As pastoral associate in the parish she knew she needed to make contact with the locals and so quickly found a map showing all the streets in the area and set about using her Italian heritage – and unwavering faith – to make a connection with the faithful.
Immediately she was filled with joy to discover that most of the large Italian community, which represents 75 per cent of the parish, came from the Campania region of southern Italy where she had grown up as a child. Sr Anna quickly began sharing her love of the ‘old country’ with those she met, but at the same time her bubbling enthusiasm was tempered by finding that some of the parishioners were feeling very isolated in their ‘new’ country.
“Most of them come from the south of Italy where I come from, so I can understand their dialect, I can understand their religion, their culture…it makes a difference,” she said.
“Something that really struck me in those early days though was the loneliness of the people, there were lots of widows in the community living alone. I thought it would be a beautiful idea to have gospel groups in every corner of the parish and invite the people around the neighbourhood.
“So I went here and invited this lady and went there and invited this lady and everyone accepted the invitation to host a group.
“Everyone was very receptive to the idea to come together, to pray together, to share together – and the hospitality was really great.”
Twelve groups were formed back then, which has now reduced to 10 as some of the ageing members have moved into nursing homes. The groups meet at various times each week to read the Scriptures and share their reflections. At all but one of the gatherings the chosen language is Italian.
Sr Anna said she has been delighted to witness the sense of community that has developed over the past 18 years.
“Little by little I have really noticed they have become therapeutic groups because they have built up so much confidence and trust of each other. For example, if someone is sick or someone has a problem with their family, they share. This is the place they share everything.
“It’s such a joyful meeting because it’s not only a sharing of faith, it’s a prayerful meeting and then the social interaction between them.
“I have really noticed the growth of faith within them since we started. It’s a very beautiful community.”
As the pastoral associate, Sr Anna attends at least one of these groups every day – sometimes it can be as many as three.
At 76, some would think this would be enough to keep her busy but she also assists parish priest Fr Allan Winter as needed and attends each school Mass at the adjoining St Joseph’s. As a way of further spreading the Word of God, Sr Anna dons the cap of radio announcer and hosts a segment on Italian Radio every second Thursday of the month.
Bringing families closer to God
While much of her work is with the Italian community she notes that the Payneham parish is multicultural and she works with families from a range of cultures and backgrounds.
“My joy is to accompany people and to accompany people where they are, walk with them and help them to discover the presence of God in everyday life. Sometimes listening to their story they touch my heart, but then what I do is help them to see the work of God in their life, to see His grace and how it works in everyday life.
“I am very busy, but it is a joyful ministry,” said Sr Anna, who will celebrate the 55th anniversary of her profession later this year.
Arriving in Australia from Italy in 1976, her ministry as a Pastorelle Sister has taken her from a small farm in southern Italy to the other side of the world and service in Melbourne, South Korea and now Adelaide.
Her happiness at being able to serve God is evident and she starts each day at 5am by giving a prayer of thanks in the small chapel in the Sisters’ home.
“I’m in the last stage of my life and I’m filling it with joy, love and gratitude and I want to communicate that to others…it’s a journey to fulfilment.”