In the winter of 1932, a baby no more than a few weeks of age, entered the St Joseph’s Babies Home in Broadmeadows, Victoria. His name was Peter.
Peter was placed at St Joseph’s as his mother was unmarried. But rather than be put up for adoption, Peter spent his entire childhood and youth in care. He stayed at the Babies Home until he was moved to St Anthony’s Home in Kew. He then lived at the St Joseph’s Home for Boys in Surrey Hills and finally the St Vincent’s Boys’ Home in South Melbourne.
Peter was just one of more than 100,000 children who spent all or part of their childhood in a Victorian Catholic home or orphanage between 1850 - 1997.
These institutions were part of a chain of homes run by three Catholic orders, the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of St Joseph. In 1997, the three Catholic orders came together to establish MacKillop Family Services. Today, MacKillop is a leading provider of services for children, young people and their families across New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
As soon as he was old enough, Peter left St Vincent’s to go out to work. He always stayed in the Melbourne area and was employed for many years as a driver for the Police Department. He never married or had children of his own.
Despite a happy life sustained by a strong Catholic faith, his Ulysses Motorcycle Club, friends and neighbours, Peter’s interest in his early childhood and family history was never far away. This led him to approach MacKillop’s Heritage and Information Service when was around 70 years old, to find any information available about his birth family and why he came to be placed at the Babies Home.
The Heritage service preserves the client records of orphanages and children’s homes run by MacKillop’s founding agencies. Staff also provide a records search and support for former residents seeking information about their time in one of the homes.
In the course of locating Peter’s records, it was discovered he had an older sister, who had also been in care. Peter had never known of his sister’s existence and from the information on his records it was unlikely that his sister would have known of Peter.
Peter decided that he would like to find his sister. A search was undertaken to try and locate her. This took quite some time but eventually a record of her death was located. This was not what Peter had been hoping for. A little more time elapsed and then Peter decided that he was ready to search for the children of his deceased sister.
One of the children, Julia, was located and she became the spokesperson for her two sisters and two brothers. She was both shocked and surprised to learn of Peter’s existence. The eventual reunion between Peter and his nieces occurred in MacKillop’s South Melbourne offices over morning tea and many tears of joy. Peter arrived early, he was nervous but very excited. His nieces brought a photograph of their mother. There was a strong resemblance between Peter and one of his nieces in particular. The nieces could not believe the extent to which Peter reminded them of their mother in terms of the way he spoke and his mannerisms.
Peter died a year ago in April 2016 at the age of 84. Peter and his nieces continued to meet after their reunion. He was also introduced to his nephews and other extended family members. Peter felt so blessed to finally meet his family after being on his own for so long. But it was his nieces and nephews who felt they were given the greatest gift of all.
Peter spent his final years at Mary MacKillop Aged Care in Hawthorn, Victoria. He was always devoted to the Sisters of St Joseph and he had a strong attachment to the St Vincent Boys’ Home. His funeral was held in the Sisters of St Joseph Chapel with his nieces, extended family, friends, his mates from the Ulysses Motorcycle club, the Sisters of St Joseph and MacKillop all present.
Peter’s story demonstrates the dignity Mary MacKillop showed to all and how this care and love for a child, only a few weeks old, resonated throughout his life. By being there for Peter, MacKillop Family Services enabled him to find love and connect with his family.