OVERCOME by a “handsome young man from Australia” in 1977, in her hometown of Bitonto, Bari, on the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy, Carmela Bozzi awaited her God-given destiny.
God’s plans were magnified recently with her reception of an Order of Australia Medal “for services to the Italian community” of Brisbane.
It’s not the accolade Carmela wishes to highlight however, while she’s grateful to have received it.
The Chermside resident takes a more philosophical look at her marriage of 40 years and God’s indelible mark on her choices, saying, “How nice it is to look back at life and, with a smile, feel truly blessed for the journey.”
“Leo and I only saw each other a few times but kept writing letters in broken English for me and Italian for him,” she said of the fateful meeting in her late teens.
“Then, with my parents’ blessing, I decided I had to come to Brisbane and see if it was just something I’d imagined and if it was true that kangaroos and snakes crossed the streets.”
Carmela realised what was a myth and what was certain, saying, “No, there were no wild animals in backyards and, yes, I had fallen in love with Leo.”
She fondly recalled arriving in Brisbane “on February 11, Our Lady of Lourdes feast day” saying, “without knowing it then, Our Lady (the Mother of Jesus) would become my friend and helper throughout the years”.
While her parents Salvatore and Angela Galliani remained in “la bellissima Puglia” (beautiful Puglia, the region of Bari), life in Brisbane for the Bozzis remained God-centred.
“When I look back, I feel such tenderness for that young girl who unconsciously left everything in 1979,” Carmela said.
“She knew little to nothing about life, leaving behind loving parents, brothers, a sister, school friends, streets, hometown, coming to another world all by herself.
“The only person she knew was Leo.
“(But) I only say this now because I’m sure the Lord put His hand over my eyes and never allowed me to see or feel what I didn’t have anymore.
“In His plan for me, the Lord had taken me to Australia where I was going to raise my family and grow my faith.”
Cecilia, the Bozzi’s first-born, was welcomed in 1979, joined by sisters Angela and Cristina in 1985 and 1988 respectively.
Returning to Brisbane from an Italian holiday when Cecilia was three years old, Scalabrinian Father Francesco Lovatin “came knocking on the front door”.
“(He wanted to) let us know an Italian Mass was going to start in (Our Lady and) St Dympna’s Church in Aspley, the church where we had married,” Carmela, a gifted soloist and choir leader, said.
“A new door was opening in our lives, of getting involved in the FCI (Italian Catholic Federation), of taking roles through the years, as members, secretary (and) president.”
Carmela had been teaching Italian in Catholic primary schools, at evening classes at TAFE, and to children in Saturday-morning classes.
With three little girls in their nest, the teaching was let go and her involvement in liturgy within the Italian community came more sharply into focus.
Plus, a life-changing encounter with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in 1989 allowed Jesus to “become real” in her heart.
“I got more involved with the Italian community … (and with) Sunday Mass, Rosary in the home, choir practice, children’s practices for special Sunday celebrations, the Easter Passion play, social gatherings, lunches, meetings and many more occasions when we came together.
“As a community, we were growing in the love of the Lord, His Church and in the service to His people.”
Appointed chaplain to the Italian community of Brisbane in 1999, Springfield parish priest Fr Mauro Conte said Carmela, who he’s known since 1997, was his “point of reference” in his ministry and someone he could “always rely on”.
“She’s very generous with her time and talents, extremely available and faithful … (and) a gifted person who serves with a cheerful heart,” he said.
Carmela described the community as “vibrant, young and alive” with the “icing on the cake” as the Choir of St Alfio (Coro S.Alfio), a group she ably leads and for which Cecilia has offered constant musical accompaniment on the guitar.
“(The community was a place) where nonni (grandparents), parents and children were all involved, being no more spectators but committed each in their ministry,” Carmela said.
“(And) the choir was a real, precious gift that, although halved in number, still sings with all the passion and love that only the Spirit can give, supported by the voices of the members who are singing with the angels.”
When leading the singing at funerals of those known and unknown to her, Carmela holds the deceased and their family in prayer, saying God gives her strength.
“I see it as a special grace from God to walk with the family in planning the music for the funeral Mass,” she said.
“Through the lyrics and the music, our Lord can touch and talk to the heart of the grieving family and give them peace and comfort.”
Since 2009, Carmela’s liturgical involvement has overflowed into weekly ministry in Jubilee Parish and ongoingly in Kedron and Wooloowin churches.
In all, Leo, who was born in Australia and works in finance, has been a constant support, himself a sacristan, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and reader of God’s Word.
“Leo embraced, with me, everything about the Italian Community,” Carmela said.
“We’ve done everything together and the girls have always come everywhere with us.
“I know I wouldn’t be the person I am if Leo hadn’t always encouraged and inspired me, and always been at my side.”
The well-humoured financier described his wife as “a tough task master” who is “the whole package”.
“Carmela always seems to find a way to find the best in situations and people,” Leo said.
“She’s a beautiful woman both inside and out and I love her for everything she has done, continues to do and stands for.”
Cecilia, a teacher at Holy Spirit School, New Farm, reiterated her father’s sentiments on behalf of her sisters and the extended family, saying, “Mum’s continuous giving spirit and commitment to each event has left an authentic presence with all those involved”.
The collective family – Leo, Carmela, Cecilia, Angela, a journalist, her husband Nick Barr, and their children, Harper, 5, Cleo, 3, and William, almost one – celebrated by heading to Italian shores while Cristina, a teacher in London, joined them with partner Marc Oak.
Of arriving at her parents’ house in Bari, Carmela said there was “great joy” witnessing the first embrace of their great-grandchildren.
The OAM accolade “is for all the Italian Community of Brisbane”, she said, adding, “I strongly feel the whole community has received this award and has been acknowledged for all the good it has contributed to the larger community of Brisbane”.
“The OAM binds together my life and my heart, and makes me feel truly welcomed, accepted and part of this beautiful country that has allowed me to live and express my Italian identity while I was learning to know and love the Australian way of life,” she said.