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Centenary celebrations begin for Fr Atanasio, Sydney’s ‘secret saint’

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Centenary celebrations for Fr Atanasio will continue throughout the year. Photo: Alphonsus Fok/The Catholic Weekly

Sydney’s Italian Catholic community gathered on 12 February at St Fiacre’s parish, Leichhardt, to begin celebrations for the centenary of their beloved priest and pioneer, Fr Atanasio Gonelli.

Fr Atanasio, as he was known, is remembered by many as one of Sydney’s secret saints.

The Capuchin priest set up or helped to establish Italian media, associations and charities and later in life was a sought-after spiritual director.

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He began his ministry as a friendly face welcoming post-war migrants and helping them to find their feet in Sydney.

He was born in 1923 and died in 2012, aged 89, after 62 years of pastoral and community service in Australia.

About 400 people attended a commemorative Mass to mark 100 years since Fr Atanasio’s birth in Italy, celebrated by parish priest Fr Servillano Bustamante OFM Cap.

It was followed by a symposium, officially opened by the Italian consul general, Andrea De Felip, which shed light on four aspects of Fr Atanasio’s life—as a man and a friend, a community builder, a chaplain and spiritual leader, and a historical window into his life.

The day concluded with a pilgrimage to the place of his burial in Rookwood cemetery.

Centenary celebrations will continue throughout the year.

A dinner for 600 guests on 5 March will raise funds for the charity formed to continue his good works, the Father Atanasio Gonelli Charitable Fund.

The fund has provided more than $600,000 for 100 projects since it was established in 2011.

Beneficiaries include the Catholic Institute of Sydney, David’s Place outreach to the marginalised, Tierney House at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, and Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off the Streets.

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