Ex Pastorelle Sister Speaks Out


In 1959 I was a fifteen year old schoolgirl just out of boarding school where I'd been for most of my school life. Mum was recently divorced. She suffered violent mood swings during which she would throw things and come after me with the bread knife, followed by calm. She would not remember what she'd done to me. I was often injured and bleeding, living in fear and terror of the next time and I had no other family I could go to. Mum kept me away from them all and from my Dad. I'd packed a bag ready to run, I'd planned to go to  one of the hostels for working girls in the Melbourne, and when that day came Mum saw the sense in this idea, she realised that she'd inflicted the cuts and bruises on my body. The Hostel was at 88 Rathdowne Street Carlton. This was  a Parish owned hostel run by the Pastorelle Sisters for Dr. Percy Jones, Parish Priest of Carlton under the authority of the Archbishop of Melbourne. There were no vacancies at any of the other hostels of this kind. I did not know the real purpose of this Hostel at the time. All the girls were Italian and neither they nor the nuns spoke much English. I did not like this environment, the girls were all much older but I did not want Mum to kill me either, so it had to do. Mum, was as embarrassed as I was afraid. She told the nuns a plausible story and I was in. Mum paid the board and instructed the nuns to oversee that I went to work by day and to College at night to finish my education. I was studying for a Diploma in Design. Mum had worked hard giving me the best education she could.

All went well at the Pastorelle Sisters' Hostel for the first few months. It was like being in boarding school again. We all had to go to Mass on Sunday and participate in the life of the Parish. I was not much for prayers and Masses, not very devout, I'd had my fill in boarding school  with the Sisters of Mercy, but I thought that if I wanted to stay there I had to go along with it all. It wasn't the most comfortable of places. We slept in a dormitory with curtains around our beds. The food was strange...everything was strange,  I felt so lonely and lost and spent my spare time reading in the chapel for some peace and quiet from the Italian chatter. There were three nuns in particular, Sr. Cesarina, Sr. Letizia and Mother Tarcisia who kept looking at me and whispering. They were planning to get me into the convent. A few more months passed and they'd talked me around. I was extremely vulnerable, I craved love and affection and they used this against me. I was a minor, still in the legal custody of my mother, not emancipated, but the Pastorelle Sisters did not care about that, they saw me as their first Australian "catch" and were prepared to violate any law to get me.

In no time at all they'd secured me a passage on a ship to Italy, obtained me a Passport without having the signatures of both my parents on the papers as was required by law for minors, they'd had me inoculated for an overseas trip without the consent of my custodial parent, they'd packed my trunk. They'd had me lie to my Mum about my absences from College and work. I'd been introduced to a Sicilian fruiterer couple who, in exchange for a free trip to Italy were to masquerade as my guardians... and all of a sudden I'd been swept away by nuns whom I'd been taught were never, never to be disobeyed.   

I was ABDUCTED! I was TRAFFICKED, I was stolen and handed into religious servitude to an overseas convent....and I was too young and inexperienced to understand what was happening to me! I had nobody to talk to about it all and I was afraid that if I did not obey the nuns and do what they said was God's Will, I would go to Hell! That's what we were taught right from our early years in Catholic School. The priests and nuns were very powerful. Their authority came directly from God. To disobey or  to disrespect them was a Mortal sin that needed to be told in Confession immediately...or we might die in our sleep with sin on our soul and the Devil would take us!

They controlled us with FEAR then. Today they use lies and the legal system! 

Taken from the custody of my Mother without her consent, whisked away quickly and quietly to become the Pastorelle Sisters' first Australian recruit ever. I was a child! I'd not even had a proper childhood. At just sixteen I was trying to work in an adult world...to save myself from harm, to save Mum from being charged with child endangerment...I did not know about that then but I knew she'd be in trouble if anyone discovered how she treated me. She was all I had. She was my Mum... Looking back, I must have blanked out. I can't remember what was going through my mind. I just went along.

I was totally under their control and did not dare contradict! I was an abused, love- deprived, vulnerable child trying to earn my living in an adult world, trying not to get killed or maimed for life by my own mother who had a terrible illness. The Pastorelle Sisters, true to Catholic church practise, had preyed on the most vulnerable! They saw I had nobody to protect me and took full advantage of my situation.

I could not defend myself against them. I was being sent to Italy on the Oceania- of the Loyd Triestino line, a voyage of 28 days. Mum, when she discovered what had happened, threw away her job in a legal firm and disappeared, never to be found again for 30 years. 

Looking back I am horrified!

The Pastorelle Sisters just came into Australia, disregarded our laws, stole a mother's only child to send off to their Father Founder... to be a nun, destroying the young girl's future and dreams, devastating her life and her health and the mother's life...and felt they were justified in everything because they were obeying God's will!

How could that happen in Australia?

