From “The Three Saints” by Stefano Girola
Things really seemed to take a turn for the better: In 1936 Rosario married a woman of Sicilian origin, Alfia Patti, a resident in North Queensland from the age of four. Rosario’s dream was also fulfilled by the purchase of his first piece of land, on the Lever Estate farm in Silkwood, to where he moved after the wedding. In 1939, Alfia gave birth to Vera but the happiness of this event was short- lived. After a few days her health took a turn for the worse; there were several complications, as if her blood was poisoned, and she was near death. One Saturday morning Rosario found himself alone and desperate in the corridors of the Innisfail Hospital. He could hear the child crying and he did not know what to do.
Distraught by the pain and many sleepless nights, he went back home and fell into a restless sleep, where he dreamt of the Three Saints, who appeared in the most familiar image for him; that of the statues held in the church of St Alfio. They spoke to him in a reassuring way: “Don’t worry Rosario, don’t be afraid, everything will be alright”. Rosario woke up disturbed and felt the need to tell a friend about the dream and, at the same time, he took a vow to Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino: if his daughter and wife survived, he would provide for the statues to be sent from Sicily. His wife and daughter were transferred to another hospital, where doctors finally gave the appropriate treatment. Rosario had no doubts: he associated the recovery of his wife, Alfia, with his dream. As a child he had obviously seen the ex-voto of Trecastagni, or those in the church of St Alfio, in which three small figures in the corner of the painting watched over that body lying on the bed in the operating theatre, in a critical moment of weakness. It was as if the Saints, with light emanating from them, guided the surgeon bent over the patient. After a few days of convalescence, Alfia and Vera were cured. From that moment on Rosario became fixated on the thought of fulfilling the vow he made to the Three Saints and having their statues sent over.
It was in the period between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1948 that, following a conversation between Rosario Tornabene and Father Natali, the idea of having the statues of the Three Saints sent to Queensland was put into practice. Many years had passed since Rosario made his vow, which, although never completely forgotten, had been overshadowed by the many troubles of his life and temporarily put on hold. Now his intention of bringing over the statues coincided with the need of the parish priest to organise events that would draw the Italians back to the church, thus providing much-needed financial support. But there was another aim, as the elderly Father Natali explained in a 1997 interview, in which he recalled that conversation with Tornabene; he wanted to add a new dimension to the lives of the people for whom work was their only concern.
“Over in Silkwood those poor people worked all day, you know. They never had anything, no festivities, nothing. So I always encouraged them to have something to liven the place up and, one day, Tornabene came to me and I said: ‘Look, I said, what would you like to have here? He said, “Well, you know, in our town we used to have the Feast of the Three Saints, St Alfio, Cirino and Filadelfo and boy, those were big feasts!” “Well”, I said, “Do you want to have the same feast over here? I’ll be glad to allow you to bring the Saints”. “Oh”, he said, “that would be wonderful!”
Now Rosario had no hesitation; he soon wrote to his parents in Sicily, explaining what he needed and pledging to pay personally for all the necessary expenses. He was prepared to make any sacrifice in order to fulfill the vow he made to the Saints. Rosario allocated his whole share of his father’s property to this project. His parents got in touch with an old artisan in Giarre, who would use the wood of those cherry trees that, as Tornabene still remembered many years later, “were near my father’s property”. The artist’s brief was to carve identical statues, but on a smaller scale, to those held in the Main Church of Saint Alfio.
For more History of the Feast of the Three Saints, please see our “50th Anniversary Book”.