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Letters To Anne Frandi-Coory

This page, including images and text,  is Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 27 November 2015

A  Card – From Sister Joanna…

Excerpt from  Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations of Defeated Mothers

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letter from Sister Joanna 3

letter from Sister Joanna

A CARD – from Sister Joanna “this image of Virgin Mary was a favourite kept by your ‘foster mother’ Sister Christopher.”

letter from Sister Joanna 2

Dear Anne

In countless ways we are at the mercy of forces beyond our control, our existences given without our consent; our heredity and all that goes with it of temperament, mental outlook, opportunities and so forth are none of our choosing. We are frighteningly, pitifully dependent. Nevertheless we are answerable. We are free. In all this freedom and unfairness we are responsible for what we do. No-one can remove this responsibility from us. We are answerable not for our heredity, temperament or our natural capacity, but for what we do with these things…Your positive input to your children makes me blessed to have met you. You inspire me.  Don’t give up…the Italian connection will be important and not too late in your lifetime to make contact. The truth will set you free.

 Love and prayers

Sister Joanna (Moira Laverty) 1992

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St Philomena's Dormitory

Rear view of St Philomena’s (image: AFCoory)

Dunedin, New Zealand 1992

The Mercy Orphanage for the Poor had to be my first port of call. So Paul, my daughter Gina and I set off from Blenheim to Dunedin on a mission to connect the dots that made up my early years. During the eight hour drive to Dunedin, my feelings were mixed. I was deeply anxious about facing nuns again. I always held them in awe, afraid of them in a superstitious way, much as one is afraid of the power of an omnipresent god. We pulled up outside the 1.9 metre high concrete walls of the Roman Catholic orphanage in Adelaide Street, Dunedin.  It was as if, by fencing off this relic from the past, the Catholic hierarchy could pretend it wasn’t there. It was right next door to the auspicious St Patrick’s Basilica, an incongruous sight.

As I peered over the top of the wall, I was at first struck by how small the yards and buildings appeared. An analogy of an abandoned movie set sprang to mind as I surveyed the scene below me. I turned and glanced at Paul and Gina, sitting in the car smiling at me and gesturing for me to go in. As usual they intuited that this was something I needed to do alone, so I went around the side of the fence and in through a slightly ajar, dilapidated gate.

Mercy Complex 4

St Vincent’s on the left and St Philomena’s on the right. (image: Sister Joanna)

It was a strange feeling, going back there all these years later. My heart pounded wildly, seemingly out of any rhythm, and I felt hot even though it was a chilly Dunedin day. The first building I came across was the drab concrete steep-roofed, edifice that was St Philomena’s Dormitory. ‘Charles Dickens!’ I thought. Rust stains streaked down from the eroding exterior fire escape. Windows always played a significant part in my memories and I immediately recognised those tall, narrow sashes. But I just couldn’t reconcile in my mind how small that building was now, compared to my memories of it. When I used to run in and out of the dormitory, it seemed a massive structure, housing dozens of ‘big’ girls in school uniform and ubiquitous nuns in black and white habits. It was I remembered, a dormitory for older girls, mostly boarders, when I had been there.

I was deep in my thoughts when I spied a small nun dressed in a knee-length black habit, with a white-trimmed black headscarf partially covering her hair. Her modern but matronly mode of dress was not that of the nuns present during my incarceration there, that was for sure. The nun’s head was bowed as she walked around the perimeter of old St Philomena’s and I assumed that her constantly moving lips were chanting prayers as she fingered the rosary beads clasped in her hands.

As I summoned up the courage to do what I knew I had to, my eyes turned again to look at the disused building’s small windows, which were boarded up with yellowing ply, adding intensity to their derelict state.  It was like looking at a familiar face, but with its eyes poked out. I took in my surrounds: rusty corrugated iron, stained concrete, wire netting and high walls. It was like a deserted prison camp. I wondered how a once noisy and busy place could now be so devoid of life. In some ways I felt a little sad because it was a childhood home of sorts. My eyes scanned the yard for the moving nun, the environment heightening my feeling of lonely disquiet, like I had suddenly arrived at the end of the world, with only this nun and myself in existence.

