It has been 50 years since the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master took up the invitation to come to Australia and care for the sick and retired priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Since then, they have looked after more than 150 priests from across the Archdiocese. Their many years of dedicated service and care was recently acknowledged at a special luncheon held at the Veneto Club in Bulleen.

Organised by the Priests Retirement Foundation, the gathering brought together representatives from the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, active and retired priests of the Archdiocese and staff from George Maher House and Justin Villa, where the retired priests of the Archdiocese reside.

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, particularly those of you who are living there now, I’d like to say thank you to the sisters for their faith and for their pastoral care.’

The Congregation of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master was founded by Blessed James Alberione SSP and is part of the global Pauline family, which is present in over 30 countries. The order describes itself as ‘the modern version of the women of the gospel’, whose mission is to live out, for themselves and for others, the love of Christ found in the Eucharist, in the priesthood and in the liturgy.

Their arrival in Australia in the 1970s 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 served as Apostolic Nuncio some years earlier.

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 PDDM, 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, Sr Mary Colette, 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 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.

‘I can attest that each sister has always found fulfilment and enrichment in carrying out this ministry,’ said Sr Maria Amalamo PDDM, who has cared for the retired priests of Melbourne for the last 30 years. 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 continue to carry out this ministry of caring for those who cared, hopefully for another 50 years!’