Guide to the Santospirito Collection

Lena SantospiritoThe Santospirito Collection comprises the personal papers of Mrs Lena Santospirito (1895-1983). Mrs Santospirito was a leader of the Italian-Australian community in Melbourne and is best known for her charitable work as President of the Archbishop's Committee for Italian Relief in the early 1950s period of Italian mass immigration to Australia. The records in this Collection document her work with the Archbishop's Committee, as well as her involvement with other institutions and her personal and family affairs.

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Louisa Angelina (Lena) Santospirito

Date Range: 4 April 1895 - 19 November 1983

Lena Santospirito (née Louisa Angelina Virgona in Ballarat in 1895) was the President of the Archbishop's Committee for Italian Relief from 1946 to 1955. Her work to help Italian migrants and Victoria’s Italo-Australian community earned her the title, 'La Mamma degli Italiani'.

The Archbishop's Committee was originally established by Archbishop Daniel Mannix in 1940 to assist people of Italian origin interned by the Commonwealth Government during World War Two and internees' families. Lena Santospirito was a founding member and took over the Presidency from Fr Ugo Modotti (chaplain to Victoria’s Italian community from 1938-1946) when he left Australia in 1946.

The Committee raised funds to support its work by organising dances and balls, bazaars and appeals to the generosity of the Italo-Australian community in Melbourne and Victoria.

In the period of postwar mass immigration to Australia, the Archbishop’s Committee was the foremost provider of welfare services to Italian migrants. Lena Santospirito and the Committee provided migrants with help with finding employment, immigration applications and financial assistance. In the course of her work, Mrs Santospirito corresponded regularly with Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration from 1945-1948, who made personal representations to the Department on behalf of hundreds of prospective migrants.

Lena Santospirito also worked for other religious organisations, including the Capuchin Fathers and the Cabrini Sisters.

The Collection also contains Lena Santospirito's personal papers, including her correspondence with Fr Modotti after he left Australia, and with stigmatist Padre Pio in Foggia, Italy.

Mrs Santospirito's work for Victoria's Italo-Australian community was acknowledged by the Italian Government in 1958, when she was awarded the Italian Star of Solidarity in a ceremony at Raheen, Kew.

Lena Santospirito died on 19 November 1983, at the age of 88.

(For more detailed provenance data, please click on the link 'Lena Santospirito' at the top of this page.)