Bell Park parish: A cluster of care

Thursday 8 February 2017

Media and Communications Office
There are many self-created parish initiatives across the whole Melbourne Archdiocese. Ranging from small bake sales to full-on gala nights with speakers, they all have one thing in common – raising funds and awareness on key social justice and community issues. Bell Park is one of those parishes.
The newly formed parish of St Michael's Bell Park, which was formerly known as the pastoral cluster of Bell Park, incorporates the parishes of Holy Family in Bell Park, Holy Spirit in Manifold Heights and Sts Peter and Paul in West Geelong. Three very distinct communities with three very different churches, they make up a diverse and engaged community with three primary schools.
St Peter and Paul’s is located in West Geelong and is a bluestone church built in 1863. Holy Family in Bell Park is a modern church, and was built in 1973. Holy Spirit church has a Spanish design and was built in 1932. At the helm is Fr Gerard Keith, who was until recently also supported by assistant priest Fr Mick Fitzpatrick, who passed away in June last year. Fr Keith has been at Bell Park parish since 2002 and has helped guide the amalgamation of the parishes. The parish has many groups and outreaches, including 'Fr Mick’s Mates' and 'Fr Mick’s Mini Mates', a Philippines outreach program and a bereavement group.
From top left to bottom right: Trish Stickland (parish manager), Fr Gerard Keith (parish priest), Jan Fagan, Bernadette Boxer, Stephanie Berginc (religious education coordinators of the three parish primary schools) and Margaret Ahern (bereavement group coordinator)
Fr Mick’s Mates and Fr Mick’s Mini Mates
Fr Mick was the popular assistant priest in the parish, and became ill with cancer more than a decade ago. He suffered and became critically ill due to his treatment. He recovered but passed away in the middle of last year.

In 2005 conversations started on how the local Catholic community could engage with the wider community. In other words, how could the faith community become ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world’ within the broader community. Fr Mick and other parish members realised that many people were affected by cancer, either they knew someone who had had it themselves or had a friend or family member who suffered from it.

Fr Mick’s Mates was born – a local Relay for Life team. The community holds a number of fundraising events throughout the year for ‘Relay for Life’, a Cancer Council of Victoria organised action. They include sausage sizzles, Melbourne Cup luncheons and bay cruises. Throughout the years Fr Mick’s Mates has also won the Best Fundraiser award in Geelong four times, showing the community support and commitment behind the group.

Fr Mick’s Mini Mates is a school-based initiative that looks into creating health awareness in school age children.
Philippines partnership
The parish, both on a community and school level, has partnered with the Columbans in their Philippines outreach. This has allowed for a sense of friendship to evolve over the years, as well mutual enrichment. Fr Gerard Keith has a Gospel inspired vision – we all can help those in need, by reaching out in a realistic and truly loving manner. Parish manager Trish Stickland has been foundational to make the vision a reality.
Key community and school members, such as the three primary schools' religious education coordinators, have travelled to the Philippines to build the relationship. School families have also travelled to the community in the Philippines of their own accord to meet the people for whom they raise funds and awareness. 
The partnership raises funds for the Kazama Grameen Bank, which is the Columban’s micro-credit initiative. The micro-credits, which are common across the world in developing countries, allow Filipinos to start up a small business, usually based at home and commonly by women, and slowly move out of poverty.
The parish also works with Sr Kate O’Neill, who is province leader for Our Lady of the Missions in the Philippines. Sr Kate works with street boys, educating them and trying to reunite them with their families. The community has fundraised to help Sr Kate grow her mission, and provide care to the street boys. One parish family, at its own expense, provided Sr Kate with a brand new kitchen.
The Philippines initiative is deeply entwined within the parish and school social justice mission.
Bereavement group
Many parishes are faced with an ongoing reality of having an aging parish demographic. With this comes also an increased number of funerals, and a regular sense of loss. Based around its three churches, the parish has a bereavement group with three small volunteer groups and one coordinator.
The group organises cards and visits to those who have recently lost a loved one, as well as passing on information on applicable resources such as counselling services. The group is more of a parish acknowledgement than an on-going support group. Led by coordinator Margaret Ahern, the group is active in reaching out and facilitating spiritual healing.
The group also sends out anniversary and Christmas cards to families who have lost a loved one. A key event is the first Sunday Mass in November, when the group sends invitations to all families who have suffered a loss during the year to join the parish in prayer. The names of the deceased are shown during Mass and family members are welcome to place rose petals in baskets – symbolising their love for those deceased.
Bell Park parish is a vibrant and engaged community that strives to better the world on its social justice front. It is just one example of a parish formed by amazing individuals, living the Gospel at home and making a difference globally.
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