, and the parents who belong to sacramental teams providing the hospitality. St Kevin's Cardiff will re-introduce the Sunday Children's Liturgy. I attended the St John's Lambton Stage 3 retreat at Glenrock Lagoon and St Pius X Year 10 retreat at Collaroy. Socially I met the families at St James' Kotara South welcome barbecue; pulled out weeds at St Kevin's Cardiff working bee; met some supportive parents and parishioners when St Pius X and St Francis Xavier's competed in the high school Surfest challenge and enjoyed the company of the Catholic Women's League at St Columba's Adamstown.


6. What are the challenges?


 I see them more as opportunities! We live in a world where change is a constant, yet one that many people struggle to deal with. We all have to face the realities of fewer priests and recognise that the Church is also changing. Priests are also affected by this change and should be buoyed by the willingness of laity to get involved and be a part of the new direction. Lay people aren't there to take over but to allow the priest to fulfil the role he was ordained to fulfil.


Families today have so many choices and activities available to them that time pressures become a reality. But if they feel welcome to contribute to the Church in ways they are able without any guilt, we can achieve a true sense of community. I have found that people want their spirituality nourished and so searching for ways to involve them is one of my challenges.


7. What are the joys?  


Being out there amongst the schools and parishes where every day is a new adventure makes life sweet. The playgroups are fun and provide hope that our future is in capable hands. I loved the craft group at Kotara - a group of long time parishioners and friends getting together to knit, sew and drink tea. I have been touched by the willingness of young families to be involved in the after Mass cuppa and to express a desire to have a children's liturgy introduced. The staff at the schools have been so accommodating and open to ideas. But the greatest joy is getting amongst the simple things that can make the biggest difference.


8. Obviously Helene you are committed to the Church, while living in an increasingly secular society. What is the foundation of your commitment, and what is it that draws you to want to draw others to the Church?


If I divided my life up into a pie (vegetable, of course) I would cut equal parts to represent home and family, sport, work, friends and faith (the Church). I attended Mass every morning with my brother while we were in primary school. He would serve on the altar, I would play cricket in the playground. He ended up a priest/theologian, I ended up a sports junkie! For me that was the start of combining Church and community.


I was fortunate when I was in high school that the Catholic youth dances were the 'in' place to be so there was no peer pressure if you attended such activities. When I began work I travelled away most weekends for sporting commitments but I always found time to practise my faith and was proud to proclaim I was a Catholic.


I've shared the faith journey through married life with Mick who is now a guitar playing member of the St Philip's Kotara church band. But it's always been about the people I meet and how I can enjoy attending a church gig as much as I can a sports awards night, a weekend surfing trip or a play at the Civic Theatre.


I've had twists and turns in life but my faith has remained constant. Being a Catholic isn't about blaming or harbouring guilt, it's about welcoming others in a true sense of community.

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