Sr Loretta Bani’s incredible journeyPrint
There are not many instances now when an interview surprises Communications Manager, Christine Hogan. But this is one of them, she writes:
Years as a journalist, writer, and television producer have provided valuable lessons in the benefit of research. But sometimes, research is simply not possible. Given the reticence of some of the Sisters of Charity to speak publicly in the past, many of their ministries have not been recorded.
Before going to Melbourne to interview Sr Loretta, I checked this website, and then Googled her. She can be found in images here, and on LinkedIn, which told me what I already knew – that she had been a nursing Sister, and was a Sister of Charity. I knew her current ministry was as a pastoral associate at St Pius X in Heidelberg West – but we will come to that.
It is not often that an interview has the sweep of the one Sr Loretta sat down for at the Mononia Convent in Fitzroy. It began in her father’s birthplace – Istria. During the days of Venice’s maritime empire, this peninsula at the top of the Adriatic, had guarded the city and provided the limestone which built it. Post-World War II, Istria was a casualty of war, hewn from Italy and largely given over to the newly created State of Yugoslavia.
Her father went back to his country of origin, Italy, after the war, and met her mother in Treviso.
Like millions of others, Loretta’s family became refugees, although she had never really thought of their move in those terms. They went to Toulouse in France where her two siblings were born. “We spent eight years there,” said Loretta. “But eventually Dad was hopeful he would be able to establish himself better in Italy.” When Loretta was 10, her family made another momentous move – this time to Ballarat, to where her father’s sister had already emigrated.
In 1957, Loretta was not overly happy with the change of location, which had been preceded by the older generations of her Italian family teaching her all they could in terms of domestic skills. That included sewing – a talent of Loretta’s which is widely admired through the Congregation to this day, and which forms the basis of another of her ongoing ministries.
“Mum wasn’t happy at all – she wasn’t all that well. On the ship over, the film Outback was showing, which didn’t help. But when we arrived, she settled easily and got a job in a mill, which she loved. She made lots of friends, first time she had a home, and she was really happy.”
Soon, disaster struck. Loretta was 11 when her mother died, and her younger sister, Mirella, and brother, Gilbert, were sent to care homes for Catholic children in the Ballarat district. “I stayed home to cook and clean for Dad. Mirella and Gilbert came home occasionally, but not often.”
Then, her father remarried. “My teenage years were not happy; there were lots of issues with my step-mother. I was at St Alipius, but left at 15.”
But influenced by her aunt’s spirituality, she found her strength in her own – and that is a strength which continues to this day.
When she left school, she got a job waitressing at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat. But soon Mirella was working at St John of God in Ballarat, and Sr Loretta began her own training at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital there.
Family life was still difficult so the two sisters wanted to leave Ballarat: “Home was not happy,” she said.
The pair went to Melbourne, where Mirella applied for a job to train as an enrolled nurse at Caritas Christi, Kew, and . “I asked her to see if there was a job for me.” There was and they ended up working together.
Loretta was 19 by this stage, and the thought of entering a religious congregation had never occurred to her. “‘No way!’ I thought,” said Loretta. “There is no way!”
However, there was a way. When she was at Caritas, she began a process of discernment. Sr Leo, who was in charge at Caritas Christi, was an inspiration. A friend entered the Congregation, and then at 21, Sr Loretta entered as well.
“The novitiate was not easy,” remembered Loretta, who was EN before she entered – that now is known as RN2. Eventually, she was sent to St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn, where she encountered one of the revered nursing Sisters of the Sisters of Charity – Sr Nola Riley. “I did my registered nurses training there.”
After three years, 1972 – 1976, she went back to Caritas Christi Hospice in Melbourne. There, Sr Dorothea asked her to do a post-basic geriatric course, after which she set up a day centre for palliative and aged care.
Then, an idea was floated by a long time supporter of Caritas Christi, Sir James Gobbo – he asked her if she could set up a day care centre for Italians. “It was a great idea, one I should really have thought of myself,” said Sr Loretta. “I was really excited about that idea.”
Thursdays were the days for the Italians, the rest of the weekdays for any clients with needs. “I loved Thursdays. People were flourishing and I could see it in their faces.” After five years, Sr Loretta went to Marycrest in Brisbane, where at Sr Nola’s request, she became supervisor. Two years on, she was in Canberra, ministering at L’Arche community – a posting she loved.
Loretta then completed a clinical pastoral education course (CPE) and ministered for two terms at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. It was an experience which fed straight into her focus on spirituality.
After that came a sabbatical, which took her back to Toulouse, Treviso to visit the family, Ireland, and Jerusalem. When she came back from her sabbatical, she had to find a role. It was the first time since Sr Loretta was in her teens that she had to look for a ministry herself – she had been assigned to everything in between her nursing training and then. She applied at Assisi Aged Care in Rosanna, and got a nursing role in aged care. She spent 13 years there until she retired a couple of years ago.
Now, Sr Loretta is ministering as a pastoral associate at St Pius X, “doing visitations, flower arranging, a little cleaning, taking Sisters out. I also do a little sewing. And I go once a month to Days for Girls (DFG) at Camberwell to make feminine hygiene kits for girls in the developing world.”
“DfG provides reusable pads for menstrual care, for girls and women who do not have access to commercial products. This helps girls to go to school where before remain at home during their menstruation time.We meet monthly to work together in the project, there I meet really beautiful dedicated ladies involved in the project where we get to hear the impact the DFG kits and the project have on the girls who receive them.”
She keeps up her interest in the interior life with online retreats and wide reading on spirituality. “I am particularity interested in new understandings of the environment – ecological spirituality – the connection to everything, and our one-ness with everything.”
She swims at least twice a week to help keep arthritis under control.
“I try to recognise that each moment is a gift to cherish and to live it the best I can with love,” Loretta said.
Even so, she feels she is not doing enough. “But I try to do what needs to be done for the moment that I am given.”
In April 2021, Sr Loretta updated her ministry entry:
I believe ministry is the quality of my presence in every action of doing, to live up to this means constant awareness in love, listening ,learning, metanoia, forgiveness .
My ministry has been getting involved in the St Monica’s parish; at the moment I take communion to an age care hotel weekly.
I also support Sisters whom I companion in the age care.
A healthy ministry involves self-awareness, prayer/ contemplation and reading.
I like keeping in touch with the wider community, I also get involved in supporting different justice groups online and demonstrating in real time.
I like to maintain my little garden to keep grounded and in touch with all living things to remind me of my connection .
To be able to maintain active ministry I still exercise – walking, swimming, and cycling.
I’m interested in embroidery, knitting, sewing, painting and anything that’s art.