19 October 2007

Down Under

For about the past two weeks, I have been conducting a visitation of the friars in Australia. This is my first time in the "Down Under", and I have been very impressed by the life and work of the friars here. There is a commemorative plaque in front of the provincialate in Leichhardt (Sydney) that gives a good summary of the history of the Capuchins in Australia. Here is a portion of that commemoration:

The Catholic Church, anticipating a boom in unassisted Italian migration after the Second World War, handed over St Fiacres to the Capuchin Order in 1946, to provide assistance. The first priests were Italian Americans including Fr Atanasio Paoletti. They met the boats and provided advice on housing and jobs to initially mainly single men. As well as providing religious services they became a meeting place, conducted dances, set up sporting clubs etc. Many settled at least initially in Leichhardt, some 90 families lived along Catherine Street, and many worked in local industry or construction, or established businesses here. As a consequence Leichhardt became associated with Italians.

Some 60,000 Italian migrants were assisted by the Capuchins, many married and baptised their children here. Many of the children attended St Fiacres School.

The San Francesco Catholic Italian Association set up sporting and social programs, ran dances, sporting clubs, built a recreation hall at St Fiacres, and a kindergarten in Styles Street, all with volunteers. The annual Australia Day picnics on the Harbour and at Clifton Gardens were major events in the 1950's. The Capuchins also started the Italian press that became La Fiamma, and Italian language programs for children, now carried out by Co.As.It.

As the consequence of the Italian influx, Parramatta Road boomed from the 1950s as the Saturday morning shopping strip and 'passeggiatta'. Many clubs, restaurants, cafes and shops were established along Parramatta Road and into Norton Street forming the nucleus of what is now the centre of Italian Australian culture in Sydney.

The Capuchins at St Fiacres have a central place in the history of Italians throughout Australia.

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