I would like to share with you a story of a miracle that occurred in the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Maylands, Western Australia; a beautiful miracle that ironically happened during the gloomy ‘COVID year’. (cf. Isaiah 9: 2)

In early 2020, at a Pastoral Council Meeting, the Chairperson of the Council, Mrs. Roma Popadynec, put forward the idea that one of the Pioneers of the Parish (it later became known, that this person was her recently widowed father, Mr. Vasyl Slobodian), had kindly decided to sponsor the restoration of the floor in the Sanctuary of the Church. Mr. Slobodian’s offer was in the order of five thousand dollars. At that meeting the Council began discussing as to what type of flooring would be most suitable. From its very foundation, the sanctuary floor of the Church had been cement with carpet laid on top. During the process of the recent restoration of our Church – the old carpet had been stripped – and for some time, the floor had been left as exposed cement. The ceiling had been completely restored, with the asbestos removed, but the Sanctuary floor was in need of something worthy of what was happening to the rest of the Church. Mr. Slobodian’s offer now had the Pastoral Council talking. Some suggested another carpet, a wood flooring was also mentioned; I suggested that I knew some people in the marble business. In truth, I had been to many churches in Europe, but when I made the suggestion, I had never known anything about marble prices. All I knew was that in Europe, marble flooring seemed to be the rule. Roma encouraged me to go away and ask my friends, what could be done. Over the next day and a half, I made a series of calls; many calls it would turn out to be. I discovered that my friend had sold his business, but he gave me his brother-in-law’s name and number, to whom the business had been sold. I called him, then another name that was referred, and then another, and another still. The people I called were all very kind; but they kept referring me to yet another contact; but none could offer a workable solution to the idea of installing marble. I began to realize that marble was in fact easily the best option – but it was also by far, the most expensive option.

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Toward the close of business on the second day of ringing around – I called a firm that opened my mind as to the astonishing presence in this world of people who as the Parable of the Good Samaritan describes, will help a stranger, if they see the stranger in need. Let me describe.

The company’s name is Aurora Stone, located in Welshpool, a factory suburb of Perth. As I dialled the number, I had no idea that I was to meet people of such generosity and kindness. The Receptionist, Ms. Carmelina Modafferi, listened carefully and put me into contact, with the Office Manager, Mrs. Marlene Moukhaiber. I hope that everyone who is reading this piece can attest to the fact that there are moments in a person’s life, in which you speak with a person on the phone, and can hear in their voice integrity and sincerity. I knew this to be one of those moments. Mrs. Moukhaiber, said she would speak with one of the co-Directors of the Company and call me later on in the day. As I waited for the call, I mused on the level of my naivete. I thought about Carmelina’s name, and guessed that she was of Italian extraction; and thought how the world would be better if more young women had names of such beauty. Over the course of the day, I had nearly given up the hope of putting marble on the Sanctuary Floor as being too unrealistic. I received a call from Carmelina later that afternoon to inform me that Mr. Orlando Varrone, the co-Director, had passed on the message that they would donate to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Maylands the marble that we required. By the time I received this call, I had started looking at approximate costs of marble in Perth, and knew that what funds I was working with, would not be adequate to even commence the project. I thanked Carmelina for her call, and sat stunned for a few minutes. I was stunned in the same fashion, as when my wife Kathy, came to me one afternoon in 2005 to tell me that we were expecting our first child. The news was too good to be true. After ending the call, I spoke with Kathy, and told her what I had just been told by Carmelina. I added that I thought that I had misheard the message, and might call back in a few minutes to clarify with Carmelina. I waited thirty minutes or so, and then called Carmelina. She checked once more and said that what I had been told was in fact correct. I was still stunned, so I asked if Orlando could give me a call later. Who would offer such kindness to a stranger in today’s world? That evening, Orlando, a man who had been born and raised near Rome, and who had never set foot in Ukraine – let alone, I suspect, had a conversation with a Ukrainian, called me. We had a lengthy chat on the phone, and then he invited me to come to his factory to inspect the marble that he was donating to the Parish, and to meet the people who worked in his firm.

After fifty years, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Maylands, a Church built on the toil and commitment of a group of Displaced Persons and Refugees, was to have a marble floor for the Church Sanctuary; something, that would have been a desire – but beyond the financial possibilities of our early Church community.

The next day I drove to Welshpool. When I arrived at the factory, the people that I had spoken to the day previous, Carmelina and Marlene, were every bit as equal to their demeanour on the phone, and more so. Carmelina was a young woman, sweet-natured, charming and dutiful, who on my arrival, immediately went to speak to Marlene. Marlene, was the epitome of elegance and refinement. On seeing Marlene, one quickly picked up that you were speaking with a woman of noble character, and Catholic Faith. Marlene told me to wait for Orlando to come to the office. When Orlando arrived, I can say without hesitation that when I met him, it was like I had met an old friend after so many years of having been apart. Truly so. Our conversation was warm, nothing was stilted, he led me outside to show me the marble slabs that were standing in large sheets in the yard. To my complete surprise the colour of this marble was an exact match to the colour of the timber of the Iconostasis in our Church. It was as if the marble had been dug out from the earth by the same hand that had planted the tree and given the timber its hew. The Hand of Providence was so clear to be seen. (cf. James 1: 17). On that day I realized that I was a mere labourer in a vineyard. I looked at Orlando and what immediately came to my mind was the story of Michelangelo in Florence, looking at a block of marble in front of him, and telling his audience that he was a mere craftsman, who uncovered the potential that lay trapped in the stone. Had it not been for Orlando, I would have felt very much out of my depth on that day. We walked backed to his office. I spoke once more to Carmelina and Marlene. I then took back to the Pastoral Council, Orlando’s offer, and waited for an email from him, to see how this dream would become a reality. After fifty years, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Maylands, a Church built on the toil and commitment of a group of Displaced Persons and Refugees, was to have a marble floor for the Church Sanctuary; something, that would have been a desire – but beyond the financial possibilities of our early Church community.