My life was destroyed in every way imaginable. I was detained in Italy for seven years...they held my Passport and allowed it to expire, kept me there long enough for anyone who suspected foul play to forget. My Mum roamed from one house keeping job to another I discovered many years later. She'd 'phone the convent but I was never told or allowed to speak to her. She's get other nuns to ring me up and they were put off. The Pastorelle Sisters turned me against my mother. When I made my Final Vows in 1966 I was not allowed to find her and have her at the ceremony. I had nobody around me on that day. The others had all their family and friends. I din not question why this was done to me. 

Spending seven years in Italy I forgot how to speak English! On returning I was asked at Immigration how I had obtained an Australian Passport! I had to produce my Birth Certificate! I was nearly denied entry! 

The shock of it all has hit me now as I write this 53 years later!

At the Australian Embassy in Rome in September 1966 I was offered asylum. It was suspected that I'd been abducted. My Passport was that of a child and had expired two years beforehand..and here I was a nun, claiming to be an Australian citizen whom they'd never heard of and who could not speak English! I was too afraid to accept the protection that was offered. I wish I had! But I did not understand any of what was happening! I was 23 and had been locked in a convent for seven years. I knew nothing of the world and how it worked. I had no idea of the enormity of the crime that the Pastorelle Sisters had committed. Nobody had come to rescue me. Nobody told me anything. Nobody suspected.

Why would anyone have suspected such a thing?

My life among the Pastorelle Sisters seems to be a nightmare. The more years go by the worse it gets trying to come to terms with all that happened to me as a member of that religious organisation!

I was abused in every way - stolen into religious servitude,worked until I was exhausted, ill nourished, my health was neglected and I was too scared to complain since the health practices in Italy were barbaric.The dentists used arsenic to kill the nerves in teeth for root canal fillings and one had to endure the pain of a dying nerve...and not complain. There was an infestation of head lice, many of the girls came down with TB. I was sent to hospital with nephritis and to this day do not know what was really the matter. During an appendectomy my cervix was removed and I was not told!

They made me childless! They took away my womanhood!

As the years pass me by, having run for my life from the convent, I live alone without any family, no children and no means, in ill health and I wonder how the Catholic Church can be allowed to stay in this country when these are the sorts of terrible things it inflicts on unsuspecting good, people, preying like an insidious shadow on the unprotected and most vulnerable...leaving their whole lives in ruin. 

These are the "wolves in sheep's clothing"!
How many more innocent Australian children will fall prey?
How many more parents will be intimidated into doing nothing?

Faced with this up-coming Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, hides behind The Melbourne Response, refuses to make amends and states that the Catholic church in Melbourne has nothing to hide! 

"The Bishops simply do not care about victims of abuse by priests or nuns. They may say nice things but words are cheap. They will not help unless they are forced to do so."  Rev.Thomas Doyle

Today 13th October 2012, I approached The Melbourne Response Independent Commissioner to have this case heard and amends made. This is my  third  attempt to be heard. My requests have   been met with evasive, lazy and uncaring excuses. A letter from the Archdiocesan solicitor Richard leder attempted to intimidate me into not lodging this or any other complaint against the church after I successfully laid one against a sex abuser priest. The letter was illegal and could in no way prevent me from putting as many cases as I need to present.  I have written to Peter O'Callaghan giving him the details written on this website and directing him to this website.  I hope that the Archdiocese's "FACING THE TRUTH" Submission is sincere in EVERY WORD..One needs to be careful of words when the Church is involved...they are written by lawyers who can make words that mean one thing to most people assume hidden meanings. The church is a greedy corporation hiding behind God and only interested in  power, money and in dominating  all the world and its people...that has been so since the days of the Inquisition. Time will tell if the Archbishop really intends the words he wrote to mean what they are understood to mean by most people...and not have some.." hidden little squiggle" to let the church off facing its crimes and making amends to the victims.
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 1960 Passport photo - 16yrs.

 April 1959 -Top - Mum boards me at the Hostel and thinks I am safe. Left to right- Me, Sr. Letizia Selle, Mum.

December 1959 -Below- The day they got me a Passport.  photo - From left- Sr. Cesarina Paolini, me, Sr. Rosaria Scattini

January 26th 1960,  at 16yrs, they shipped me off to Italy without Mum's permission.

Passport Photo 1966  at 23 for my return to Australia.          

I was confused, desperately unhappy, I had nowhere else  to go to, nobody to talk to. I knew I was very ill, they had eglected my health and made me work hard.

FINAL  VOWS  3 Sept. 1968, 26 yrs,  at the Jesus Good Shepherd Kindergarten -200 Smith Street Thornbury.        

Bishop Cullinane,  Fr. Mike Byrnes,  Fr.Francis Harman ...and nobody else, no family, no friends....I was a big secret!

 Sr. Esther Henderson in the grounds of 13 Corundum St. "Pastorelle House" Stanthorpe 1972

 Sr. Cesarina Lola Paolini, she sewed my clothes, took me to have my innoculations and talked me around, she could make herself understood well when she wanted to achieve something.        (photo- pastorelle sisters' archives)

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