UNIVERSITY lecturer and Italian journalist Stefano Girola spent the past couple of years pondering the words of New Norcia founder Rosendo Salvado.
He earned praise for his English translation of Salvado’s 1883 Italian report to Rome on New Norcia from fellow academic and leading historian John Molony.
“No words of mine can repay the debt I owe to Rosendo Salvado,” Professor Molony said in the foreword to Dr Girola’s translation.
“He taught me the true meaning of perseverance no matter the odds. This book, so splendidly translated by Stefano Girola and so well presented by Salvado’s sons in Christ at New Norcia, is a worthy tribute to their great founder.”
The Weekender asked Dr Girola if translating the 1883 report to Rome on New Norcia changed his opinion of Salvado?
It reinforced some impressions of him I had developed from my previous research. I believe that what emerges from these pages is first of all a true ‘Renaissance man’.
He was a gifted musician who mastered Latin, Italian and English. He was highly educated and certainly interested in the arts. At the same time, he became an expert and astute farmer, very knowledgeable about land legislation, crops, climate, agricultural machines, animals, plants, stones, diseases, poisonous weeds and telegraphy.
He was a missionary dominated by a grand vision, that is, the creation of a Christian village in the Australian bush based on the medieval rule of St Benedict, where Noongar families and Benedictines could live together a fruitful life from the material and spiritual point of view; at the same time he was a very down-to-earth man, with exceptional organisational and administrative skills.
Was Salvado holding back what was really happening in any way or was that his strength – that he told it how it was?
Unlike the historical memoirs published by Salvado in Rome, the 1883 report was not meant for publication. It was a document of a private nature for internal use by Vatican officials.
This means that Salvado was much franker and blunter in his criticism, for example, of the Perth Catholic bishops and of some Italian Church figures than he would have been in his public writings.
Salvado was convinced that other powerful Church members did not care enough for the plight of the Noongars and for the work carried out by the Benedictines at New Norcia.
He argued that much of the support received by the Benedictines was rhetorical in nature and not corroborated by generous deeds.
Missionary published literature is often a fundraising exercise and it tends to hide certain unpleasant aspects. In this report, instead, not only does Salvado highlight important achievements, but also the difficulties and setbacks caused by ecclesiastical politics.