Ex Pastorelle Sister Speaks Out

Above, second from left, are  two photos of me as a schoolgirl of 16 about to be abducted by the Pastorelle Sisters and sent to Italy to their Novitiate, and of me as a Postulant-(trainee nun) in Italy not yet 17, so still a child.  

Below is an Open letter to the current Sister in Charge (Superior) of the Pastorelle Sisters, Sr Mary La Bruna.
Mary used to be my friend. I assisted her to enter the Congregation Pastorelle Sisters helping her to overcome her parents' disapproval. However, since  I wrote of my experiences in my Submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry, none of the sisters will respond to me, Mary will not respond to me.....all doors are closed because the real TRUTH has to be contained by a 'more acceptable version' served up to the public in what they call a  completely professional historical account of the work of the Pastorelle Sisters in Australia- the booklet" Building Community". In that account, the first Australian vocation to join the Pastorelle Sisters appears to be an Australian girl who joined six years after I was abducted into the convent and sent to Italy in a hurry, whom I met in 1966 on my return to Australia whom I briefly tutored in Gregorian Chant as a Novice,  and who remains among the Pastorelle  Sisters today.

I had no intention of elaborating very much but she learnt from me that I'd been the very first Anglo-Australian vocation to the Pastorelles...when she and most everyone else post "Building Community" believed that to be Sr. Doreen Bentley...and sufficient has been written and

TO SISTER MARY LA BRUNA    Pastorelle Sisters   Bundoora VIC.

Dear  Mary

I've often seen you mentioned on the internet and have wished you well. I am sad to see that the Pastorelles have no Australian vocations and that they really have not set aside their Italian ways...things could have been very different. The Congregation could have flourished here in Australia with more breadth of vision and a little less..."arrogance",  always regarded  as zeal and enthusiasm,  but which  brought very little vocational expansion to the Congregation as far as Australian girls when the time may have been so right.
In CH8/2 of your book about the Australian history of the Pastorelle Sisters , it is written, on p. 135:- " While most of their early contacts were Italian migrants...refugees and migrants from other countries now form a large percentage of their work..." " ...these simple beginnings enabled them to respond to the emerging needs of the Australian people."   What a pity that the Apostolate of the Pastorelle Sisters never encompassed the Anglo-Australian people, and now never will. In my day, ( a time that the Australian Congregation does not even acknowledge, there was the opportunity to comprehend what Australians were all about and so minister to them. In 1973-5 the Congregation lost three Professed sisters and I was among them. and the Stanthorpe house was closed. Stanthorpe could have been a very valuable stepping stone to  serving Australians in parish capacities alongside the priests struggling in the vast Australian outback to minister to far flung communities of both white Australians and Aboriginal Australians. But Mother Liugia could not see this. She was stuck on...'Italianism". She did not support integration, so the  Pastorelle Sisters still lack a truly Australian flavour. 

Sr. Rita, in "Building Community" p.69, CH4/21 tries to explain away the Congregation's culpability. It is very obvious the reference to me: " The sister found the expressions of pastoral ministry open to her were limiting...due to a lack of a full appreciation of the pastoral charism of the Pastorelle Sisters."  I think that after 14 years, I would have had a better understanding of "the charism"
and how it applied to the Australian apostolate than any other member of the Congregation at the time. Why did the Congregation keep on losing members who would have formed the cornerstones of the Congregation in Australia giving it a truly Australian flavour?  Had the Stanthorpe foundation been managed properly, had Mother Luigia allowed for the different approaches to the apostolate that were needed, had she not clung to the Congregation's Italian ways even "in house" and had she been willing to learn rather than pontificating and ill treating me for trying to assist in this transformation yet not lose the spirit, maybe the Pastorelle Sisters could have flourished working in their true apostolate today alongside parish priests in Australia and in true Australian character!  Ideas of racial,  cultural and religious superiority stifled its charism. There will be no Australian girls. The ones that left were badly treated and the Congregation tells lies to cover up its breaches of the law and its arrogance. One of the Filipina sisters there at Bundoora thinks that Australia needs to be evangelised, needs to assume a more "Roman/ Italian" approach to religion? If that extremely presumptuous and arrogant attitude persists the Pastorelle sisters will never realise their charism in Australia. It was not those who left who were at fault!

I am writing to you at the suggestion of the current Vicar for Religious. I contacted her with a question that has been in my mind for many years. Had I been told  that there was such a person as a Vicar for Religious at a time when I needed the advice of someone  sympathetic,  conversant with religious life, somebody impartial, somebody Australian, would I have found myself with other solutions and options apart from the only one I could see glaring me in the face - Leave!?
in a manner that would lead to that conclusion. It seems that, even though I left, I am a bigger secret than most of the others who did so! Mary, I do not expect your allegiance or even your sympathy, I know well where these are required to lie, but I do believe you need to hear a few truths from me about things that brought about many unsavoury and damaging situations for the Congregation during my time...things that I am writing here and in my Submission, under Parliamentary Privilege, to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into abuses of children in religious organisations...my concentration being on my time among the Pastorelle Sisters.
You may know little of how I came to be a Pastorelle Sister unless you have read my submission to the Senate Inquiry of 2004-5 or unless you have be swayed by more appropriate "in house" versions of the truth. I am about to accuse  the Pastorelle Sisters of Abduction and of all the consequences and  abuses I suffered because of it. Below is some background information on how, in the early days, Alberione went about getting..."labourers for his vineyard".

