It has been 50 years since the Sister Disciples of the Australian Delegation took up the invitation to come to Melbourne and care for the sick and retired diocesan priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Since then, we have looked after more than 150 priests from across the Archdiocese. Our many years of dedicated service and care was acknowledged at a special luncheon held at the Veneto Club in Bulleen on September 21, 2023.
Organised by the Priests Retirement Foundation, the large gathering brought together representatives from the Sister Disciples, active and retired priests of the Archdiocese and staff from George Maher House and Justin Villa, where the retired priests of the Archdiocese reside.
We prepared a video in which we presented the history of this special priestly ministry and some sisters, including Mother Immaculata Parrotta, spoke about their experiences in this ministry. The video presentation was greatly appreciated by all in attendance.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli thanked the sisters for their tremendous love and care towards the retired priests living at Justin Villa and George Maher House, and presented them with a special blessing from Pope Francis. ‘On your behalf, I’d like to say thank you to the sisters for their faith and for their pastoral care.
This new initiative in the Congregation was a direct response to an invitation from Cardinal James Knox, who, as Archbishop of Melbourne, was keen to provide a place of care for priests who were sick or who had reached retirement age. The Cardinal had witnessed the devotion and care shown by the sisters to clergy and religious of the Society of St Paul in India, where he had previously served as Apostolic Nuncio for a number years.
In 1972, the first priest retirement house in Melbourne was established—Moran House—providing care for sick and elderly priests of the time. The house was blessed by Cardinal John Cody of Chicago, USA, in 1973, during his visit to Melbourne for the 40th International Eucharistic Congress.
One of the first sisters to care for the priests at Moran House was Mother Immacolata Parrotta, who remembers receiving ‘a great welcome’ from Cardinal Knox, ‘who was very happy to find a religious congregation that had as part of their vocation and charism the care for priests.’
‘I remember very well that when I arrived in Sydney, Mother Annunziata welcomed me and then we together with another sister, immediately left for Melbourne because there was no time to waste, since the Cardinal wanted to start Moran House in Kew as soon as possible,’ she recalls. ‘The Cardinal believed strongly in the power of our charism.
It’s a charism that has continued to provide joy and comfort to many priests over the years, with sisters coming from all over the world, including from Italy, Brazil, Malta, Spain, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, India, Samoa and Tonga.
In her speech, Sr Maria, the Delegation superior said, ‘I can attest that each sister has always found fulfilment and enrichment in carrying out this ministry,’ She acknowledged, however, that it is not always an easy transition into retirement for many priests, who, after years of service and leadership in the community, may feel a sense of loss and helplessness.
‘We have always been very much aware that most of the priests were very reluctant to come to these homes as they were afraid of losing their independence,’ she said. ‘Therefore the sisters have always tried to create a warm, welcoming and homely atmosphere for these priests who have given so many years of dedication and priestly service to the people of God.’
Sr Maria said she and the congregation were looking forward to continuing to ‘live out with joy and dedication the charism of the Eucharistic, Priestly and Liturgical ministry entrusted to us by our founder Blessed James Alberione’, for many years to come.
‘We ask for your prayers, especially for vocations, so that we can continue to carry out this ministry of caring for those who cared, hopefully for another 50 years!’