Australia wasn’t quite the destination that Sr Maria Cosic had in mind when she told her Mother Provincial that she wanted to be a missionary.
“I was thinking of Africa, or maybe India, but not Australia,” the diminutive and energetic 80-year-old Sister of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ told The Southern Cross.
But with an urgent need for support for the rapidly growing Croatian communities in cities across Australia, that’s where she was sent in 1966 as a 25-year-old nun.
The sixth of nine children in a Catholic Croatian family living on a farm in Bosnia, Sr Maria had experienced religious oppression under Communist rule such as the spasmodic barring of worship in churches.
“I remember going to Sunday Mass and we’d find the soldiers in front of the church door, they had locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in so we had to go back home without Mass,” she recalled.
But that didn’t deter her from following her dream of becoming a nun after seeing her aunt, Sr Clara, “praying like an angel”. Sr Maria said she was only three or four years old at the time but the image stayed with her, even after her aunt was forced to flee the country and her whereabouts was unknown for more than 20 years.
“From that moment (seeing her aunt pray) I was always saying I’ll be a nun, I’ll be a nun, I’ll be a nun, I’ll follow my aunty,” Sr Maria said.
As soon as she turned 17 the young Maria joined the same order as her aunt, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and trained to be a catechism teacher in Zagreb. Her desire to be a missionary had been fuelled by a parish priest who gave her magazines about helping children in Africa.
When she questioned her Mother Provincial about serving in Australia, she was told that while Australia might be “a little bit different” it was definitely a missionary country because Croatian migrants needed spiritual and practical support.
Sr Maria told her devastated parents that she would be back in four or five years, knowing this was highly unlikely due to the political situation in what was then Yugoslavia.
As it turns out, she was able to return to Croatia and Bosnia after five years and in recent times has been back every three years. Sadly, she returned in 1996 to visit her ageing mother just before she died but was unable to cross the border into Bosnia so soon after the Yugoslav Wars. During this conflict her family was forced to leave everything behind and “go wherever they could” to be safe.
The first four Sisters of Adorers of the Blood of Christ came to Australia in 1963, including her Aunt Clara, after the Croatian chaplain in Melbourne asked for assistance. Sr Maria came with three other Sisters in 1966 and was reunited after 22 years with Sr Clara in Melbourne. Like Sr Maria, Sr Clara later moved to North Adelaide where she died in 1989 and is buried at Centennial Park.
After working in a kindergarten for Croatian and other migrant children in Melbourne, Sr Maria was sent to Canberra to work in the Archbishop’s House, serving meals, doing housework and hosting VIPs including prime ministers and bishops from all over Australia and overseas.
“I loved it,” she said, adding that being amongst Australians improved her English dramatically.
Sr Maria came to Adelaide in 1977 to serve the Croatian community which worshipped at St Patrick’s Church, Grote Street, as well as the parish at North Adelaide, where the Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ have lived since the Josephites left in 1973.
It was the beginning of a long association with the vibrant Croatian Catholic Community and she developed a close bond with them through good times and bad.
“We lived as a real family and community,” she said. “I’ll never forget the joy of sharing their happiness and helping them wherever they needed.”
In 1981 Sr Maria was given the task of overseeing the building of a new church for the Croatian community of St John’s Park, Sydney, which had outgrown the small Australian church where they worshipped. A house for the Sisters was built across the road and both projects were completed within a year, with most of the work done voluntarily by Croatians and monies raised through fundraising lunches, picnics and parties.
“Our community did everything,” Sr Maria said.
In 1989 she came back to North Adelaide and picked up where she left off – acting as sacristan and caretaker of St Mary’s Church and ministering to the Croatian community.
Whether it was preparing child-ren for the sacraments, giving communion to the elderly, cooking for her fellow Sisters or cleaning the church, Sr Maria said she had never asked for help because she knew she was capable of doing it herself.
But she admitted that now it was time for her “to relax”.
“I’m turning 81 this year, I’m not praising myself but I was a working person. Wherever I was and whatever I did I was doing it with all my heart, all my mind and all my being,” she said.
“I feel that I did my bit for what God wanted me to do.”
Parishioners offered to help Sr Maria if she decided to stay in Adelaide, but returning to Croatia means she will be living in a larger community of Sisters with aged care facilities, and she will be closer to her siblings.
“I knew that there was a possibility to go back if I wanted to and now I have decided to go,” she said.
“The convent is in the hills surrounded by farms and forests; it’s a beautiful place with plenty of space to walk and enjoy the nature.”
But she admitted it wouldn’t be easy to leave her beloved Croatian community and North Adelaide parish community, where she has spent much of her time in recent years, especially during COVID. She described the St Mary’s community, which is part of the Adelaide Cathedral parish, as “unique”.
“It’s like a family, everyone knows everyone. They share, they stay after Mass to talk, they have monthly coffee and biscuits and the other Sundays they go to Cibo together,” she said.
“I feel sorry to leave the Croatian community and this parish because I love them all. I appreciate that they have loved me and have always been very good to me in all these years of being with them.
“I say a big thank you to each and every one of you, for all the good you have done for me. I love you and I say goodbye with God’s blessing on you.”Jump to next article