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The family you make

Michele Frankeni  |  08 August 2019

The Passionist Family Group Movement deepens relationships within parishes and among parishioners.

 Trish and Roger Gurney had migrated from Zimbabwe and were looking for ways to connect with people in their Victorian Our Lady of the Pines Parish and in the area when they heard about the Passionist Family Group Movement.

Trish, newly arrived in Australia in 2003, was eight months pregnant with her son Ryan and had a toddler, Emma.

‘We had one family member here, my brother, but his kids were a lot of older’, Trish says. ‘When we heard about the family groups we thought that would be a way of getting to know people and to get involved in the parish.’

She and Roger became leaders of a new group that included 14 other families who had younger children.

‘It has been great. Through the group we found out about a lot of places. Being with families with similar age children, we found out about schools and clubs.’

A place for families to find support, The first Passionist Family Group was established at St Anthony’s in the Fields, Terrey Hills, Sydney in 1972 under the auspices of Fr Peter McGrath. Fr Peter began to gather small groups of families to support and love each other.

Over the past decades the Movement has had its ups and downs, but now includes around 170 parishes in about 20 dioceses in Australia. It has also spread to New Zealand, the US, UK and Ireland.

Dennis Morris, a member of the National Coordinating Team, said the Family Group Movement aims to help parishioners get to know other members of their parish community. They support each other and share each other’s joys and sorrows, building the Christian community as in the early Church. They bring together people of all ages and help involve children in Christian sharing directly, if possible, or indirectly by example.


Passionist Family groups commit to meeting once a month. Trish says she and her husband have tried hard to be innovative with the things they did in the group they established.

‘The whole ethos of the group is to keep it cheap so everyone can participate.’

She said especially in the early days with the younger children there was lots of picnics and going to parks and playgrounds.

‘It was great to be with people who were going through the same joys and tribulations of children. It’s very well when people with older children say “don’t worry, you’ll get through it”, but sometimes you just want someone in the same situation or says “it’s awful isn’t it, but it’s OK, try this”.’

Trish said being part of a group meant members had people to call on if something was good or bad happening in their lives.


‘It is an extended family. When people have been through crises or deaths, people rally around and bring food. We’ve celebrated the good things as well – birthdays and communions.’

Trish said while it was true that some groups didn’t last their group did.

‘I think because most of us were either migrants or from inter-state so we really gravitated towards each other for a support structure and to be there for each other.’

As in any family different people within the group do different things but once a month the whole group gets together.


‘Christmas has always been a big affair with a barbecue or bring and share. We’ve had card playing and games evenings and we’ve become very good at theme parties – ’70s, ’80s, famous couples. Our next event will be a murder mystery evening. We try to be creative and come up with new things.’

Trish said it was wonderful to be part of the family group and believes the groups should be encouraged. 

Many family groups include people of different ages and different family make-up but their group concentrated on families with similar aged children.

‘I would have liked a couple of grandmotherly/grandfatherly figures but the practicalities are that retired couples often want to do other things. We had 14 families with younger children who were keen to join our group, so that was the way we went.’



A six-member National Coordinating Team of lay people plus Fr Brian Traynor coordinate the Passionist Family Group Movement throughout Australia.

Team member Dennis Morris said that if anyone is interested in forming a family group the best way to proceed was to do some basic research on Movement at the website and talk to someone from the Movement.

He then suggests seeking support from the parish priest and parish pastoral council. If the proposal is supported the parish council should seek a meeting with representatives of the Movement.

Images: The Gurney family; the Family Group celebrating St Patrick's Day


Topic tags: thecatholictradition, familylife, healthycommunitylife

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