It is easy to imagine my own Catholic upbringing as a somewhat modern adaptation of John O’Brien’s Around the Boree Log and St. Mel’s Parish – an Australian classic that brings to life, in poetical verse, parochial life of early Irish settlers in the bush. I was raised in a large Catholic family of nine children in rural Australia. Coming in at number eight, I was never short of siblings to play or argue with. Having a hit of cricket or a kick of the footy were regular activities out the back. My father is a post-war Italian immigrant to Australia who married my Australian mother of Irish-Welsh descent; they met at a local Church picnic. My dad built our local church, presbytery and parish centre and my mum has always been very active in parish life as well as giving the old parishioners reason to dote over every new addition to the family.
An historian once stated, “My view of history is that it’s also a basis for the future and should be future orientated. There is no future in nostalgia.” It is in this perspective that I comprehend my vocation, inasmuch as a vocation comprises the first seeds sewn many years before the harvesting of those since matured seeds and in knowing them we may know ourselves and recognise the instances of grace that fill the pages of our own personal story.
As we sat in our garden, the familiar scent of Wattle and Eucalyptus filled our nostrils in the warm night air. Between a thoughtful pause and a lethal thwack of another mossie, my dad sipped his glass of red and the cat brushed its tail against our legs.
“What d’ya reckon?” he’d always inquire, that blithe grin upon his face, as he reflected on the past and relished in the present. In those moments it seemed to me that the past and future had converged, and “through the hush of my heart in the spell of its dreaming” I couldn’t help but feel my future like a ship that longed to embark. Just as many years ago my dad had sailed across the ocean to an unknown land and an uncertain future, so I had my sights set offshore, albeit with the advantages of a further 50 years of technological advancement in transatlantic navigation!
At age seventeen, I found myself on the other side of the world on cultural exchange in Italy. For the next year I would call Sora my home. It was no trauma for me being so far away from the world I knew, blessed as I was with a wonderful host family and in a beautiful and characteristic location in central Italy that was enough to enchant any traveler looking for an authentic piece of Italy. I had opted to go on exchange in the hope of broadening my cultural horizons, little had I discerned what really lay on the horizon ahead of me.
One month before I was due to return home, the Apostles of the Interior Life would find themselves in mission visiting high schools in Sora and I would find myself on the receiver’s end of an invitation to “come and see.” Moved by a sense that this was more than just a chance meeting, I sensed the voice of Another inviting me. I found myself captured by the words of these sisters – words that carried with them a weight that only an encounter with Grace could explain. During this time I couldn’t help but feel invaded by a familiar presentiment of past and future converging – not unlike the reality of Italy really – this time, a past that spanned more than two thousand years. I once read that no one is a Christian for thirty, forty or fifty years, but for two thousand years. We are all heirs of the universal Church – whose horizons alone could beckon this ship!
“For the tapers are lit in the humble old dwelling, and the love that it sheltered is calling me home.”