The Cardinal Stepinac Village (CSV)

“In the neighbourhood of the church” – writes Fr. Gracijan – “a retirement home or a home for the elderly was built. The initiative for the construction of the Village came from the committee members who headed the church construction, that is, those who had fifteen years earlier also built “Kralj Tomislav”, the Croatian Social Club”. This was at the end of 1985, therefore at the time when only very few ever contemplated returning to the homeland. Immediately there were a good number of individuals who were very excited about spending their retirement years in a Home with the Croatian atmosphere and in the immediate vicinity of a Croatian church. The government of NSW also worked in their favour by selling them the land next to the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić and by contributing considerable funding towards the construction of the Home.

The preparations lasted some years and the work began in 1989. For the most part Croatian people worked on the construction, some for a wage and some as volunteers. The Home is not one house or a building, but rather a real village. The administration, kitchen, dining room and a large hall, acting as a communal lounge room, are located in the central building with six adjoining apartment blocks. There are two types of apartments: single bedrooms for singles (36) and somewhat larger apartments for married couples. Each apartment consists of a hallway, a kitchenette, a room and a bathroom. It is also possible for financially better off individuals, who want to live in the retirement village, to build their own homes here. This arrangement will represent the third type of dwellings and occupants. The retirement home bears the name of the friend of the poor and a great man of recent Croatian history, the Servant of God, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and its official name is the “Cardinal Stepinac Village”. The home was blessed during various phases of its construction. One section of the home was blessed by the Bishop of Sibenik, Srećko Badurina, while the other one was blessed by the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Franjo Kuharić.   

On 8 September 1991 one apartment block was fully completed and immediately received its first two residents. Over time the other apartment blocs were also completed and finally on the Feast day of St. Francis, 4 October 1992, the official opening and blessing of the Home took place in the presence of the Australian ecclesiastic and state government representatives. The home can accommodate up to 40 residents of which two or three are personnel. The Home now has 27 residents.” (Fr. Gracijan, description from 1993 in the Collected papers Kačić, XXV, Pg. 690 – 692).

Dynamics of Cardinal Stepinac Village (CSV) construction

The management board of the Cardinal Stepinac Village asked the artist Ivan Polak to create an image of the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. The work of art was a resounding success. On 5 September 1993, the statue, of the Honourable Servant of God, Alozije Stepinac, was revealed by Cardinal Franjo Kuharić in the main garden of the village. On that occasion, the founding members of the Village, together with other loyal Croatians collected $64,794 for the victims of the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In December 1993, the management board of the Village decided to begin construction of a Nursing Home. In April 1994, Mrs. Janice Crosio MP assisted whole-heartedly in lobbying for the Cardinal Stepinac Nursing Home. In January 1995, the Management Board of the Village announced an appeal for collection of funds for construction of the Nursing Home. The Premier Bob Carr, as well as the guest performer from Croatian, Vice Vukov, participated in this ceremony. In March 1995, the Village received $1,217,700 from the government for the construction of the Nursing Home.

On 25 June 1995, the Croatian Statehood Day, the honoured guest of the Croatian community in Sydney was Dr. Franjo Tuđman, the first President of the independent and sovereign, internationally recognised Republic of Croatia. In the presence of about 10,000 Croatians and guests, President Tuđman revealed the corner stone of the future Nursing Home. In September 1995, the Village was visited by the Archbishop of Vrhbosna Cardinal Vinko Puljić. On this occasion. Croatian Catholics from all sides gathered together and collected $16,000 for the victims of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every year, the Management Board has made an effort to organise a “charity dinner” for founding members of the Cardinal Stepinac Village. At the end of November 1995, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy agreed to be their honoured guest. 

In June 1996, the Croatian youth group organised a dance to collect funds for the construction of the Nursing Home. The Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Franjo Kuharić, also took part in the “Radiothon” and on that occasion $80,000 in pledges was collected for the Nursing Home. The government insisted that they would approve the construction of the nursing home only after the community raised its share of the funds. Given its success, in March 1997 we organised another “Radiothon” and collected $67,120 in pledges. In June 1997 we sent out 3,600 letters to Croatian families in Sydney in the hope of raising the funds required by the government. The management board accepted the estimated value of project to be $2,272,800. We were still short some $300,000.  Mr. Nikola Šarić lent us that money on an interest free basis. This arrangement was approved by the Government, and we were permitted to commence the construction of the Nursing Home.