The priest, JAMES
ALBERIONE, looked for vulnerable "youngsters",
those he could easily convince, whose parents were impoverished.

In the early days of Alberione's foundations it is stated in his writings that he accquired mainly what are being termed (by the translator of his writings Fr. Mike Byrnes) - "YOUNGSTERS", meaning more specifically - children. ALberione recruited underage girls for the Pastorelles, girls as young as 12. Mother Celina was one of these...and there were others to whom, in their parent's impoverished lives post WWII, when many lived in squalid hovels, ALBERIONE offered education, accomodation, shelter, food and a "career" that brought respect...all very attractive and alluring. Some were lured by their own sisters already in the Congregation...have a holiday in Rome, meet the saintly Founder Alberione and receive his blessing. Many of these "youngsters" did not return home to their parents, and the parents dared not object to what they were told emphatically was "God's Will"!  Mother Tarcisia Giannina Magarotto, by her own account was one of these girls. It is not true that her parents were happy to see their children as religious...they were resigned and dared not be otherwise! Nobody contradicted the Church in those days, it was all too powerful and intimidating.
Alberione was gathering support in church circles for his visionary foundations. His was of the opinion that his "God's Will" excuse put him above all other laws, including Canon Law as well as civil law...if he could contravene these and get away with it...it was "God's Will". He sent Sr. Giannina Tarcisia Magarotto ( the first superior in Australia) to the Diocese of Milan at 21 together with a 17 yr old 'suorina" to open a house. Suorine were postulants recently received who  wore the whole habit so to be indistinguishable from professed sisters. The Bishop of Milan had not invited Alberione's nuns to his Diocese,( a requirement of Canon Law),  and he did not know of their presence.  When he discovered this, he called them "mere girls dressed up as nuns" and wanted to send them home to their mothers....until he was swayed by Alberione's growing reputation. Alberione's retort was "How else would I have got the Pastorelles into the Diocese of Milan?"...( if not by subterfuge!) Milan is a Diocese of Ambrosian Rite. Its Bishop has more "clout"
Many in Alberione's congregations were unsuited but, most probably as I did,  finding they had no other option, stayed and resolved to make the best of their fate. Alberione would reconfirm their doubts and fears impressing on them the infamous "God's Will" excuse and encouraged  them to put their Faith in his (Alberione's) faith. He would say that he had enough Faith for himself and  for those distressed, underage recruits who'd found themselves in a convent through no free choice of their own, through pressure from adult superiors,  talked  into religious life not having had any choices and because of their parents' poverty. Alberione knew they would stay  after a few years of careful indoctrination! I stayed because I could not excape. When I tried to run and hide until it was dark and then escape they found me and sweet-talked me. This manner of "fostering vocations" was very common in Italy and they though they could continue to steal girls in the same manner in Australia. They succeeded with me because I had nobody to defend me. I would have loved to have had parents who objected as strongly as yours did!  I would have felt precious and loved! I remember when they stormed into the convent at Thornbury and made you go home when you were 17 and that when you turned 18 you went back  and there was nothing they could do to stop you. My poor Mum was not given that opportunity. At 16 I was hurried up a gangplank of a ship flanked by two nuns like two bodyguards who would not let me talk to anyone lest somebody discover that, although I seemed much older, I was only a child and they had no right to do this, and they had no parental consent and they had lied about the reason for my departure from Australia..."holiday 3 years" the details read. It was all extremely underhanded and illegal and being so young and naive, I did not know what to do except go along with it and hope I could get away somehow later...that smething would happen, that the Mother general would deem me unsuitable.... but she'd been stolen herself, she was not equipped to judge.                                                                                **************************************************************************************************************************  Have you heard? There is to be a FEDERAL ROYAL COMMISSION about sexual and other abuse of children by religious organmisations?
This is my time, Mary, time for the Pastorelle Sisters to give me back the fruits of the life opportunities they stole from me when I was a defenceless child.
I am also  sending you this letter by registered mail so I know you will receive it at least.
You would be aware that I was THE FIRST AUSTRALIAN girl to join the Pastorelle Sisters...but everyone who knows the Pastorelle Sisters today, including the Vicar for Religious, believes that person to be Sr.Doreen. What did I do that I am somebody to be so extremely ashamed of?
Rather than my shame it belongs to the Congregation. They comitted an illegal act. I left the Congregation so my name is not mentioned, but also not mentioned is that I was ever among you. Sr. Doreen seems to pop up at every place and in every work where I was and that is what  would be termed  today as -' SUS'.

