The Southern Cross : May 2011
May 2011 Page 7 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross people | When the massive earthquake struck off the coast of Japan on March 11, Catholic high school teacher Sister Margaret Schneider, who is visiting in Adelaide, knew it was going to be a big one. "We felt it shake quite a bit," she said. "It was quite scary. We knew it was going to be strong." Sr Margaret arrived in Adelaide three days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami ripped through the north-east coast of Japan causing mass destruction, death and continuing global concern of radioactive contamination from the country's damaged nuclear power plants. For the past 25 years, the 59-year-old American- born nun has been living in Japan's Seto City. She belongs to the Catholic Sisters of Charity of Saints Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa, who run an all-girl's high school in Seto. The city of 132,000 people is about 200km from Tokyo and yet still felt the shockwaves of the earthquake in March. "You are almost paralysed," said Sr Margaret, who was readying herself for evacuation from the empty schoolrooms of the Saint Capitanio Girl's High School where she was marking end-of-year reports. Sr Margaret was in Adelaide leading a group of 35 Japanese students living and studying in Adelaide Catholic schools since February. The group departed for home last month following cultural excursions around Adelaide and learning English at Mary MacKillop College, in Kensington, St Aloysius College, in the city, and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, in Enfield. The Saint Capitanio students have been visiting Adelaide as part of their English Course for the past eight years. Students from Mary MacKillop College presented the Saint Capitanio girls with a cheque of $836 following a fundraising drive. Sr Margaret said the money would be used to assist students in Japan whose families had been affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Mary MacKillop head prefect Jacqueline Wilde said: "The visit of the St Capitanio girls is always a wonderful way for us to learn about the culture of Japan. This year we were moved by the terrible destruction in their country and we wanted to make some contribution to the disaster relief fund." FROM JAPAN TO KENSINGTON: Saint Capitanio students with Sr Margaret Schneider at the conclusion of their visit to Mary MacKillop College. Photo: Stephen Gray ENSINGTON S i tC it i t d t ith S M tS h id t th l i fth i i it t M M Kill C ll Timely visit to SA Continued from page 1. "We had each other and we had our faith; that's what kept us going." Their early days in Adelaide where both Basia and her husband, Janusz, worked on a production line making Simpson washing machines and driers was a far cry from their life in Salisia in southern Poland. There, Janusz was in a managerial position with a mining company and Basia had a successful business as a milliner but their decision to support the Solidarity movement and a growing awareness of the dangers of the oppressive regime led them to pack their most prized possessions into a caravan and leave their family and friends forever. "I remember watching Tomasz when he was one and a half standing and looking out the window as the military tanks rolled past to break a strike at the mining company and I remember praying that the miners would survive the night," Basia said. "I was concerned about my family; even though you have patriotic thoughts, at the end it is your family and the future of your children that is important." After leaving their home in the night for Greece, where Poles were still permitted to travel, the Gebskis had to make their way to Italy before their three-day visas expired to a refugee camp run by a Catholic organisation called WCC in Latina, on the outskirts of Rome. The camp was a dangerous place for children with migrants from Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia living together. Janusz worked as a farm labourer and Basia as a house cleaner but she said they were grateful to have three meals a day and a place to sleep. With three young children, they were amongst a number of families selected to leave the camp and live in accommodation at Tivoli where there was a chapel and a Polish priest who organised the visit to the Vatican. Their daughter Aleksandra, 8, was blessed by the Pope at her first Communion at St Peter's Basilica and their eldest daughter Jadwiga, 10, was confirmed in Rome. Nearly 25 years later, Aleksandra and Jadwiga are marketing graduates and happily married with children while young Tomasz married last year and has his own plumbing business. After struggling to learn English initially, Basia finally managed to complete a university degree in Social Planning at the age of 48 but not before recording every lecture and transcribing them at home each night to help her overcome the language barrier. She started her career as a research officer on gambling for the State Government and later for Uniting Care Wesley before seeing a job advertised for a position with the Adelaide Archdiocese supporting all migrants of European background. With a strong devotion to Our Lady of Czestowchowa (the Black Madonna), this was a dream come true for Basia who continues to work in multicultural services for the Archdiocese. "Before completing my degree I promised myself that if I ever got a job I would like to work with migrants and refugees because I understood what it was like to be a migrant in this country," she said. And now, in another twist of fate, she is helping to organise the celebrations for the beatification of her beloved John Paul II. "Deep inside I think we as Polish people are deeply blessed that this is happening in our lifetime. He united the whole world, all of the races, all of the cultures, he loved all of the people and that's why he is so loved and respected," she said. Polish pact TWENTY FIVE YEARS ON: Basia and Janusz (centre) with their children and partners and grandchildren at a family gathering in Adelaide.