In September 1997 an agreement was signed with the Government authorities. In October 1997, Marko Franović offered his services to prepare the land on which the Nursing Home was to be built. On a beautiful sunny day, on 26 October 1997, after Holy Mass, the congregation led by Christ’s Cross headed towards the new building site. They prayed for God’s blessing on the building site and workers who would build it and the future residents over whom the Almighty would keep watch. The building grew; people kept a vigilant watch and prayed.  In August 1998, the management board of the Cardinal Stepinac Village appointed Ms. Ilona Mellar as the Director, and Mato Smolčić as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nursing Home and Sister Tereza Kuzmić as the hostel manager. And so with the executive staff appointed and determined to achieve our goal, we organised the opening ceremony of the Nursing home.

Prime Minister, The Hon. John Howard MP in St John's Park

We organised the “Croatian Heritage Day” and the opening of our Nursing Home on 6 June 1999. It was a beautiful sunny day, unusually warm for this time of the year in Australia, with a temperature of 21° C. The main guest speaker was the Prime Minister John Howard MP, the head of then federal government. He was in excellent form and spoke with enthusiasm about the importance and assimilation of migrants into overall Australian society. He commended the builders and expressed his admiration of the rugs made of flowers and the floral bouquets. Also present were ministers of the NSW government, members of Parliament, and of course over 6,000 Croatians. Our successes did not make us complacent; we wanted to achieve more. Every year in the Cardinal Stepinac Village and in the church community of St. Nikola Tavelić we would organise in honour of “Australia Day” a collection of gifts for humanitarian causes.

In December of 1999 we began a successful drive to raise funds for the construction of the pastoral centre St. Bona in Vukovar. We collected and sent $152,393. From year to year the activities of the harmonious community St. Nikola Tavelić and the Cardinal Stepinac Village grew. In the church and through mass media we announced that the Government had approved the construction of a new building – a hostel – for 20 residents. The reaction was very positive. The building plans were ready on time and the experienced builder Bernard Rončević took over the job and completed it in record time. New residents from the waiting list moved into the new building. Very soon there were no available places left.

In December 2005, the management board decided to begin construction of an Activity Centre as part of the Cardinal Stepinac Village. The centre needed a big hall to hold about 200 people, a suitable kitchen, 15 to 20 places for residents of the village who needed low level care, four complete apartments for rental, along with additional rooms for nursing education accommodation provision for the daily users of the Centre, a public museum and a library. The estimated cost of the project was $5,700,000. We calculated that we needed to buy and install all the necessary furniture, equipment, instruments which required an action plan that involved the residents.

 How did we ever manage without the Activity centre?

The project “CSV ACTIVITY CENTRE” was completed and handed over for use with a special blessing given by Fr. Andrej Matoc, the head of the Croatian Catholic Centre in Wollongong, on Sunday 15 November 2009 on the Feast day of St. Nikola Tavelić in the presence of the federal minister The Hon. Chris Bowen, the delegate for the member for Prospect.

People assume that a retirement home would be filled with morbid silence; depressing atmosphere; an air of death; but nothing could be further from the truth in the retirement home of the Cardinal Stepinac Village.  Of course there are moments filled with pain and tears. The Cardinal Stepinac Village publishes a periodical titled “OUR VILLAGE” in colour with lots of photos and with the least possible text which is printed in big letters. You can see our residents “at work” and “at leisure” with a smile on their faces, preparing with love and creativity the Croatian Heritage Days, floral exhibitions, “hat parades”, masquerades, celebrating birthdays, “exercising”, celebrating religious holidays, at Holy Mass, during daily prayers and daily reading of scripture, training of workers, improving care, implementing changes made through suggestions of the residents and workers.

A particularly valuable contribution to the atmosphere is provided by daily prayers, reading of the Gospel, singing of spiritual songs, various discussions– and all this is run by Sister Regina Šumanović. Without exaggeration, our Cardinal Stepinac Village is one of the best in Australia. It is difficult to secure a place with us because people reluctantly move anywhere else, and the quality of care is such that our residents live a long, long and healthy life.

Currently we have 144 residents and over 130 workers. We are truly enjoying the blessings of this part of the “Croatian colony” where Croatian is still spoken, sung, and used for joke telling, and where Croatian cuisine is served…. and where we live and die as Christians. Looking at the dynamics of life and work, nurturing and daily care at the Cardinal Stepinac Village, I have to ask myself how did we ever manage without the Activity centre for so long? This building has provided a completely new quality of work and a dimension of joy both in the daily life of the residents, as well as that of the workers.

hkc Nikola Tavelic