As the nun gradually moved closer, I approached her and asked quietly if I could see inside St Philomena’s.

‘I used to live there when I was a child,’ I said. I waited for the rebuke, but she just motioned for me to walk with her as she continued her conversation with her God. Is she annoyed with my interruption? I wondered, child-like. After a few minutes she looked up at me with a patient look in her eyes.

‘Tell me your name’ she instructed softly. She bowed her head again, this time slightly over to the side I was walking on, a gesture that implied she was ready to listen.

‘Anne Coory’, I replied with inculcated reverence, scared stiff she may hate the name as much as I did.

Expecting her to ask for more information, I quickly went over the prepared details in my mind, nearly missing her almost whispered offering that her name was Sister Joanna and that she knew of my brothers and me. With all the children who passed through this place, what was it about the Coory children’s time there, that a young nun, over forty years later, would know of them at the mere mention of the name?

After a few moments of silence Sister Joanna, in a brighter voice, offered to show me around the other buildings, explaining that we couldn’t enter the dormitory itself as it was structurally unsafe. I began to feel more relaxed and comforted by Sister Joanna’s warming demeanour. This was the first time I had ever been able to have a conversation with a nun as an equal, woman to woman, and somehow this empowered me. The childish awe and reverence had been replaced with calm. I felt the unspoken acknowledgment of my troubled spirit quell my anxiety. Even childhood anxieties about the orphanage and nuns in general melted away as I walked and talked with Sister Joanna. As we rounded the corner of a red brick and wooden building my subdued heart leapt into a frenzy again. I stopped in my tracks. I had instantly recognised St Agnes’ Nursery, with its familiar row of wooden windows, three panes in each.

St Agnes' Nursery

St Agnes’ Nursery (image: AFCoory)

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Nursery supervisor Sister Christopher far right. The other three nuns are her biological sisters. (image: Sister Joanna)

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My first orphanage home at St Agnes’ Nursery was for babies and toddlers, while the adjacent St Vincent’s housed the older children. The building was of similar construction to St Agnes’ although much larger. Because the children were separated by gender at five years of age, the inmates at St Vincent’s were mostly girls and a handful of boys under five. There were two other buildings in the Mercy complex, which stretched out to the east and behind the Basilica. Orphanages and boarding schools were always built in close proximity to Catholic churches so that daily visits to Mass and prayer were expedient in order to save souls.

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Mercy Complex

Mercy Convent (image: Sister Joanna)

Behind the Basilica was the attractive and quite modern looking convent, also built of brick and concrete with a white trim. It was built in December 1901 to replace the old wooden cottage which the Sisters of Mercy occupied when they first arrived in Dunedin on 17 January 1897, a few months before my paternal grandparents Jacob and Eva Coory migrated to New Zealand from Lebanon. The nuns were very proud of their new convent, and it served them well over many years. New additions were added in1945. Those of us who lived permanently within the Mercy complex, devoid of television, radio, and non-Catholic perspectives, were totally institutionalised.

St Joseph's Cathedral & St Dominic's College blog 2

St Joseph’s Cathedral with St Dominic’s Boarding College on the right, at the top of Rattray Street in Dunedin (image: AFCoory)

[When I was nine years old, my father sent me to St Dominics Boarding College]

I told Sister Joanna  I had discovered, years later, that the cost of sending me to St Dominic’s was far greater than keeping me here at the orphanage, and that my father was concerned that he couldn’t afford the expense on top of the Sunday Pledge. I overheard my father talking to his Coory extended family (The Family) about it one day, although I can’t recall the conversation in detail. It was clear The Family were not about to assist, financially or otherwise.

Sister Joanna surmised that The Family may have been embarrassed by the fact that a close relative was living at an orphanage for the poor, when their station in life had improved remarkably in recent years.

‘Lebanese families had become very strong within the congregation of the cathedral,’ she told me. The cathedral was adjacent to St Dominic’s College, where many Lebanese daughters attended day classes. ‘Also,’ continued Sister Joanna, ‘at that time Middle Eastern Catholic priests, including those from Lebanon, had begun to train for holy orders in the seminary in Dunedin and were often consigned to duties at the cathedral. And of course the cathedral would have profited greatly from the Lebanese community’s generous financial contributions.’

