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I am depicted here above at 26 years of age, as Sr. Esther Henderson, the first Australian recruit to the Pastorelle Sisters from their Hostel in Carlton Melbourne where my mother placed me as a paying boarder so I would have a safe place from where to continue my studies at night and to go to work during the day to earn my living. Mum was a single mother and times were difficult for her. The Pastorelle Sisters, seeing in me the prospect of their first Australian recruit, sent me, at 16 years of age to Italy to their Novitiate. The suggestion was that I go for an extended holiday to see all the wonderful art in Rome, meet th holy Founder of the Congregation...it was a very alluring proposal that turned into my being talked into trying out for religious life. I now believe I was too young to make such a life- commitment and certainly without parental or adult advice from any who had my interests at heart....but the little nuns were zealous and convincing and so I returned as a vows member of the Pastorelle Sisters in October 1966 at 23 years of age. I was totally versed in their culture and language and, in 1970, at the request of the Bishop of the diocese of Toowoomba (incorporating Stanthorpe), I was sent to Stanthorpe on The Granite Belt of Queensland to work among the Italian migrant population. I participated in all their ethnic festivals and contributed with numerous works of art and theatrical productions and musical compositions in the Italian language. I learnt to drive in Stanthorpe. I visited the 13 country schools in the villages of the district teaching the children of the Italian people their culture, their national language and their religious observances since I was well versed in these. I trained a group of 12 women to assist me with this work as the distances to be travelled were great. I enjoyed the work immensely. In this photograph I am seen on the left with Sr. Cesarina Lola Paolini on the right inaugurating one of many murals I created for the ethnic festivities in Stanthorpe. This particular mural was to celebrate the Festa of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe) the worker and patron of the Universal Church...which signified at the time, the assimilation of the Italian people and their culture into Australian culture and way of life...particularly important for the children of these migrant people who were born in Australia...but not to lose their ties with their own heritage...this was important to my work in Stanthorpe. Unfortunately due to grave illness, I left Stanthorpe and after several major surgeries , having lost my speaking and singing voice and being unable to teach and communicate, I left the Pastorelle Sisters. Shortly afterwards the little parish convent "Pastorelle House", housing only three sisters at a time, was closed due to the increasing demand in Melbourne and the lack of personnel. I live in Stanthorpe today as a lay person. I have been here since 1984. Many of the original young people are now parents and grandparents and we keep in contact. I have continued with my artistic persuits and am currently writing my memoirs.
Thank you so much for your post.
This is such wonderful information about this photo. You must have been so excited to go Italy. Do you have Italian heritage? Are you memoirs going to be avaliable on a blog or in a book form at some time? We would love to see them.
We would be so glad to hear any other of your memories or stories of your expereiences during this time. Do you have any other photos of you, your family, your work with the Sisters from this period? If you do it would be fantastic if you could upload these in a 'reply' to this comment or even share them on our Facebook page. We would just love to get some more information about your experiences,You can also find lots of other photos which are organised into various themes at the link below, you could see if there are any other people you know and tag or locate the images https://www.destinationaustralia.gov.au/site/themes.php?task=list
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Thank you again
Love to hear your stories
This first photo is me at 16 - my passport photo all ready to leave for Italy...for my 3 year holiday so the passenger list of the Lloyd Triestino ship "Oceania" reads. I was there close on seven years and came back looking quite different,
Here I am looking very unlike the top fashion designer I thought I was going to be......a Postulant-trainee among the Pastorelle Sisters at 17 in Rome! Surprise!
Here I am looking even LESS like a top fashion designer...September 1966, at 23 yrs, my passport photoready to return to Australia to the main house, Alberione House at Thornbury, Melbourne.
This is me on the day I was vested in the habit of the Pastorelle Sisters at 18 yrs of age ready for the Novitiate......hardly high fashion but not too bad, smiling despite the cap under the veil that pinched my ears and gave me a headache...This was a very unexpected turn of events, didn't quite know what to think swept off my feet and maybe out of my perplexity by the grandeur of the music and ceremonies....I always had a suspicion that the incence they burnt at High Mass and Benediction had some sort of an intoxicating effect that made you feel you were floating on a cloud of reverence.
This was the day I made my final Vows. The Ceremony was held at the Jesus Good Shepherd Kindergarten main room at Alberione House, Thornbury, Melbourne on 3 September 1968. Officiating was Auxiliary Bishop Cullinane, assisted by Father Francis Harman of Clifton Hill and Fr. Mike Byrnes of the Society of St. Paul, their first Australian priest, to whom I'd been introduced in Italy before he was ordained and at whose ordination I had been present at the Crypt of the Basilica Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
The Basilicas and the ceremonies were enough to inspire devotion and awe in anyone....even in a girl who was not quite convinced of what she was doing and rather confused by how she'd come to be there at all....It had all happened so quickly with hardly a second to have any doubts....swept along by the enthusiasm and all the fuss and.... affection. Now here was a word that had always dignified my undoing! I used to keep it well shielded. Affection was my Achilles Heel, and it seemed that "somebody" had discovered it. I finally worked out who that had been, I resented her, blamed myself for letting it happen and, I suppose, got on with the task at hand not really understanding why, not being able to change anything, but trying to do my best at everything as I'd done all my young, unhappy life.
I was the first Perpetually Professed Australian Pastorelle Sister....as well as being the very first Australian girl to be recruited among the Pastorelle Sisters in Italy on 26th February 1960.
I'd sailed to Naples, the trip had taken 29 days and there had been time and activities enough to get distracted about what I thought I might be in for.