By Anthony Barich
Fourteen years of hard work paid off on June 8 when Archbishop Barry Hickey dedicated St Bernadette’s Church in Port Kennedy.
The well-timed affair, held just a day before a tornado ripped through nearby Rockingham, was an “impeccable achievement”, according to new parish priest Fr Gavin Gomez.
Fr Gomez, previously assistant parish priest at Claremont, said that the building stands as a symbol that “God has found unity and a sincere faith in this community, one that promises to continue to generations to come”.
Fr Richard Doyle, the founding parish priest in 1994, said the adjacent school has always been closely linked to the parish. Indeed, Masses were first held in the Year One classroom until the congregation outgrew it and were moved to the parish hall.
He credited the school principal at that stage, Garry Burgess, with fostering this link by encouraging school teachers to be actively involved in parish life by, among other things, catechising the students.
At one stage up to 75 per cent of the teachers were active in the parish, ensuring the spiritual community would remain strong beyond the current generation, he said.
In his homily, Archbishop Hickey urged the parishioners, whom he called “pioneers”, to reach out to those distanced from the Church”, and to the children in the parish, so they are drawn into the larger community.
He urged them to help children appreciate that “this is a house of God so they may benefit from all your hard work”.
Fr Gomez says that while it took some adjustment for the children moving from the parish hall to a church, this goal set out by the Archbishop is already well on its way.
“There is an important difference between a church and a hall, and I noticed that as the kids entered here in a sense of awe,” Fr Gomez said.
“They have a good sense of spirituality, that God is present with them and they are very respectful of the sacred space they are coming into.”
The school now has 500-plus students, but it was not always that way.
Fr Doyle said that in the early days there were no roads leading to the church, and that wild animals roamed the area.
He said the school was a virtual meeting place for parishioners, so the church was always integrated with it by sharing resources. “We’d see each other every second day,” Fr Doyle said of church and school staff and students.
Though he stood down as parish priest, he told The Record that “my heart is still here”, and it is clear that parishioners still clearly have a soft spot for him.
Archbishop Hickey noted the congenial attitude of the parish, saying “there’s no airs or graces here – I get called mate”, but he found that refreshing, and assured them of his continued support and prayers.
Fr Gomez also thanked Frs Gerard Stoyles, a visiting priest from Adelaide; Tim Foster and Hong Pham for their contributions over the years, and Fr Michael Merrifield, who left the priesthood.
The parish still owes $1.5 million for the project, but has received $700,000 from Catholic Development Fund and a further $500,000 from the Archdiocese of Perth.
To help out the parish, call Fr Gavin on 08 9593 4670 or email email@example.com.