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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.”

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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.

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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

***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.***

Anne blog

Anne Frandi-Coory

Since I wrote ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ in 2010, a tell-all book about life within immigrant Lebanese and Italian families, I have received thousands of hits on my blog. Some relatives’ views are critical of my baring family ‘secrets’ for all to read. Some refuse to read the book. Most descendants of the people, places, I write about, along with the photos that have come to light, are appreciative. The majority of readers say they empathise with what I have to say in the book; that it has influenced them to be more tolerant of mental illness, and to understand more deeply, the emotional harm that can be caused to children, when they and their mothers are constantly abused, vilified and demonised.

The very personal memoirs I write about, including my own, are told with heartbreaking honesty because sometimes you have to shock readers into the realities of life for those women and children who are abused, neglected, and who have no safe haven.

There are times in life, in every culture, when marriages fail, parents die or become ill, families fall on difficult times.  Everyone understands this, and we have to make the best of it. However, when physical and emotional abuse is meted out to innocent children by their own family, then that is entirely another matter.  The same is true when children witness that same level of abuse toward their mothers. The post traumatic stress that grips these vulnerable children, can be every bit as devastating as that suffered by children who have lived in the midst of a violent war.

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Anne's first year at St Patrick's

Anne Frandi-Coory at Catholic Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in Dunedin, New Zealand

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This is the premise of my book. Motherhood and childhood can be difficult enough, but when you are alone, with no family support, life is precarious. I researched my paternal Lebanese and maternal Italian family histories extensively for the book, but nothing could have prepared me for the soul destroying stories I uncovered; the brutality of husbands and fathers, the sexual abuse, the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the Catholic Church.  Not to mention the fateful abandonment of children by their mothers. But the most fundamental insight I gained from all the research, is that, like ripples in a pond, the ongoing psychological effects are transmitted down through succeeding generations.  As one of the reviewers of my book wrote:

 

What is ironic is that she [Anne] uncovers the rich cultural history of these families and the fact that such wonderful traits and traditions were all but lost to modern generations as her family tree fractures again and again.

 

Someone has to be brave enough to tell the truth. Powerful families can leave children they do not favour, on the scrapheap of life, with no prospect of being accepted into other good families within their community, either through marriage or friendships. They are ‘tainted’ goods, and have to break all family ties just to survive.  Few people who have not experienced this life event can comprehend the courage it takes to wipe all your extended family from your life, even an abusive family. It can take years for the emotional scars inflicted on such children, to heal. An adult deprived of a loving childhood has to learn how to play, to make lasting friendships, in effect, to be ‘socialised’ at the same time as healing is taking place. It takes enormous amounts of energy and soul searching. This is vital if they are to become a contributing member of the community they eventually choose to live in. Some of us make it, many of us don’t.

The answer isn’t just in education, although of course this is important. The answer lies in the memoirs left behind, the minutiae of everyday lives within abusive families, because if we don’t read our negative history, whether it’s family, country, or world history, how are we going to know what changes to make so that what happened in the past, isn’t perpetuated into the future.  Very often, personal stories can be the motivation to change behaviours and even laws. Because when we read these ‘survivors’’ biographies, we are in a way, walking in their shoes, reliving with them all the abuse and trauma. I know that it can take decades to change entrenched cultures. But even one person can make a difference, in one lifetime.

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© To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 8 March 2012……

……..https://frandi.wordpress.com/buy-a-signed-copy-of-whatever-happened-to-ishtar-directly-from-the-author/

Published in The Australian Writer issue #377 December 2012

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

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Wherefore hidest thou thy face?…Wilt thou harass a driven leaf?    Job xiii: 24-25

….But you should also be proud that your mothers and fathers came from a land upon which God laid his gracious hand and raised his messengers.  – Kahlil Gibran, I believe in you (1926)

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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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When I was a child, my father’s was the face I searched for whenever I heard heavy, non-nun-like footsteps echoing on the highly polished floors of the orphanage. I was always and forever tuned into the sound of footsteps. A nun’s footsteps sounded lighter, stress-free, and somehow patient, like they themselves were.  It was as if they had all the time in the world to get where they were going, praying as they went.

Once I was alerted that a nun was on her way, I would strain my ears for the accompanying rhythm, in tune with a particular nun’s footsteps, of the rosary beads clinking with the heavy crucifix hanging from a belt around her waist. I would know who she was before I saw her face. A visitor’s footsteps, on the other hand, were usually more purposeful, more intent on their course. Perhaps it was someone wishing to get the visit over with, to leave as quickly as possible. The fact that there were many children living there didn’t make the place any less sombre. Colours were an unnecessary luxury. ‘Interior décor’ was a phrase out of place and out of mind in that institution. My father, Joseph Jacob Habib Eleishah Coory, rarely visited me and I learned very early on not to expect to see anyone other than the Sisters of Mercy, day in and day out. Occasionally, a priest would visit the orphanage but I rarely had any significant contact with them. They were, as far as my child’s mind could fathom, so close to God and so holy that they would not want to bother with me. The nuns reinforced this perception by their subservient attitude whenever a priest or bishop made an entrance. But when my father came to visit me, I would feel a strange kind of comfort, almost a feeling of surprise, at the sight of him.

