Pastoral Associates' Network online in 2020

Glenys (Glen) Avard of Colbinabbin writes:

This COVID year has meant the Pastoral Associates have not been able to meet face-to-face so have resorted to Zoom. While not as good as sitting around a table faith and job sharing, Zoom has managed to keep us in touch - and given those of us who were feeling down and isolated, a feeling of connection and all the better for the sharing of the load. Another benefit of Zoom meetings was the travelling saved. We have Pastoral Associates from as far away as Wodonga so usually try to meet in the bigger central towns (Shepparton, Bendigo, Kyabram) so a meeting would often take up a good part of the day. On Zoom, it’s simply a 2 hour meeting in your own home. The importance of regular contact with other Pastoral Associates should never be underestimated. It connects parishes right across the diocese. Many thanks go to Lyn Breen who keeps us up to date with frequent emails and offering of resources.”

The first lay person with the title of Pastoral Associate in the Sandhurst Diocese, Carmel Fitzgerald, began her ministry in 1989. In 2006, Carmel wrote for Sandpiper:

Our parish (one of the biggest in the Sandhurst diocese) employs two pastoral associates – Sister Patricia Stone, full time and Carmel Fitzgerald, part time. Carmel began this work in 1989 at a time when the term, “pastoral associate” was mostly unkown. Many people were accustomed to Sister working in parishes, but a lay woman! The Melbourne Archdiocese had been training men and women, both lay and religious, since the early 1980s, so when Carmel was asked to take on this role, she asked if she could undertake the training being offered there. Both Father Frank Marriott (now Monsignor), and Bishop Noel Daly (RIP) agreed to this study which was to take three years to complete, given the travel to and from Melbourne and the fact that life and work in the parish had to fit in with the schedule. During these years, Alma Limbrick of Kyabram and Carmel completed their studies together.

The story of the formal Sandhurst Pastoral Associates network goes back to the late 1990s, when a small band of pioneers including Alma Limbrick, Carmel Fitzgerald, Sr Mary Love (FMDM, now deceased), Patricia Blanks, Sr Patricia Murnane and Sr Lucy Martinez, began to demonstrate just how much the work of a Pastoral Associate, working in collaboration with their parish priest and fellow parishioners, can contribute to the life of a parish.

Members of the Sandhurst Pastoral Associates today are involved in a wide range of parish ministries serving parishes across the Sandhurst Diocese. Some parishes employ Pastoral Associates who are part of the parish leadership team, with a clear role description, developed according to the needs of the parish, and a contract. Other parishes rely on volunteers who serve their parishes in a variety of ways. SPAs keep in touch with each other using communication media, but regular meetings are vital. The Sandhurst Pastoral Associates’ Retreat Day and Priests and Pastoral Associates Meeting are also important events on the annual calendar. The retreat day was held at St Augustine’s Church, Kyabram in 2019, with Marlene McGrath of the Heart of Life Spirituality Centre, Melbourne as retreat facilitator when face-to-face was ‘normal’. In 2020, Cathy Jenkins of the Sandhurst Catholic Education Office led a beautiful retreat day experience via Zoom.