Abducted by nuns
The Pastorelle Sisters' compatriot advisers in 1959 told them that what they were doing was illegal...to take a girl out of her country without parental consent and behind her sole parent's back...but they did it anyway and their compatriots helped them. Mrs. Lena Santospirito provided the passage and the money for my 'nun' clothes, an Italian solicitor got me a passport...with lies about my status...Were the nuns  my guardians? Really? There was also another girl of 18 whom the Pastorelle Sisters had sent to W.A so her parents could not find her. She joined me on the ship five days later at Newcastle and, when the Oceania docked at Messina in Sicily, the police and her relatives dragged her off the ship and made her get married. Her name was Franca. I have photographs of our trip.  She lives in Melbourne. I've spoken to her.

Franca may have had a vocation but I certainly did not. This  was not important!  What was important was a FIRST AUSTRALIAN VOCATION at any cost! Every time I wanted to come back I was talked out of it with pious words and affection (which I craved having been neglected all my life as a child). It was so unconscionable to use my vulnerabilities against me! It took many years of suffering and doubt to "grow a vocation". Once they'd returned me to Australia I had been, by that time, "well cooked and seasoned" to the point that even my Australian identity had disappeared. My Australian identity had become the property of the Congregation. I was Sister Mary Ester and Robin Henderson, Australian born citizen of Australians was somebody they used for convenience. I was unwittingly involved in defrauding of money the Victorian government Department of Health that oversaw Kindergartens, in contravening migration law to bring a Filipina girl into the country under false pretences in exchange for the patronage of wealthy Filipinos in Manilla. My signature was a valuable comodity! It brought in funds! The idea was that if you could get away with it then it was "God's Will". I was so incensed one day that I said this to Mother Luigia and she thought she had the right to punch me in the face, slap me around with those large peasant hands of hers, break and bloody my nose and my collar bone and then deny it ever happened. I'd slipped and fallen! She would not let me see a doctor, much less an Australian doctor who might have discovered how I'd come to be in there!
I was preparing to go to the police when Sr. Adele and Sr. Candida rushed into the old Comas Grove house where I slept, and they talked me out of it.
 There's much more to this story...there's the next seven years of my life as Sr. Ester and more abuse and lies until I became so ill.... I left the Pastorelle Sisters in August 1973 close to my 30th birthday. I was a broken woman in body and mind. The nuns were glad to get rid of me, I was no longer useful, no longer fit for work. Surgery had robbed me of my voice and of my womanhood...not that they cared about that, but there was no hope for a different life surrounded by children. How much is that worth?

There is an EPILOGUE to every story, dear Mary and I am writing the one to "Building Community".
 The ROYAL COMMISSION announced yesterday is my opportunity to tell my country what happened to me.

I wo
uld like you, Mary, to think on these things here on this website and ponder what the Pastorelle Sisters might owe me now that I am 69 and have suffered the consequences of my abduction by them all my life. I would like to have my mortgage paid off. i would like an annuity sufficient to meet my every day living expenses and to have an annual holiday and to cover Private Medical, Hospital and Dental insurance. Mother Luigia, in 1973, cancelled my MBF knowing I had pre-existing illness and would never get insurance again and at a time when all I was receiving as income was $43 a fortnight Pension when rent was $15 a week. Today I get an Age Pension of $700 a fortnight...and by comparison, my electricity bill is $269. I've lived in REAL POVERTY, (not evangelical poverty where all needs are met) for 36 years.  I think the Pastorelle Sisters owe me some relief from this state. I need a new vehicle. A  1996 Holden won't last much longer. I do not think the sisters would drive one, do you, Mary? There's so much more to this story, Mary and it will all come out in the ROYAL COMMISSION. It think it would be a good idea if the Pastorelle Sisters, now they have the opportunity to do this with dignity, would restore the life they stole from me along with the opportunities I would have had to make a good living, by offering me the equivalent to what I would have accrued today to live out my old age in a comfortable, worry and stress-free way. Even if the sisters need to sacrifice some of their own comfort and security to do this, it is not too much to ask in the circumstances and in accordance with evangelical charity...."give your coat as well!"...if these are not just nice words. The Pastorelle Sisters owe me my life and I request that they, in conscience, (if possible), pay me what they owe. This is a debt that will keep on accruing. This is a debt that is owed with interest, a debt  for which I have records and that cannot be denied as my name and my very existence among you all is being denied 
 - So, I was never at the Hostel at Rathdowne Street Carlton? Australian girls just passed through...or stayed at St. Ann's.    My photographs and official documents tell a different story.
You, Mary, of all the sisters, are the one who can make this happen of the will of the Australian Congregation.
I prefer discretion but this is not the choice I can make.   I remember you as  always.


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