By Penny Hudson, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Howick

In 1992 (or was it late 1991) we received some information about Passionist Family Groups at church, I guess to gauge the amount of interest in our Parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea. At that time I was fairly new to the Parish and, in fact had only been attending Mass regularly again since we settled here late in 1990, after being a spasmodic attendee for about 20 years.

My husband, Pat, is not a Catholic and, as I had been brought up in a mixed marriage family where there was tension related to our going to Mass with our father I have always been conscious of that not happening in my marriage. In 1992 I knew no one in the Parish or in Howick for that matter and, as I am fairly reserved with strangers (although some would not think so), I left Mass immediately after the last hymn without speaking to anyone. I thought Family Groups might be something for Pat and me to join to get to know people and perhaps enable Pat to be more comfortable about the Catholic Church. I took the form home to Pat and we talked about it and decided it would be worth looking into it further so I ticked the maybe box and returned it to the appropriate place in the church. After some time we were advised of a meeting at Mary-Jane and Simon’s home where we met several other people and heard more about the concept of the Passionist Family Group Movement.

In 1973, in a Sydney Parish, Father Peter McGrath started two ‘Family Groups’ with the idea of keeping the community alive, as it had been when the Parish was smaller. The number of groups got larger as the size of the Parish increased. In 1985 the ‘movement’ was taken out to other Parishes and by 1992, when Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish joined there were over 170 Parishes involved in New Zealand and Australia. The aim of the Family Group Movement is to promote a community within the Parish, by sharing Christian life and supporting each other, especially in times of need and celebration. The adults give example to the children and involve them in their Christian sharing.

Anyway after the meeting at Mary-Jane and Simon’s we liked the idea and saw it as a way of getting to know other people in Howick and decided to join the group we had been put into. A great deal of work must have gone into allocating families into groups so each one had a cross section of people with, families with children, couples, single people etc and with mixed ages and races. The ages of the people in our group ranged from toddles to pensioners.

From then on we got together to do things socially once a month. These gatherings included a variety of activities such as picnics, potluck dinners, meals out, games evenings and other interesting things, many of which we would not normally do and often they are the most enjoyable. Through these outings we all got to know each other and as time passed became like an extended family. Over the years people have left the group, mostly because they moved away from Howick and others have joined. We had one family who went to live in Fiji for 3 ½  years but came back to the group when they returned to Howick. At least four of the original ‘families’ who attended that first meeting are still part of our group.
Within the first year our group leaders, Mary-Jane and Simon, who had young children, asked Pat and I if we would co-lead with them which we agreed to and a year or so later became the sole leaders – and still are. As group leaders we have met leaders of other groups and, through them, many other parishioners. Now I can spend up to half an hour after Mass chatting to people instead of going straight home! I feel I really belong to the Parish. Many of our friends in Howick are through Our Lady Star of the Sea which would not have been the case without Family Groups.

As leaders we have also attended many  Formation day or weekends which are held each year for leaders and members of the Passionist Family Group Movement and have really enjoyed all the ones we have been to. One of the Passionist Priests comes from Australia to run these and each year the topics are varied and interesting. They cover many facets of life and relate them to Family Groups and thus the Catholic Church. One year it was mostly about generation X & Y which I found fascinating. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet Family Group people from other Parishes.

Because of Family Groups, Pat has become more involved in Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish and got to know Father Pat well. From being someone who went to Mass with me at Christmas and Easter he is now happy to attend at other times of the year. When Father Pat rang a couple of weeks before Christmas four years ago and asked if we would set up the crib that year I was not sure what Pat would think He was enthusiastic about it then and has enjoyed and spent a considerable amount of time creating the nativity scene each year since.

Pat is one of many non-Catholic partners in Passionist Family Groups and over the years I have noticed that most group leaders have one partner who is not a Catholic. One of the reasons may be that Family Groups are not prayer or scripture reading groups, they are really social groups and through socialising we practice our Christianity which makes them ideal for families where all members are not Catholic. Our group does involve Mass in our monthly gatherings twice a year – a house Mass and pot luck dinner and Mass on Tuesday night before Christmas and then drinks at the pub!

Family Groups have been a wonderful thing for us and I believe have enhanced my Christianity and understanding of Catholicism. We have got to know many people and formed good friendships and, through that have become more involved in the Parish. I also now know that Pat understands what being a Catholic means to me and is happy for me to attend other Parish activities and encourages me to be involved in church activities. As we have got so much out of Family Groups we encourage anyone in the Parish to join a Passionist Family Group especially new parishioners and families with non-Catholic members.

Passionist Family Groups are different to Neighbourhood Communities. Our parish currently has four Family Groups .

If you are interested in learning more about Passionist Family Groups we would love to hear from you. We are happy for families, couples or single people to join a group for one of their outings to experience what Family Groups are about.

Pat & Penny Hudson