The Senior’s Ministry in Pennant Hills Parish provides liturgical, spiritual and outreach programs which connect seniors with their parish church and the rest of the local community.

Summary of Learnings

Nyrelle Duncan has been in the position of Seniors Ministry Co-ordinator for eight years. It is a paid position, 2.5 days per week. Nyrelle co-ordinates about 40 volunteers that work in the ministry.

The Senior’s Ministry in the Pennant Hills Parish is, in the words of Nyrelle about “saying thank you for all the work that seniors have put into the parish over their lifetime, to honour people in their senior years, to reach out to new parishioners (senior) with love and support”.

The Seniors Ministry has both Liturgical and Spiritual Programs and Outreach. The Liturgical and Spiritual Programs include a Bible Study Group, Special Masses that are held in the parish facilities and an annual Remembrance Mass.

This program also includes Ecumenical Prayer Services, Masses and Anointing which are conducted in retirement villages and nursing homes.

There are nine retirement villages in the parish; some are aged care facilities, assisted care facilities and independent living facilities.

The Outreach programs are social programs that provide an opportunity for friendship and support for seniors.

The Social Programs offered through the Seniors ministry are the Friendship Group, Book Club, Gathering Point, 55+ group, Share a Meal men’s and ladies group and Getting to Know You.

These programs are aimed at providing social activities and the opportunity to share conversation and meals. Some of these activities are especially targeted at reaching out to those who are housebound.

Nyrelle notes that sometimes people feel distant from “the church” due to old hurts, or perhaps they have drifted away over time. The social aspect of the Seniors Ministry is one way for the church to connect with them. Nyrelle said that she gets a variety of people coming to the activities that are offered by her ministry as different things appeal to different people.

One of the great strengths of the ministry is its connection to the local community; this is something that Nyrelle has worked on in the time that she has been involved in the ministry.

The book club is run with the support of Hornsby Library, who supplies the books for the group and the questions for discussion at a nominal cost for the year. Seniors gatherings are also sometimes held in local council facilities.

Nyrelle has also made a connection with the local area health service who have referred Catholics to her who she has been able to invite to join her ministry groups.


As a result of her involvement with these groups Nyrelle has been invited to join local advisory groups on health services and transport as a representative of the local Catholic Community.

Nyrelle also promotes local council events that may be relevant to Seniors, for example a group from the parish recently attended a council run seminar on internet safety.

Nyrelle said she said that she is always on the lookout for things that will help Seniors in the parish. This includes council services and functions and services provided by the local hospitals.


By being involved in the local community there is the opportunity to act on local needs that she becomes aware of as part of her ministry. At the moment she is advocating for a day respite centre in the parish for people with early stage dementia.

She perceived this need after taking a number of phone calls from carers who were looking to have their parents join the senior’s social programs. Nyrelle is currently using her community and Catholic Healthcare connections to start the process.

Nyrelle is also an active committee member of the local interchurch forum, which hosts an annual ecumenical conference.

The Senior’s Ministry is conducted by about 40 volunteers. Once per year they gather to discuss the range of groups, asses their volunteer numbers and ask if there is anything that the volunteers need or any input that they would like to share.

Other than this Nyrelle is in regular contact with the volunteers in the activities of the ministry and in addition makes regular phone calls to volunteers to keep in touch.

Volunteers in this ministry are also invited to attend the annual parish thank you dinner.

At the beginning of the year they have a recruitment drive where they ask for potential volunteers to attend an informal meeting. They also put a notice in the bulletin.

After attending this meeting people are invited to consider being volunteers in this ministry.

New volunteers are supported as they begin their involvement in this ministry, for example they are accompanied on the first time that they might visit someone in their home.

After a new volunteer has been involved in the ministry for three months, Nyrelle catches up with them to discuss their progress and to ask how they are going.

Nyrelle said that she does not have much turnover of volunteers – they love what they do and they keep on going. She said that she does phone people fairly regularly to check in on them.

As one of the keys to effective ministry Nyrelle suggests, is that it’s important to look at the whole person.

When someone makes contact with us, we should not just be attentive to their initial request but to really listen to their needs, even those that may be unstated. By keeping our eye on the big picture, by networking and being an active part of the local community we can ensure that we are engaged as church in the society of which we are part.

Summary of Learnings

  • The Seniors Minister is employed by the parish. This provides the time and resource to recruit, train, connect with a large group of volunteers and to explore opportunities for the ministry in the parish and local community
  • The ministry is aimed at caring for the whole person – with social and spiritual activities


  • The ministry is strongly connected to the local community
  • Engagement with people through the ministry has lead the Senior’s Minister to be able to advocate for the needs of seniors and their carers in the local community

Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001

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