16 May, 2024

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:38): I move:

That this Council—

  1. Recognises that the St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2023 and notes a special publication will be released in 2024 to mark 70 years of legacy and achievements;
  2. Acknowledges the important work of St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish in preserving Italian heritage, cultural traditions and religious beliefs;
  3. Commends the significant positive social and cultural impacts that St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish has had on the local community by fostering religious, cultural ties and community links between Italy and Adelaide; and
  4. Congratulates parish priests, community leaders and volunteers of St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish for their dedication and wonderful support to providing a sanctuary for the local community to gather on special occasions and for organising community events and celebrations which promote inter-culturalism and multiculturalism in South Australia.

It is an absolute honour to recognise the 70th anniversary of St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish today in Parliament.

In the church of St Francis of Assisi at Newton, the celebration for the patron saint of Italy stands prominently. St Francis is known for his ministry to the poor and underprivileged, his care for nature and animals, and the founding of the Franciscan order.

St Francis of Assisi grew up wealthy in the small town of Assisi in Italy. He was the son of an affluent cloth merchant but known as 'the poor man of Assisi'. Despite the anger it brought his father, St Francis took a vow of poverty after receiving multiple visions from God, in one of which God told him to 'repair my church, which is falling into ruin'. St Francis soon established the Franciscan order, where he and his followers sought to live out the gospel in a literal way.

He is known for his love for nature and animals, his strong commitment to both physical and spiritual poverty, and for serving those who are disadvantaged and underprivileged. 

Some of the inspiring quotes from St Francis of Assisi are:

“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

“Remember that when you leave this earth you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given.”

“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”

“The only thing ever achieved in life without effort is failure.”

“Do few things but do them well; simple joys are holy.”

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

These are the words and wisdom of St Francis. The St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish embraces the ethos, values and principles of what their patron saint stood for and lived for. Since its establishment, the parish has been an institution of faith, respect and compassion.

It is my privilege to acknowledge the significant positive social and cultural impact that St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish has had on the local community by fostering religious and cultural ties and community links between Italy and Adelaide.

Over the last 70 years, the parish priests, community leaders and volunteers at St Francis of Assisi Newton Parish have worked tirelessly to provide a sanctuary for the local community to gather on special occasions and to organise community events that celebrate the faith, mission and fraternity that enrich our multicultural state of South Australia. These activities include Christmas markets, baptisms, marriage ceremonies, youth groups and many prominent festa which celebrate the many patron saints.

It was a great honour to attend the official book launch to mark the 70th anniversary on 21 April this year. The title of the book on the St Francis of Assisi Catholic community history is 70 Years—A Celebration of Faith, Mission and Fraternity.

The book launch coincided with the San Giorgio Martire Festa and it was great to see so many parliamentary colleagues attend the festa, some of the biggest supporters of significant feast days throughout the year. These members are well known to the Italian community. They are the member for Morialta, the Hon. John Gardner; the member for Hartley, the Hon. Vincent Tarzia; and the federal member for Sturt, James Stevens MP.

Dignitaries, special guests and community leaders were presented with the 70th anniversary book. The publication is a work of art. It is a very heavy book, with 320 pages printed on beautiful silky glossy paper befitting to capture the history and legacy of 70 remarkable years of community service. My contributions today in Parliament draw from the information, knowledge and stories generously captured within the 70th anniversary book.

I vividly remember the words of Cavaliere John Di Fede AM BEM, who hosted the book launch event. When the books were distributed by the organising committee, John reminded the audience that the book is a limited edition, priceless and in high demand, so whoever has a copy given to them has played a role in supporting the St Francis of Assisi parish, and the book is a timeless gift of celebration and appreciation of all involved in the parish.

I also recall that a number of community members jokingly said to me, 'Don't leave your book on your seat. Hold onto it nice and tight because otherwise it will go walkabout.' I am sure they were joking, but it goes to show that it means a lot to the Italian community that the book was published to recognise a special milestone that holds significant value in the hearts and minds of the parish and the Italian Christian community.

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who worked diligently and passionately on the collection of stories and the compilation of historical content and photographs in the publication.

I wish to sincerely thank Cavaliere John Di Fede, the President of the Festa Committees, who is a visionary and was a key driver for the book. John expressed that he feels very proud and honoured to have been part of the Newton parish over the many decades since 1959. To say that he is very attached to the Newton parish would be an understatement: John and his lovely wife were married there, their children were baptised there and attended St Francis of Assisi School, their children were also married in the church, and their grandchildren were baptised there.

John said that the Capuchins and the Newton parish have accompanied his entire life. He expressed that it was the wonderful people at every level who helped him to do his job well, and he is most thankful for everyone who believed in him and gave him the support required to create an amazing parish. It was the spirit of collaboration and community that is the core foundation of the success and accomplishments of the parish.

John has used his impeccable leadership skills, entrepreneurship and business networks—together with his 15 years on the Campbelltown City Council, eight years on the board of the Ethnic Affairs Commission and other board positions including the Federation of Associations of Campania, which has over 9,000 members—to contribute to the parish. John is well respected by the community. He was unanimously elected on 7 January 1982 as the president of the committee for the construction of the new church—which is the current church—and the Festas. Coordinating the construction work on the new church was a very complex process, and the committee worked relentlessly to overcome many challenges.

