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Salute to Parish Secretaries: Jean Quinlan, St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springwood

Springwood Parish team Jan Malone, Fr Peter Connelly and Jean Quinlan
On the parish team at Springwood are (from left): fellow parish secretary Jan Malone, Parish Priest Fr Peter Connelly and Jean Quinlan. Photo: Virginia Knight.

By Virginia Knight

After a career spanning several decades and encompassing everything from private enterprise to government departments, schools and parishes in both the Anglican and Catholic Churches, Jean Quinlan joined the parish team at St Thomas Aquinas, Springwood in 2000 as the Parish Secretary.

“I have been thinking that all the things I have done (during my career) have prepared me for this,” Jean said as she reflected on all the work experiences that have helped to develop her skills.

Born in Sydney in 1940 in the middle of WWII, Jean is the second eldest of five girls (and an identical twin). Her parents, Vera and Joseph Dunn, lived in Mascot and the girls attended the local schools, Mascot Central Primary and Gardeners Road High.

Like many girls of her era, Jean had completed a commercial course at school, which included bookkeeping and typing in order to go straight into office employment.

While still at school, Jean was recruited by the ES&A Bank (English, Scottish & Australian Bank) and upon completing her Intermediate certificate the bank put her through business college to learn how to use the accounting machines for data processing.

After two-and-half years with the bank Jean and her twin sister went into nursing at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for a year. As she was tall, Jean seemed to get all the ‘lifting’ jobs in orthopaedics. And while it wasn’t ultimately her forte, she felt the time was not wasted as it was a great life experience.

It was when she returned to office work that she met Jim Quinlan, who was the accountant, and a work romance flourished. At age 29, Jean married Jim “a staunch Catholic” in his parish church of St Michael’s Hurstville.

Jean left work to have their first child but had intermittent casual work. In 1975, they moved to Narrabri bringing up their family on 28 acres, five miles outside town. “It was like coming home. My grandfather had acreage at Castlereagh and I always felt a country girl at heart.”

Jean was baptised an Anglican and although Jim never requested it, when she was 40 and living in Narrabri, she went through the process and became a Catholic. The couple already had three children: Melinda, Jane and Paul.

It was in 1980 when all the children were at school and Jean was volunteering at both the Catholic school they attended and her Anglican parish that she contracted pneumonia. “I never stopped. I was always on the go in both volunteer and casual work. I had to stop and reassess what I was doing and what were my priorities.”

With the influence of the Holy Spirit, Jean felt drawn to the Catholic Church and began attending Mass with Jim and the children. “It started when I had begun to question the teachings of the Anglican Church while doing Bible study.

“Once I realised the Real Presence was in the Eucharist, it wasn’t such a big thing as the Mass (at the time) was similar to the Anglican Communion Service”.

Jean was confirmed in the Catholic faith and received first Communion in the presence of her mother, children and family.

In 1991, the family returned to Sydney settling in Winmalee. Jean reflects that the best thing about working in a parish, what really sets it apart from her other occupations, is the opportunity of working with the parishioners.

Having lived for almost 20 years in the parish (and worked in the office for 10), Jean has experienced great joy in watching a generation of children grow up, get married and have families, helping them to book weddings and baptisms. So much so, she admits that sometimes she feels like a member of their extended family.

Recently, Jean celebrated her 70th birthday and it is a testimony to how important she is in the lives of those at Springwood that when the office staff gave her a surprise morning tea, many of the parishioners turned up to help her celebrate. “It was such a surprise. I had no idea. It was just wonderful to feel so appreciated and loved.”

This month, Jean starts 17 weeks’ holidays and long service. So how does ‘the hub of the parish’ (as she describes the role of parish secretary) intend to fill her time during such a lengthy absence?

She will spend six weeks travelling around Europe, including attending the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany. On her return she and her twin sister, Joyce, will bushwalk to Wilsons Promontory, the southern-most point of mainland Australia.

For the rest of the time she plans to join the local bushwalking club and catch up on her knitting and sewing.

I admit to feeling exhausted just hearing her talk about it! What was that about never stopping Jean?

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