St Vincent's

View of the kitchen double doors leading into St Vincent’s kitchen and dining room. On the left of the picture is the tree in which the mother cat and her kittens were hiding.

My father’s childhood malnourishment caused him to insist Sister Christopher buy the best food for my brothers and me. It was something he was quite obsessive about. We were also to be given daily doses of malt and Lane’s Emulsion, which he supplied. Never-the-less, I still managed to contract scarlet fever, asthma, and ringworm. Anguish was the underlying cause of many of my father’s actions and, I am sure, some of his own ill-health. He harboured a deep resentment toward his extended family over their refusal to care for us while he worked long, hard hours. My father was a simple, uneducated man, but he wasn’t stupid. He could see the injustice and often lamented, when I was a child, that The Family never treated his children the way they treated our cousins. My father had other valid reasons for not speaking to particular members of his family. I didn’t know then of The Family’s history and I didn’t always understand what he was saying. I had no idea that most children lived completely different lives from me and the other children at the orphanage.

Sister Joanna showed much empathy and understanding of the distress I still felt when speaking about my parents. She took my sadness to heart, the fact I never knew my mother intimately and that she and I were prevented from seeing each other. She knew of my mother’s bipolar disorder and that she had spent much of her life in Porirua Mental Hospital, as it was then called. I think my pain was evident when I spoke of the way the Coory family had constantly demonised my mother, calling her a  sharmuta (Aramaic word for prostitute). I explained to Sister Joanna that, during all of my research into my mother’s life, there was never anything to suggest that my mother was a prostitute.  She did turn to men for love and affection because her own family had rejected her and the Coory family never accepted her. I believe that what went on in Carroll Street when my mother lived there was responsible for the initial severe manifestation of her disorder. She had never known such extremes until that part of her life.  I believe that my mother was the scapegoat for all the ills of The Family until she left and I took over the role, much as one takes over a heredity title.

  • Read more here in the memoir Whatever Happened To Ishtar? – A Passionate Quest by Anne Frandi-Coory to find answers for generations of defeated mothers, including her own.
Joseph and Doreen

Anne Frandi-Coory’s parents Joseph and Doreen

Kevin blog 1

Kevin

1873-1915

Anne and Anthony

Excerpt from ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’ 

The following two letters were written by Anne Albert to her niece, Anne Frandi-Coory, following the death of her mother, Doreen Marie Frandi.  Anne Albert died shortly after writing the second of the letters to her niece, but if she had not met her niece at Doreen’s funeral. the two would not have known each other and there is so much about Doreen’s life that her daughter would never have discovered.

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***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

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Doreen Maria Betty Anne

Doreen, Maria (mother of the other 3 women) Betty Gentz, Anne Albert

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To my niece, Anne Frandi-Coory [1995 & 1996]

Dear Anne

I just wanted to tell you how much it has meant to me to meet you at this time. It has taken some of the bitterness out of your mother’s death, for me.

Knowing you, I now realise that her life was not all tragedy, for if she was responsible for giving life to someone as warm & caring, & beautiful as you are, it was instead, a triumph.

I intend to type the story of her life as I know it, and will send it to you.

Your mother was a gentle woman. The mental illness took away the potential she had, to be all that she was capable of being. That was the tragedy of her life.

Try to think of her each day for a minute or two; of her life, and your love for her. That way I am sure her spirit will begin to live with you.

Many loving thoughts, Auntie Anne.

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As promised, Anne, here is your mother’s story:

Doreen was such a beautiful child that on the ship which brought her, her brother and parents to New Zealand, a genuine childless couple offered her parents money to allow them to adopt her.  Doreen had a cloud of bright red curls that framed her pretty face.  How different Doreen’s life would have been had the adoption gone ahead.  Life within the Alfredo Frandi family was an uneasy one, so inclined was he to uncontrollable bouts of violent rage, during which he would throw furniture around the room and punch holes in doors.  Often it was his wife, Maria, a pale and nervous woman,  who felt the force of his fists.  Maria was in a perpetual state of acute anxiety and her concern about their lack of money exacerbated this state.  Alfredo was a labourer and work was hard to come by.  They had four children they could barely feed and clothe so any subsequent  pregnancies were aborted  with a knitting needle.  Unfortunately, as the oldest daughter, Doreen was needed to assist with the cleaning up after these procedures.  Maria had no conception of the trauma this was causing her daughter, and which was to haunt Doreen for the rest of her life.

