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New Norcia’s nuns and the riddle of reconciliation

Associate Professor in Church History Dr Katharine Massam was on ABC Soul Search with historian Dr Meredith Lake talking about her new book, ‘A Bridge Between’ – a compelling and complex work about Spanish Benedictine missionary women in Australia.

Duration: 54min 6sec

Today on Soul Search we head to New Norcia in WA — the only monastic town in Australia.

To get there, you drive up north from Perth until you reach a cluster of fairytale-like buildings that look like an apparition of old Europe, sitting in Yued Noongar country.

Founded by Spanish Benedictine monks over 170 years ago, New Norcia is a place with no smooth or easy stories; a place that stays with you – for better or for worse.

Sister Veronica Willaway is a Yued Noongar woman who grew up at the monastery in the 1950s and 60s. She spent her childhood at New Norcia’s institution for Aboriginal girls — St Josephs — before becoming a Benedictine sister herself, as she shares with Meredith Lake.

Then we meet historian Katharine Massam. Originally from Perth, Katharine has been researching the Benedictine sisters for over two decades.

How did a number of the women, from Spanish speaking backgrounds, end up in Western Australia? And as a historian, how do you come to grips with complex stories that refuse simple explanations — stories that involve sensitive and unsettling subjects? Katharine tells Meredith Lake.

Listen to the episode

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