By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook
Fr Alberic Jacovone OSB was studying Latin and Ancient Greek in 1950s Rome, when his Abbot in the Benedictine Order asked, “Would you like to go to Australia?”
“I wanted to stay in Rome and finish studies there!” Fr Alberic said.
The Abbot had none of it. He insisted Fr Alberic must go.
“My son, you will understand in years and years and years…how important it is to go now,” the Abbot said.
Today, almost 60 years later, Fr Alberic understands why he had to come to Australia.
Fr Alberic was one of the pioneers of the Italian community in Australia. He was awarded a special Centenary Medal from Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his contribution to the Catholic and Italian communities, which included building schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
“We came here without a penny and not a word of English,” Fr Alberic said.
He has many memories of the Italian community in Western Sydney, including in Kenthurst, with their market gardens, community centres and lively festas.
The Associazione San Giorgio Martire di Sydney has had the Community Centre Centro San Giorgio in Kenthurst for 40 years.
“How smart the pioneering generation has been,” Fr Alberic said.
“They bought a block of land, built a cultural centre and on the Feast of St George, they invite everyone to honour St Georgios.”
“In Greek, Georgios means ‘one who cultivates the land’. St George cultivated the seed of Christ in his soul,” he said.
“Anthony – Antonios in Greek – is the flower, and St Anthony is someone who radiates the perfume of Christ,” he said.
After coming to Australia in 1959, Fr Alberic studied for two years in St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly. The seminarians taught him basic words.
“They had to teach me English, ‘table’, ‘door’,” he said.
Despite the obstacle of English, Fr Alberic had a trick up his sleeve when studying for a Doctorate of Divinity at Manly: mastery of Latin and Greek.
“I was streets ahead of them, because I had all the ancient languages.”
“And they said to me to teach at the Catholic Teacher’s College in North Sydney,” he said.
Fr Albertic taught hundreds of students about theology at Catholic Teacher’s College, North Sydney.
One of his former students became Principal of Marian College, Kenthurst.
“In those lectures, what was really interesting is that we have an innate craving for what is beyond,” he said.
His passion for ancient languages was evident in his teaching. He recommended that all students buy an etymological dictionary and use it in essays to impress markers.
“We should have pride in our Ancient Christian heritage,” he said.
Fr Alberic was born in the town of Matera in Southern Italy, which is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of inhabitants dating back to 7 000 BC.
The city of Matera is famous for its caves, where Mel Gibson filmed much of The Passion of the Christ (2004).
“They called me ‘cave dweller’, when I was a student in Rome,” Fr Alberic said.
Matera was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies before the Kingdom of Italy, to which many Italians still have a strong attachment.
“When they created Italy they destroyed the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,” Fr Alberic said.
At 81 years of age Fr Alberic still pursues his historical and cultural interests, celebrating the Bicentenary of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with a group of fellow scholars last November.
For more information, see Sharing God’s Word: Sunday Homilies by Fr. D. Alberic Jacovone OSB (2016)