When Doreen was sixteen years old, I was born, but I have never quite known why I was not aborted.  I can only suppose that my mother may have been experiencing symptoms of the menopause and may have been unaware of the pregnancy in  time.  So unexpected was my birth, that an apple crate was all that my parents had to lay me in.  Doreen was thrilled about the new baby and set about lining the crate with material and making it look pretty for me.  This was the beginning of Doreen’s devotion to me which was to last all her life.

Doreen was a very gentle girl and she was a help to her mother in caring for  the younger children, but she loathed house work of any kind.  She was adept at shopping for bargains and was a very good sewer.  Catholicism began to influence her life early on, as it brought her a peace and beauty so missing from her home environment.  Significantly, the nuns at the convent school she attended, recognized her potential for a vocation and one nun, Sister Anne, encouraged Doreen all she could to think about entering the convent.  As Doreen approached womanhood she exhibited no interest in boys or other worldly things, so firmly were her sights set of becoming a Catholic nun.  Alfredo was dead against his eldest daughter becoming a nun and turned the house upside down to show how much he detested the very idea.  This turmoil only made her more determined, and after a short time working in a department store and following her debut at the annual charity ball, for which she made her own stunning gown,  Doreen entered the convent.

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Doreen's debut

Doreen’s Debut in the dress she made herself

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Initially Doreen loved her life as a nun, but after almost a year of doing nothing but housework, she asked if she could train as a nurse.  Her wish was to care for severely handicapped children.  However, her request was greeted with profound disapproval because to actually ask to be able to do what one wanted, was against the very  strict rules of the convent  as well as a denial of the vow of absolute obedience.  Doreen was severely reprimanded and as a result sunk into a deep depression.  The nuns could not understand Doreen’s depression;  they believed that if you had a true vocation faith was enough to protect you from such things.  They then put pressure on Doreen constantly questioning her commitment to her vocation.  Doreen became hysterical which appalled the nuns, and they subsequently demanded that her mother remove her from the convent.  They could not know that bi polar disorder was manifesting itself in Doreen and would consequently ruin her life.

Doreen recovered very slowly from her first breakdown but she was devastated that her vocation was at an end and that she had broken her vow to God.  Doreen did  finally find acceptance and there followed a succession of jobs, which began a pattern set for the rest of her life;  employment interspersed with breakdowns.  In the 1940’s not much was known about bi polar disorder nor were there any satisfactory drugs available at the time.  Doreen was then subjected to countless ECT treatments without anaesthetic which really amounted to torture.  Around this time Doreen’s Aunt Italia, Alfredo’s only sister who was then 70 years of age, decided to take more of an interest in her niece. Italia  regaled Doreen with stories of the privileged   life the Frandi family lived in Italy before they arrived in New Zealand [Italia was born in Pisa, Italy in 1869]. Aristodemo, Italia’s father, had to flee Italy because he was a political agitator alongside Garibaldi, and Italia showed Doreen the fine silver and linen they had brought over with them.  Italia also dazzled Doreen with stories about the family riding in a grand carriage and people bowed with respect for them. Whenever  Doreen  was in the manic phase of her illness, she had illusions of grandeur, and would repeat all that her aunt had told her about their previous  life in Italy.  In these early stages of her illness, Doreen would spend money she did not have and would charge up accounts to her Aunt Italia and sometimes even stay in expensive hotels, all charged against her aunt’s name.  Following these episodes Doreen would then sink into the depths of depression. 

