Benedicta House a place of prayer and ongoing mission

Nine Sisters of the Good Samaritan living in Melbourne have moved into a brand new built-for-purpose residence, called Benedicta House. The name, which pays tribute to the Sisters’ Benedictine spirituality, also speaks of a place of blessing and peace.

Six Sisters made the move into Benedicta House from their previous residence, Marian House, in October last year and three Sisters moved in from other community houses.

Marian House had been a significant residence for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan since 1976. It was built as a nursing home and, at various times, was home to retired Sisters as well as Sisters who were holidaying, convalescing, and gathering there for meetings and special events.

But as the building aged, it began to require significant repairs and upkeep. Following many consultations over many years it was decided it was a better option to start afresh in a new building.

Sister Marella Rebgetz SGS, who, working with a Project Manager and a small project control group, oversaw the building of Benedicta House, said the building and relocation was a gradual process.

“It’s been a work in progress over three different leadership teams and it was discussed before that for even longer,” she said. “There was a lot of consultation with the Sisters over many years about what to do.

“Marian House was a 35-bedroom residence and the units didn’t have ensuites. On top of that, it needed an enormous amount of maintenance and significant repair. There were only a few Sisters still living in this large building. It really wasn’t fit for purpose any longer.”

Marian House. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Marian House was located in Northcote on land adjacent to Santa Maria College and owned by Good Samaritan Education. It will now be demolished and the College will build a new ‘Village’ for Years 9-10 on the land.

Marella said while it was a big job clearing out Marian House, many of the items it contained had been passed on to others for their use.

“We invited the teachers at the school to take anything from the pile of goods we were getting rid of and many of them did, even repurposing some of the more ‘retro’ items that we thought we might need to throw out,” she said.

Other household goods were shipped to Bacolod in the Philippines where the Sisters have distributed items to families who lost everything in fires recently, while some furniture went to a Buddhist monastery and other items were given to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

One of the residents who made the move from Marian House to Benedicta House was Sister Maureen Keating SGS. She said that although there were certainly mixed emotions among the Sisters at various times in the journey, the outcome had been positive.

“I definitely enjoyed living at Marian House – it was large and spacious and very hospitable – so there was a fair bit of sadness to have to move,” she said.

“But now that we’ve moved in, while we’re all still at different stages of getting used to things, I think there is a real appreciation of what’s been provided for us, and how beautifully it was prepared before we even arrived.

“Each unit has been fitted with everything we need, and I think that during the whole way through the process to its completion we felt welcomed and supported by the process under Marella’s care.

“Each of us is coping in our own way and with a sense of humour as we learn to use some of the new technology in the units. There is a lot that we’re truly grateful for.”

Not everything is sparkling new in Benedicta House, however.

The Good Samaritan stained-glass window has been installed in Benedicta House. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Two of the three stained-glass windows from the Marian House chapel have been re-set and transferred to Benedicta House, forming a precious link between the two residences.

“They have been placed on internal walls and have been specially lit. They look fantastic,” Marella said.

“The College is going to put the third stained-glass window in their new building to acknowledge the ongoing relationship with the Sisters.

“One of the lovely things about still being located next to the school is that the Sisters will be able to keep their connections to the College and feel a part of that community as they always have.”

Following a Congregation-wide competition to name the new residence, the official opening and blessing of Benedicta House took place on 1 October 2023. It included the handing over of the design drawings by Smith and Tracey, Architects; the key to the door by the builder, Renew Construction; the Operational Manual by Grant Hobson, Project Manager; and the design drawing of the oratory furnishing by Alexsandra Pontonia.

Marella was given the honour of unlocking the door and leading the gathering in prayer.

“The recurring theme in the prayers and readings was that of peace,” Maureen said. “Each room was blessed and God’s constant presence in all aspects of our lives was recognised.

“It was a great day for all of us, and I think for the professional people involved as well, to have their work recognised within this religious context of blessing. It added an extra dimension and really brought home how its purpose is to be a place of prayer and ongoing mission, even as we age, and that it be a place of hospitality and peace, which are both aspects represented in the name Benedicta House.”

This article was published in the March 2024 edition of The Good Oil.

Sister Helen Ryan SGS recently celebrated her 100th birthday in Benedicta House. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.