Rome scholarship set up in memory of Indigenous boy lost 163 years ago

by admin on July 14th, 2018

filed under 苏州美甲美睫培训学校

A scan of a drawing of John Dirimera, left, and Francis Conaci from the Archives of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia. Photo: Miriam Rudolph Janiculum Hill in Rome where the Australian Catholic University has a joint campus with the Catholic University of America. Photo: Commons

Italy: A Rome university has established a scholarship for Indigenous Australians in honour of a teenage boy who died in the abbey attached to St Paul’s Basilica 163 years ago.

The Australian Catholic University, which established a campus in Rome last year, has set up the annual scholarship in memory of Francis Xavier Conaci, who was brought to Italy in 1849 from the Benedictine-founded New Norcia abbey 132 kilometres from Perth.

In the decade from 1848, five Aboriginal boys and one girl were sent by Australian Catholic authorities to undertake further study in Italy, with the boys possibly meant for the priesthood.

Francis and his friend John Dirimera were taken to Europe by missionary Rosendo Salvado. According to Salvado’s memoirs, the boys begged to go with him, and did so after Salvado obtained their parents’ consent. John was about 14, Francis is believed to have been younger (some reports put them at 11 and 7 respectively).

Their ship, the Empress of China, stopped in Capetown and St Helena on the 100-day trip to Swansea. They went to Dublin for five days, then to London, where Salvado used the boys to convince members of the Royal Geographic Society that Aborigines were not as backward as a recent report from New South Wales had suggested.

From there they went to Paris, then on a ship from Marseille to Gaeta, where Pope Pius IX was living after fleeing the republican uprising in Rome. At Salvado’s request, Pius robed the boys as Benedictines.

They met King Ferdinand II of Naples, who proudly answered in the affirmative when one of the boys asked if he was the father of all the soldiers they had seen in the royal court. Ferdinand made them his wards.

They were taken to Salvado’s former college in the huge Benedictine abbey at Cava dei Tirreni, in the mountains behind Amalfi, where they resumed their schooling in Italian.

When Salvado offered to take them with him back to Australia a few months later they said they wanted to learn to understand the “talking papers” (the bible and other books) before returning.

Francis excelled in his studies, even of Latin, and came second in a class of 20 in a public examination. But as the monastery was humid in summer and dank in winter, he developed many maladies, the most serious affecting his lungs.

After a spell in a Naples hospital, Francis was sent to the Benedictine abbey attached to the basilica built above the tomb of St Paul in Rome. The site flanked by the Tiber river, which flooded frequently, was fatal for the weak-chested teenager. Francis collapsed and died late in 1853 and was buried in the monks’ communal grave.

Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who earlier this year completed the restoration of the collective grave, said the approximately three-metre-deep chamber contained the remains of about 150 monks.

The original damp grave is now ventilated. Through its round crystal cover, the base of the basilica’s mediaeval bell-tower and the chamber’s brick pavement can be seen.

Visitors can obtain permission to descend to see the unnamed zinc coffins containing the bones.

Salvado was a fierce champion of Indigenous Australians and criticised the Catholic Church in Australia for spending most of its money on its white members. When British social reformer Florence Nightingale asked him if civilisation was fatal to Aborigines, he may have had his students in mind when he described the changes in an Aboriginal person admitted to European institutions: “He has no fever, but daily and almost at sight loses his flesh, strength and health.”

John Dirimera returned to Australia in 1855 a broken man and died a short time later.

New Norcia abbott Reverend John Herbert, described the scholarship as a step towards unity.

“While this scholarship will be of great benefit to Indigenous students studying here in Rome, its very existence will do more for the Aboriginal people back in Australia than we will ever know,” he said. “I’m sure of one thing though – it is another step towards healing, towards the unity to which we all aspire.”

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