All through my childhood, I would reach out for his emotional support. and in his emotional immaturity, he would reach out for mine. As young as I was, I always sensed that he needed me as much as I needed him. In this way, we both survived my childhood. Perhaps it was my concern for him and his whereabouts when he left me that caused me so much anxiety. He could never stay for long and his leaving always caused my insides to churn, which I never really learned to deal with. A Catholic orphanage  was not the sort of place where your emotional needs were attended to. The most important thing here was the health of your soul. My father always seemed harassed and a bit lost, so eventually I avoided scenes of tears because it would only upset him. I had no idea what was happening to my father on the outside of the orphanage but it didn’t stop me from picking up on his moods and demeanour. Children like me become very adept at internalising emotions and hurts. But there were times when the dam burst, causing me to scream and yell so much that the nuns would lose their patience and lock me in a cupboard or a small room. There was always that air of emotional fragility about Joseph, my very being attuned and attentive to his every nuance. Too soon I would become the adult and he the child. Perhaps this was why I took so long to deal with my own emotional needs.

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Joseph with his oldest & youngest sisters, Elizabeth & Pearl

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Jacob and Eva Coory’s firstborn son, Joseph, followed two daughters, Elizabeth and Amelia. But sadly Joseph was not the healthy son his parents longed for. His sickly entry into the world was one of the reasons he suffered ill-health all of his life. According to his father’s diary, written in his native Aramaic, Joseph almost died when he was a newborn. He was so ill during his first two years that his mother wrapped him warmly and tightly and waited for him to die. Joseph suffered ill thrift all through his baby and toddler years because he could only suck small amounts of milk, sometimes bread soaked in milk. I was later to discover that Joseph’s birth had never been registered so there is no doubt that his parents expected that he would die. From his childhood to his death, he never ate a balanced diet, ever. He existed instead on bread and cheese, some fruit, and endless cups of sweet milky tea.  He was a simple man who attained the literacy levels only of a twelve-year-old. But he could speak English and Aramaic fluently. He left school at the age of nine and refused to return because of the beatings he says were meted out to him by the Christian Brothers. As a young boy he only spoke comfortably in Aramaic, so language was definitely a barrier to his learning. It has been confirmed by his cousins that his parents refrained from disciplining him because of his fragile health and that he, quite literally, got away with doing almost whatever he wanted to do at home. He in turn clung to them for the rest of their lives and he never left The Family home at 67 Carroll Street in Dunedin, where he was born.

Below: Catholic orphanage, schools & boarding college complex in Adelaide Road South Dunedin which also included the Sisters of Mercy convent, as described in Anne Frandi-Coory’s book:

‘Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’

***All text and photographs on this page are copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photographs can be downloaded or copied without the written permission of the author.***

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A Passionate Quest To Fine Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers

You can buy an autographed copy of this book directly from the author:

HERE: BUY NOW

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St Philomena's Dormitory

Rear view of St Philomena’s Dormitory (for older girls) shortly before it was demolished. Anne lived here for a short time before being sent to St Dominic’s Boarding College at 9 years. (Photo:copyright to afcoory)

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St Philomena's Dormitory 2

The long remembered narrow sashes and fire escapes. (Photo:copyright to afcoory)

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Carmody sisters: Sister Christopher, right (Anne Frandi-Coory’s ‘foster mother’ & nursery supervisor) with her three biological sisters. (Photo: Sister Joanna)

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St Patrick's school & chapel

St Patrick’s Primary School and Chapel in the Mercy Orphanage complex where Anne & Kevin began their first year at school. (Photo: Sister Joanna)

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Group

Anne (3rd row from front, 2nd left), in St Patrick’s School group photo; most were day pupils. (Photo: Joseph Coory copyright to afcoory)

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St Agnes' Nursery

St Agnes’ Nursery where Kevin, Anne, Anthony, were placed as infants. (Photo: copyright to afcoory)

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St Vincent's

St Vincent’s building which housed the orphanage kitchen & dining room. On the left, the same tree in which Anne saw the never forgotten black mother cat & kittens, while she lived at the orphanage. (Photo: copyright to afcoory)
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BELOW: The Catholic St Joseph’s Boys’ Home, 133-135 Doon Street,  Otago Peninsula. The Boys’ Home, when my brothers lived there,  was surrounded by farmland owned by the Catholic Church (This building now serves as a students’ and nuns’ hostel)

St Joseph's Boys' Home Waverley 5

Front entrance to St Joseph’s Orphanage for boys at Waverley, Otago Peninsula; home to Kevin & Anthony at various times. (Photo: copyright to afcoory)

Rear view St Joseph's Boys' Home Waverley overlooking Harbour

Rear view of St Joseph’s Orphanage overlooking Otago Harbour. (Photo: Copyright to afcoory)

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BELOW: St Dominic’s Boarding College, surrounded by St Joseph’s Cathedral, St Joseph’s Primary School and Christian Brothers’ establishment.

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St Dominic's College

Imposing view of St Dominic’s Boarding College at the top of Rattray Street, Dunedin. (This building was one of the first to be built totally in concrete, in the Southern Hemisphere. (Photo: copyright to afcoory)

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St Joseph's Cathedral, St Dominic's College, St Joseph's Primary School

Another view of the Dominican complex & St Joseph’s Cathedral (photo: copyright to afcoory)

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Rear view of St Dominic’s boarding complex behind the Cathedral (photo: copyright to afcoory)

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St Dominic’s entrance to the boarding college kitchen and dining room; day pupils could also have their lunch there if their parents paid.(Photo: copyright to afcoory)

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St Joseph's Cathedral & St Dominic's College

Dunedin Lebanese Citadel viewed from Rattray Street: St Joseph’s Cathedral & St Dominic’s Boarding College (Photo:copyright to afcoory)

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