Shortly before the end of the war Doreen joined the Air Force.  It was while she was in  the Force that Doreen met the father of her first child, Kevin. Phillip Coory  neglected  to mention that he was already married with a young  son, Vas, until Doreen informed him  that she was pregnant.  Phillip Coory  believed at the time that that was the end of the matter and he had rid himself of her, but then his brother Joseph came on the scene.  Joseph was a kind and simple man, who did his best to make Doreen happy.  Sadly, his family conspired  against Doreen from the outset; perhaps they did not approve of her good looks or the way the marriage came about.  The marriage ended in disaster;  Joseph was not her intellectual equal and her illness would have been extremely difficult to live with. About three years after their marriage Anne was born and eighteen months later, came Anthony.  Following a severe bout of  bi polar disorder, the children were taken from her and placed in an Orphanage for the Poor in South Dunedin.

The permanent loss of  her children caused Doreen great anguish from which she never really recovered.  In later years she had contact with her daughter Anne, but Doreen was never able to accept that the child did not blame her mother for her abandonment.  Years later, her youngest son, Anthony moved to Wellington to live, but that feeling of guilt never left her and obviously prevented her from having an emotional relationship with her son, although he did make a futile attempt at it.  Doreen and Kevin lived a life of great hardship and near poverty, with Doreen frequently suffering nervous breakdowns, which culminated in her being  admitted to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital.  Kevin had to learn to deal with his mother’s extreme mood swings from a very early age which made his young life intolerable at times.  I have no idea how she coped during those years but I am sure that sometimes  she must have prayed for death, yet through it all her faith in God  never wavered and carried her through until the day she died.

At the peak of her loneliness, Doreen met a man, Edward Stringer, and spent a night with him.  Of course, given her luck, or lack thereof, it ended in pregnancy.  During the weeks after the birth of her daughter, Florence, and suffering from depression, Doreen signed adoption papers for her daughter.  Sometime later, Edward and Doreen met up again, and with the sole intention of getting her daughter back, she married Edward.  Heartbreakingly for Doreen, it was much too late; the adoption was quite legal and binding. Once again life had defeated Doreen and during a severe bout of mania, Edward left, unable to cope with his new wife’s disorder.  From this, there followed a period of dreariness, when Doreen and Kevin lived in a state house at 56 Hewer Crescent Naenae, Lower Hutt in Wellington, and she obtained a reasonably stable job in a factory close by.  At least the disorder left Doreen in peace for an extended period, in which Doreen developed a love of cats, and she had up to six at one time or another.

Kevin started up a very successful restaurant, Bacchus, in Courtney Place in Wellington.  Doreen was employed by Kevin in the kitchen of the restaurant, and she appeared to enjoy her time there.  Sadly her mother died on 10 March 1980, which caused Doreen to have another nervous breakdown.  Following her recovery, Doreen retired from work and moved into a council flat in Daniell Street, Newtown in Wellington.  During this time, she appeared to me to be doing no more than going through the motions of living.  My heart ached to see her like that, with no apparent interest in anything.  Kevin’s bankruptcy and his consequent  permanent move to Sydney, took the utmost toll on her spiritual well being.  Doreen then lapsed into a serious bout of her  disorder, suffering yet another complete nervous breakdown, and she was admitted once again to Porirua Hospital for a considerable time.

I have no doubt whatsoever, that it was not only Doreen’s manic depressive illness that had such a destructive effect on her life.  I sincerely believe that she carried guilt feelings from her experiences as a young girl,  witnessing  her mother’s self inflicted abortions, made worse by Doreen’s Catholic beliefs.       I realized this to be true, with great clarity, when I visited her at the hospital during her final stay there in 1995. She led me out into the hospital gardens, and pointed to a bed of purple pansies in bloom.  “There you see” she told me with infinite sadness, “there are all the little babies”

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Read more here:My Mother Was A Catholic Nun 

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Doreen’s Children….

Kevin

Kevin Coory

Anne and Anthony at first Santa photo session

Anne and Anthony Coory

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Florence – adopted out (now Hudayani Gleeson)

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Vincent aka Bruce 2

Vincent – adopted out (now Bruce McKenzie)

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Doreen’s headstone at Whenua Tapu Cemetery, Wellington

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More:  ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar? – A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’

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