The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

KI parish in hopeful hands


The small rural parish of Kangaroo Island has experienced its fair share of hardship in recent times, on top of the ongoing challenges facing remote Catholic communities.

Comments Print article

Like all Islanders, parishioners were impacted by the devastating bushfire of January 2020 and then the recovery process was impeded by the COVID pandemic which resulted in lockdowns and church closures.

Hence, there was plenty of reason to celebrate when Archbishop Patrick O’Regan visited Kingscote recently to confirm five young people at Sunday Mass.

Rianna, Harry, AJ, Joshua and Grace with Archbishop O’Regan after the Confirmation and First Holy Communion ceremony. Picture: Shauna Black

It was the first visit since the late Archbishop Philip Wilson confirmed three girls on the Island in 2012. Although the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion have been held every couple of years, this year’s program was a credit to parish stalwart Helen Mumford who spent many hours preparing the group of young people in trying times.

At 47, Helen is seen as the “next generation” of the faithful and she has no shortage of roles assigned to her including treasurer, child safe contact person, church roster organiser and sacramental coordinator.

She and her husband Sam are farmers at Parndana and have three young adult sons – Jack, Nick and Josh – all of whom are involved in sport, Country Fire Service and other community activities.

The Mumfords were one of the many families badly affected by the bushfire, losing three farms and a “massive” amount of sheep and cattle, with a fourth property damaged.

“Then there was the personal sacrifice my husband and three boys made to constantly fight the fires and be put in scary situations,” Helen told The Southern Cross.

“Nearly two years on, the impact is still felt, and as others moved on to the mental impact of COVID, we were still dealing with the mental strain of the fires.

“Without my faith I would not be as strong as I am now.”

Helen said the small Catholic community supported fire-affected individuals and families with prayers and donations of goods and clothing. Many also work in the Island’s Care and Lions op shops.

“We had enormous support through the priests who visited after the bushfires, especially Fr Philip Marshall, who provided a chance to share our stories through the Mass,” she said.

“He also personally phoned me, and others, to offer his support.”

Helen’s strong faith was nurtured by her parents, Phil and Mary Connell, in Jamestown where she grew up with her four sisters and brother.

“Mum and Dad were very devout; we attended Mass every weekend as a family and said the rosary together most nights,” she recalled.

“Jamestown was a very Catholic town, so it was easy to be a Catholic.

“My parents’ unwavering faith in Jesus and our family rosary times are very dear to my heart.

“Up until Dad’s death he regularly attended Mass at the Flora McDonald Lodge home, and Mum would come to the home to attend with him.”

“When Dad died in 2015 a halo formed as he lay with his head near a window; that was the day my faith was completely sealed to know that Heaven is real, and that Dad was with God. It brought me so much comfort at a most difficult time.”

Sam’s parents Ron and Valma were also a big part of her life. Sadly, Valma died at 57 from cancer and Ron passed away a day after he turned 80.

A farmer at Redhill, Ron bought land on Kangaroo Island in 1979 and when Sam and Helen moved to the property in 2001 one of the hardest things was leaving Sam’s parents who had lived across the road from them at Redhill.

Sam and Helen were married in St James Catholic Church at Jamestown after meeting through her brother and playing hockey.

Their wedding was on the same day the Adelaide Crows won their first grand final in 1997 and the guests kept offering to wipe the dishes so they could watch the television in the kitchen while Sam’s dad gave frequent score updates over the microphone.

The move to Kangaroo Island, with one child in tow, was made easier by joining the parish and getting to know the locals who introduced Helen to a playgroup for the boys. Her brother Gerard and sister Maree both moved there a few years later.

Living a 30-minute drive from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church in Kingscote didn’t stop Helen from becoming involved in parish life, even when she had a young family.

“Getting to church with young children was sometimes a challenge,” she admitted.

“But it was lovely to go as there were not many families and the older parishioners fussed over me and the kids.

“This parish has been so inviting to visitors and new parishioners alike, you instantly feel like you belong.”

While the number of people attending Mass has changed over time, Helen said it had been constant in recent years.

“We have farewelled some beloved faithful over the 20 years I have been here and other people have moved to the mainland,” she said.

“We seem to lose people but then gain more.”

With only one Mass held on a Sunday there are times when it clashes with other community activities and if the ferry service is cancelled, the parish priest, Fr Josy Sebastian, can’t come from the mainland where he resides. But Helen said there were “capable leaders” who could lead the Liturgy of the Word.

Trained as a child care worker, Helen took on the role of preparing children for their sacraments in 2013 and decided to enrol in the Ministry Formation Program to increase her confidence and knowledge.

“The recent Confirmation and First Holy Communion ceremony reminded me of how amazing our church community is as there were so many parishioners involved in making the day a success.”


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More People stories

Loading next article