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St Johns Parish Waterford - Christian Services
Christian Services in St. John’s
The Christian Services group was formed in   the mid 1970’s to answer two identified needs for older people. First a laundry service for older parishioners living alone –this at a time when washing machines and dryers were not a basic requirement in every household. Two washing machines and an industrial dryer were purchased and the help of the Jubilee Nurses was sought to collect and deliver washing on a fortnightly basis. The other need was a social outlet for senior citizens and so a Christmas party and summer outing became annual parish events.
At that time several musical societies were putting on shows in Waterford and De La Salle Mus.Soc., approached St. John’s Christian Services to bring an audience of over 60’s to a preview of their show. It soon became obvious that it was too big an undertaking for one parish group and so the Combined Parishes was established with representatives from the eight city parishes plus Ferrybank and Tramore. Our Parish Priest Fr. Paul Murphy was appointed Spiritual Director and remained with the group for over thirty years. At that time all the local musical societies and the Pantomime Society invited Waterford’s senior citizens to their pre-views. Over the years the theatre scene has changed in Waterford but one event that flourished for thirty years was the annual Over 60’s Talent Contest and St. John’s produced two winners, the late Claire McGrath and the late Tom Mulligan and many placed contestants including the late Maura Byrne, the late Lizzie Ormonde and Mr. Jack Morrissey.
 In the late 1980’s it became apparent that there was a need for more opportunities for socialising for older people and regular monthly dances, afternoon pongo and afternoon Bowls. Every year the challenge was to come up with an even better itinerary for the summer outing and we visited  Bunratty, Kilkenny and Cahir Castles, Dublin Zoo, Fota Island and Cobh, The National Stud and Japanese Gardens, the Women’s Prison, in Cork to mention just a few.  The annual Christmas party became a full Christmas dinner and dance – held in Dooley’s Hotel but for many years we cooked and served the traditional turkey and ham ourselves. The late Sr. Monica in Lady Lane House (Meals on Wheels)  very kindly handed over her kitchen to us from Saturday afternoon when Margaret Hayes, Maura Byrne, May McCarthy and Kathleen Sherry set to work preparing and cooking until six on Sunday night when Martin Daly, Declan Hayes and Tom Mulligan loaded the containers into Tom’s van when they drove post haste to the parish centre and after the sale of the hall, Waterford Rugby Club. On arrival the late Clare McGrath ran the serving of the meal like a military operation with an army of volunteers lined up for inspection prior to serving 100 plus senior citizens and Santa arrived to distribute presents for all.   Claire was a perfectionist in everything she did and nothing but the best would suffice so when at a planning meeting for the party I said I had seen catering packs of stuffing which would save a lot of time and effort Clare raised her hands in horror and said that if that was the case she would make the stuffing herself. I gave in and agreed that nothing but homemade stuffing would be acceptable, so unknown to Clare I added some onions and a couple of packets of butter to the pack and when we arrived from Lady Lane in the hall that night she said it was the nicest stuffing she had ever tasted and I agreed she had been right! Clare died three years ago and I never confessed.
Other favourites were the fancy dress dance on St. Patrick night – Fr. Bobby as Elvis and Pat Grant as Fr. Jack were a memorable duo along with Betty Purcell as a surgeon complete with liver and a lamb’s heart and Maura Skelton in a waitresses outfit decorated with broken crockery “having a smashing time”. At Easter we had an Easter Parade with an array of decorated bonnets on display.
I joined the Christian Services in 1977 and so many people were involved over the years, in addition to those already mentioned were Mary Kennedy, Louise Mahon, Raphael Collins, Nellie Chester, Mary Chester, Breda Murphy, Betty Hurley, Kay and Jim Bray, Kathleen O’Hagan and Tony Wallace. Many young people including the folk group rallied around to help whenever we asked and Brian Aherne, Pat Grant and Stephen King were regular entertainers at the dances. We always had live music and many   bands played for us down the years but the longest serving were John King who collects at 12 Noon Mass on Sundays and Danny Browne, and we considered them honourary members of the Christian Services.
All these activities required funding as we always tried to keep the cost of all the events to a minimum. We held an annual cake sale in July each year, several highly successful raffles which enabled us to purchase and replace equipment for the various activities such as a new bowling mat, delph and boilers as well as new washing machines and dryers.We also managed to replenish the C.B.radios used by the housebound in the parish to hear Mass everyday and purchased 30 new radios   Another source of funding was a  yearly flag day which came about after the late Eily Cullen from the Holy Family Parish told me about the flag day they held to fund the dances they held in the Union Hall. Maura Byrne and I applied for a licence from the Gardai and then (licence in pocket) went to the late Fr. John Boyle for permission to hold the flag day – I think it was Fr. Bobby Power years later who said that it was easier to seek forgiveness than permission, anyway, thankfully Fr. Boyle said it was fine and to go ahead.
For so many years the Christian Services helped to build a real spirit of community and belonging in St. John’s, but in recent years the advent of groups such as the Active Retired Association and the Golden Years Committee meant that there was less demand for our programme and with the loss of the large hall we did not have the facility to expand and change the variety of events we could offer and although the annual Christmas Dinner and Summer Outing were still hugely successful , it was felt that as a group we should make a decision to wind down, with the hope that others would come on board with fresh ideas and hopefully that will happen and someone will take up the baton and develop new ideas for bringing people together in St. John’s.