Anyone who has had the privilege of knowing John and working with John, like I have, would know that he is a force to be reckoned with. John never takes no for an answer. He will do everything in his power and influence to make sure things get done. I thank John for his most tenacious efforts and powerful contributions to assemble the committee, volunteers and professional team that successfully published the book.

I also want to acknowledge the great work by Emma Luxardo, the writer and researcher; Victoria Placentino, the graphic designer and archival researcher; and Il Globo newspaper for providing news articles covering the last 70 years.

As I was reading the message provided by Father Robert Stewart, I thought some of the stories he shared would resonate with many. He said that the book represents both a celebration and a remembrance of the 70 years of the life of the parish of Newton, starting with the arrival of Father Nicholas Simonazzi, who lived in a two-room tin hut on Silkes Road in Paradise and loved to joke by saying he was 'Nick from Paradise'. From a humble hut, he ministered to those working in the market gardens that filled the now suburban Newton and Campbelltown lands. Brother Zachery joined Father Nick, and so the journey of the friars' ministry to the migrants living and working at the market gardens began.

Father Robert told the story of remembering Father Silvio telling him about how one morning while celebrating mass in the old church, the people were harvesting onions in the field that literally came up to the back of the church, and the scent of the onions caused his eyes to tear up. Those attending the mass were so touched by the thought that his devotional celebration had brought him to tears.

If anyone has the opportunity to speak to the community and parish priests, there are so many heartwarming stories that reveal the wonderful work of the parish: building a church, forming a parish, building the new church by the hands of volunteer labour. Many of those volunteers—carpenters, cement workers, bricklayers and artists—were able to successfully construct a multifunctional building that acted as a church, a social hall and a home to all the friars.

In Newton, what we see is a living testimony of an impressive community spirit, coming together from a very diverse group of migrants from different regions in Italy who arrived in Australia not speaking English and having very few resources to help integrate themselves into the new country.

What we must acknowledge today is the incredible achievement of those who built a thriving and diverse Christian community celebrating their heritage, and contributing enormously in every aspect of society in their adopted home, enriching us with their faith, food, wine and the cultural celebrations of the beloved saints and their festas.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Most Rev. Dr Matthew Beovich, the Archbishop of Adelaide, who invited the Capuchins to come to Adelaide in the year 1949.

The parish of St Francis started as an Italian centre for immigrants in 1950, but today it is a parish filled with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. It is not just another parish in Adelaide, but a parish that is one big family that welcomes people from all walks of life, and that has also become one of the most well-known and well-respected parishes in South Australia.

Sincere thanks and heartfelt gratitude and respect must go to all the Capuchin friars who have given the best of themselves to guide the community in their faith, including the current parish priest Father Anthoni Adimai, Father Eldridge D'Souza, Father Robert Stewart, Father John Spiteri, Father Christopher Maher and all the Capuchin friars who have served their communities over 70 years, going all the way back to Father Nicola Simonazzi.

Former parish priest Father Eldridge made a heartwarming farewell speech at the book launch. He was very emotional, and it was touching to hear about his work in the parish and how everybody played a part, how the community spirit is just so incredible, and that he will miss the parish very much. We will miss him, and we wish him good health and all the best, as always.

I was honoured to be asked to provide a congratulatory message for the 70th anniversary book, along with many dignitaries and political and community leaders.

The parish and the many activities it organises would not be possible without the amazing support and commitment of the parish leaders, committees, and selfless volunteers who consistently work hard and contribute many hours of their time to help the parish operations and activities. As written in the book on 70 years of St Francis of Assisi parish history:

“Celebrating one's saint is a fundamental element for the Italian community to maintain its cultural identity and feel closer to Italy and childhood traditions, passing them on to subsequent generations.”

Celebrations of the various patronal feasts were dependent on the parish of St Francis, as the Capuchin friars had begun to recite the mass in Italian upon the request of the community. As such, they were also entrusted with the custody of the statues.

I also want to highlight that the parish has achieved a great deal in the education of the younger generation through the work of the St Francis of Assisi Catholic School, which has been part of the community for most of its history. In 1965 the St Francis of Assisi school opened its doors with 70 students from years 1 to 3, run by the Sisters of St Joseph. The school included three classrooms, an office, a staff area and toilets, with Sister Perpetua Hayes as the first principal.

Many generations of leaders have come from that school, and future generations of leaders will also come from the school. I want to express my heartfelt congratulations to the school.

In this motion I would like to also mention a few festas that have been household names for many Italian communities.

They include Madonna di Montevergine and Sant'Ilario in 1955; San Giorgio Martire, Madonna del Carmine, San Marco and San Rocco in 1957; San Pio X in 1958; San Giuseppe in 1968; San Donato and San Nicola in 1971; and Madonna dell'Arco in 1980.

With my contribution today it is a great honour to recognise the St Francis of Assisi Newton parish for celebrating its 70th anniversary. I wish them happiness, prosperity and longevity in years to come and thank them for all their contributions for making and reaching a multicultural state of South Australia. With those remarks, I commend the motion.