As self-appointed caretaker of the home of the Slovenian Catholic Mission, 85-year-old Danny visits the church every day to maintain the grounds and open it up for visitors.
Since Fr Janez Tretjak returned to Slovenia in 2013 (he died a year later), the mission has been served by Fr David Srumpf OFM who travels from Melbourne and says Mass two or three times a month in Adelaide.
Fr David said Danny and his wife Iva were his “guardian angels” when he arrived in Australia, helping him to get to know the Adelaide community and taking care of the church when he wasn’t there. Since Iva died in 2017, Danny has continued to walk from his nearby home to the church in Young Avenue every morning and evening to check that all is okay.
“Danny looks after the grounds, organises the cleaning roster and is always there to open up when someone wants to get into the church…I am away for two or three weeks so it’s nice to know that someone is there and will take care of everything,” Fr David said.
“I always know he will call me if something is wrong.”
Danny’s love for his church is not surprising, considering he was instrumental in its construction in 1983. As president of the building committee, his name is at the top of the list of those recognised on the honour board in the church foyer.
The Slovenian community had previously worshipped at Sacred Heart Church on Port Road and then used an Anglican church next door to Hindmarsh Stadium before the mission was given permission by the Archdiocese to build a new church at the current location.
Many of its members arrived in Australia in the 1950s as young men and women fleeing economic hardship and the Communist dictatorship in post-war Europe.
With their lives revolving around the Slovenian club and the church, families wanted a dedicated church to raise their children in the faith. Danny’s daughter Olivia has fond memories of attending Slovenian school every Saturday in the hall adjacent to the church and she and her two sisters and brother would dress up in national costume for the Marian Procession.
During the building process, Danny proudly recalled many hours rounding up help from local businesses and tradespeople, not to mention constantly pestering people for donations.
As a production manager with Marshall Furniture (Premier Marshall’s family business), Danny had a lot of contacts in the building industry and there was plenty of in-kind support.
“You always find good people when you want help,” he said.
Helping people is something that Danny has done much of his life, having volunteered for Meals on Wheels for 18 years, finishing only a few months ago, and as a loyal supporter of a charity for children with disability for 25 years.
Born in a small village outside the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, Danny was raised on a farm with his seven brothers and sisters.
After the war it was difficult to make a living and while it was hard to leave his parents, Danny said there was “no life” for him in Slovenia.
“There was nothing left financially and there was no future.”
At the age of 19 he and a few other young men from the village walked about 35km to the border with Italy.
“There were guards along the border and we had to hide and then jump through the bushes when they weren’t looking,” he recalled.
“There were five of us – two went back home because they were scared they’d get shot.”
After spending about three months in a transit camp in Italy, Danny and two of his friends flew to Sydney and were initially sent to Bonegilla, Victoria, the main processing camp for European migrants post World War II.
Danny worked in a factory and played the piano accordion in a band in Melbourne before moving to Adelaide where he quickly became involved in the Slovenian Catholic community. Often the Slovenian priests in Melbourne would refer him as a point of contact for new arrivals to Adelaide and he would assist his fellow migrants in finding employment and housing.
It was through one of these families that he met Iva, who was younger than him and so he waited four years to marry her.
Danny said the Slovenian community was tight-knit and “if something needed to be done, we were very happy to support each other”.
After their four children came along, there were lots of social outings, picnics and concerts organised through the Slovenian Catholic Mission or the Slovenian Club, of which Danny was also president for a period.
Iva was actively involved in prayer groups and the faith side of the mission until her death two years ago, while Danny was in the choir and the “organiser”.
Danny said he and Iva used to look after the church together. “When my wife passed away I said to the priest, don’t worry I’ll do it all myself now.”Jump to next article