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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Lena Santospirito was a devoted Catholic, and contributed to many initiatives designed to revitalise religiosity within the Italian-Australian community. Santospirito co-ordinated a series of 'Spiritual Bouquets'. These bouquets consisted of collections of prayers by people in Australia for various Catholic Feasts, a record of which was sent to the Pope. For example, in 1949 for the Feast of the Assumption, 115,950 Ave Maria's including Rosaries were collected from members of the Italian-Australian Catholic community. Mrs Santospirito sent to the Pope a record of the name, address and amount of prayers performed by each contributor. For more information see Series 45 - Delegazione Apostolica and Vatican Spiritual Bouquet.

Such forms of worship grew increasingly common in the immediate post World War Two period. Naomi Turner writes, 'in the 1950s, public devotion to the Blessed Virgin reached its peak. Perpetual novenas to the Blessed Virgin were enthusiastically begun in many parishes'.[1] The story of Fr Patrick Peyton, CSC and his Family Rosary Crusades demonstrates the popularity of Marian devotion during this period.

Fr Peyton was the Director of 'Family Rosary Incorporated', which had offices in New York, Hollywood and Kansas City. Peyton, who was born in Ireland in 1909 and migrated to the United States, had 'pledged himself to increase devotion to Mary in thanksgiving for his recovery from illness'.[2] Peyton's Family Theatre on Sunset Boulevard started to produce popular religious radio programs from 1947. Peyton went on to use the mass media to spread his message of the power of the Rosary. The Irish-American priest took his Family Rosary Crusades and Prayer Rallies all over the world in the 1950s, and he visited Australia twice to spread his message that 'The family that prays together, stays together'.

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Item SP-00425


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The Family Rosary Crusade came to Australia and New Zealand in the 1950s. Lena Santospirito was inspired by Fr Patrick Peyton and his crusades and she kept literature produced by Family Rosary Inc. Mrs Santospirito also arranged for Family Rosary Inc's Handbook for Priests to be translated into Italian. For more information see Series 14 - Rosary Crusade of Fr Patrick Peyton.

Melbourne Catholics form a 'living rosary' at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, 18 November 1951.
Source: Italian Historical Society


1. Naomi Turner, Ways of Belonging: stories of Catholics 1910-1990 (North Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1993), 75. [Return to text]
2. Katharine Massam, Sacred Threads: Catholic Spirituality in Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1996), 97. [Return to text]

For more information on Fr Peyton, see the Fr Peyton Memorial Centre website.