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Keeping St Mary’s community together

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When Masses were suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Isabel Storer knew it was going to have a big impact on parishioners at St Mary’s Church in North Adelaide.

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Known as a “very welcoming community”, parishioners not only enjoy each other’s company at the Sunday Mass but also look forward to the catch up afterwards at the nearby Cibo on Melbourne Street or in the church carpark.

“It’s a little church and the community are great… and sometimes we get up to 40 people going to Cibo afterwards,” Isabel said.

“It’s a good get together and it is conversation about any and everything.

“When COVID happened I couldn’t think of what to do to engage the community, but I absolutely saw the need to try and keep the community together.”

Initially, the retired kindergarten director put her technology skills to use and with some assistance from another parishioner set up a Facebook page. It ran for a while but wasn’t as effective as Isabel had hoped.

After enjoying a ‘virtual’ gin and tonic catch-up with a friend one evening, Isabel had the idea that maybe online get- togethers would work for the parish community. Someone suggested Zoom and she jumped on the idea, setting up a regular meeting every Sunday after people had observed Mass on the live stream.

Up to 12 people participated – any more and the session became a “bit unwieldy” – and sometimes St Mary’s priest Fr My Tran was able to join in as well.

While it was no substitute for a friendly chat after Mass over coffee at Cibo, it kept the community engaged.

However, Isabel thought even more could be done and decided to start writing a weekly newsletter which is emailed to parishioners who have registered their contact details with St Mary’s.

Much to her surprise, it has proved a big hit with the congregation.

While it contains the necessary information on the pandemic and current restrictions that are in place, the newsletter also includes parish news and Isabel’s musings and reflections on our new way of life.

Parishioner Michael Frost, who contacted The Southern Cross highlighting Isabel’s outstanding efforts during the pandemic, said her messages have been “immensely appreciated”.

“She cares about people and has played a key part of holding the community together,” he said.

Reserved about the impact the newsletter has had, Isabel admits the comments she has received have kept her motivated to keep writing.

“I get a lot of feedback from people… every now and then I think they must be sick of it, and what’s the point? And then I will get two or three emails from people saying, ‘This is so good’.

“I was going to give it up but I think people still need it.”

Joining the St Mary’s community 11 years ago with her late husband Robin, Isabel has been involved in many aspects of parish life.

She is chair of the Community Life Committee (CLC) which meets every two months to discuss different aspects of parish life such as liturgy, music, pastoral care and social activities.

The community comprises about 100 members mainly from the North Adelaide, Walkerville, Gilberton and city areas and more than half of those are involved in the running of the church – whether it be on the welcoming team, as sacristan, special minister, commentator, lector, collector, taking bookings for weddings, liaising with the Sisters, arranging rosters or taking roles on the Parish Pastoral Council.

Isabel and Robin, who was a professor at Flinders University, lived in the Adelaide Hills for most of their married life and were active members of the Blackwood parish for 39 years. Their four sons attended Christian Brother’s College where the Storers both served on the school board.

She recalled being involved with organising a “fantastic” multicultural night which was designed to pull the school community together but incidentally raised a lot of money for the college. Together with a friend, she also fundraised for Community Aid Abroad.

This year, together with another parishioner, Isabel formed a team from St Mary’s to participate in the Walk a Mile Challenge, raising $1466 for the Hutt St Centre.

Reflecting on her commitment to supporting the church community, Isabel said she had always tried to heed the advice of her mum and be mindful of others.

“Our Mother was a very modern thinking Catholic woman, and from a young age I learned that one of the things that was most important in life was consideration of other people.”

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