Arrival of nuns to Canberra

The first Sisters from ‘The Adorers of the Precious Blood of Christ’ came to Australia on the 14th December 1963, and lived at the Croatian Catholic Centre, Clifton Hill in Melbourne. The idea for the Sisters to begin working in Canberra came to fruition with the arrival of Fr Mato Bonic. On the 20th April 1971, Fr Mato Bonic wrote to the Sisters’ authorities in Zagreb, requesting that they send Sisters from their Order to Canberra. The Sisters initially intended to rent a house in Canberra, and then at some later stage to build appropriate accommodation.  On the 23rd August 1971, they received permission from their superiors to do this.

Sister Klara Jakovljevic came to Canberra on the 31st August 1971 to meet with Fr Mato Bonic.   They visited Archbishop Cahill together with Mr Marko Babic to seek permission for the Croatian Sisters to live and work amongst Croatians in Canberra. Archbishop Cahill was not able to provide the Sisters with financial assistance, but allowed them to live temporarily at Archbishop’s House.  Two of the Sisters worked as paid housekeepers in the House, while the remaining Sisters worked pastorally amongst their countrymen. The Archbishop gave them permission to look for land and build a house, and pledged to help them in this endeavour.

On the 27th November 1971, the first Sisters from the Order arrived in Canberra: Sister Klara Jakovljevic and Sister Josipa Santo, and later Sisters Emanuela Tutic and Cecilia Glibo.  Two of the Sisters worked at the Archbishop’s House, and two others began work with the Croatian Community.

On the 26th February 1973, Sister Mihelina Antunovic and Sister Leopolda Malek came to Canberra, while Sisters Emanuela Tutic and Cecilija Glibo returned to Zagreb in that year. After many failed attempts to find suitable land and acquire sufficient finances to build a house, the Sisters finally bought a house at 6 Templeton St, Cook.  The house required some modification before it was rendered suitable for the Sisters to live and work in it.  On the 3rd of August 1973, Sister Leopolda Melek, Sister Mihelina Antunovic, Sister Tereza Kuzmic, and Sister Klara Jakovljevic moved into the house in Cook, and Sisters Marija Cosic and Julia Galir went to work at Archbishop’s House. The double garage was converted, one part for a chapel, and the other to serve as a child minding centre.  The Sisters earned money from running a child minding centre and also through providing music tuition.

Shortly following their arrival in Canberra, the Sisters undertook responsibility for the church choir.  This choir ‘St Cecilia’ is an important part of the liturgy, and will continue for as long as the Croatian Community continues in Canberra.  The first Sister to lead the choir was Sister Cecilija Gibo; other Sisters who also led the choir included Sister Iluminata Antunovic, Sister Slavica Turcic, Sister Judita Baljkas and Sister Leopolda Melek.  The Sisters led liturgical singing in the church at St Mary’s, St Patrick’s in Braddon, Sacred Heart in Queanbeyan, occasionally at St Christopher’s Cathedral in Manuka, and also at St Raphael’s in Queanbeyan.

First Croatian church choir

First Croatian church choir “St.Cecilia”

The Sisters also took part in the religious education of children at their home in Cook. In May 1972, the Sisters began the Croatian Ethnic School.  The School was held at both of the Croatian Ethnic Clubs and later at the Technical College in Reid. Charity was an integral part of the Sisters’ mission in Canberra, and they began the Croatian Charity Centre in 1991.  Sister Slavica Turcic and Mrs Branka Vlaicevic were responsible for the creation of this Centre.  The office was first located in their home, and then later at the Croatian Catholic Centre at Braddon, and then finally found its permanent home at the Griffin Centre, in the centre of Canberra’s CBD.

The Sisters were active in the Croatian Village (Nursing Home and Residential Dwellings for the elderly) from its beginning.  Sister Andjelita Sokic and Sister Slavica Turcic were members of the Village’s Committee.  At the completion of building works in 1994, the Sisters came to live at the Croatian Village in order to be closer to the older people there.  They stayed there until 1998 at which time they bought a house in Weston. Work at the Charity Centre increased as the number of elderly in the Community rose.  This prompted Sister Julia Galir, in 1988, to form a group of volunteers to visit those in need.  When the Croatian Catholic Centre moved to St Augustine’s Parish in Farrer, it became easier to undertake such activities.

With the support of the Croatian Catholic Centre, a group of lay people together with the Sisters began a lay group called ‘Maria de Mattias’ – ‘Who is my neighbour?’  This group works hard to assist the sick and the elderly in the Croatian Community.

The Sisters, during their time in Canberra, used their God given talents to assist Croatian migrants in whatever way they could.   Some Sisters worked in Catholic Schools and in the Croatian Ethnic School, while others assisted the priest with the liturgy.  They were especially effective in visiting the sick.  Sister Gabiola Bockmann led the prayer group.  Some were engaged in preparing candidates for receiving the sacraments and even some catechumens.  They also organised pilgrimages to Galong and Penrose Park.

Apart from the Sisters already mentioned, the following Sisters were also active in Canberra: Sister Leonija, Sister Emilija, Sister Victoria Tomic and Sister Regina. Altogether, there were 19 Sisters of ‘The Adorers of the Precious Blood of Christ’ who lived and worked in Canberra.

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