The day came when Orlando arrived at the Ukrainian Catholic Church, to see the project in front of him. On that day I was in the Church waiting for him. On the roof top of the Church was Fr. Ihor Holovko, dressed in workmen’s clothes, assisting Mr. Myron Kuczerepa. Orlando called out to the workmen some twenty metres above him, if they knew where Andrew was. Fr. Ihor informed Orlando that I was already in the Church and that he would go immediately to find the Parish Priest. As Orlando walked into the Church, Fr. Ihor went down the ladder, ran to the Presbytery, cleaned his face, took off the workman’s clothes, put on his cassock and ran back to the Church, and now presented himself to Orlando as the Parish Priest. Orlando, with a smile, then told Fr. Ihor that indeed he bore a great similarity to the workman he had just spoken with, who was on the roof. Roma Popadynec and her husband Stefan were also with us.

To cover the cost three other further benefactors stepped immediately in. Dr. Lesa Morgan, on behalf of her mother, Mrs. Stefania Melnyczuk, donated $5,000 and Mr. Nick Karpewycz and his son, Mr. Simon Karpewycz donated the $2,500 balance.

Together with one of Orlando’s friends, Giuseppe, the two artisans began measuring what needed to be done, first by sight and then with a tape measure. It was a privilege to be a bystander. Within a few moments, a plan was made up. Orlando informed me in an email a few days later of the cost of installation. The total cost of the project would come to $12,500, a mere fraction of a fraction of the price of laying some 80 square metres of marble. To cover the cost three other further benefactors stepped immediately in. Dr. Lesa Morgan, on behalf of her mother, Mrs. Stefania Melnyczuk, donated $5,000 and Mr. Nick Karpewycz and his son, Mr. Simon Karpewycz donated the $2,500 balance. The project was quickly coming into place, very quickly.

Floor Manager, Hamish Vaughan, would take all the official measurements with a digital scanner a few days later, and return to Damiano at the factory to begin the process of intricately cutting the marble. The pieces had to be large enough to appear seamless when laid. There was no margin for error in the cutting – as the amount of marble was strictly limited due to its rarity.

The Eparchial Architect in Melbourne, Mrs. Marousia Jarockyj enthusiastically agreed to the plans.

Orlando chose two old friends to install the marble in the Church. These installers he trusted with what he termed to be, a very special project. When I met them, they reminded me of the pioneers, a generation of men and women, of which nothing was ever insurmountable. The two installers were: Mr. Orazio La Falce and Mr. Nicola Buontempo. Between the two men there was 80 years of experience in working with marble. They had spent their lives working hard with this heavy material. The four longest-lasting memories I have of Orazio and Nicola, are their humour, their soft voices, their down to earth nature – and them sweating. These men are the epitome of Christ’s ‘salt of the earth.’ (cf. Matthew 5: 13 – 16).

It was an honour to see these two, kind-hearted grandfathers at work.

I would like to make a diversion, and speak now to those men and women younger than thirty years of age. You have lost much, if you cannot remember the generation that I knew – who would work through the exhaustion with their hands; that generation who just got on with labour in order to make something to help others. This was before the age of men and cosmetics, of men and pedicures, of men and manicures; before that age when a man would stop at a petrol station and pay the service station attendant, $40 (as a GP friend of mine does) in order to check the oil level. This was before the days, of today, where the emptiness of a dinner plate at the beginning of a meal was more than the food that covered the plate. There was a time when people came to a new land, and worked back-breaking hours, and then slept soundly through the night, to wake up early in order to begin again – if not for the love of the work, for the selfless love of those they held near and dear. But more than that in the case of Orazio and Nicola; these men are not labouring – they are skilled craftsmen. Mark my word. There are people who have spent decades learning a craft – a real craft, who can see a project, and say “Why not?” rather than say, “It just can’t be done”. You cannot replace such experience. It was an honour to see these two, kind-hearted grandfathers at work. I often went into the Church to see them work, and left with a tear in my eye. I admired them, and I remembered the men and women of the past. On the first occasion Orlando came into the Church, he looked around and said: “Your people have done a superb job here – it is structurally very strong!” I remembered the pioneers who just made things happen. They were simpler times. Even my maternal grandfather, an Australian farmer, who had no connection to Ukrainians other than his daughter having married a Ukrainian man – had donated his cement mixers to our Ukrainian pioneers in order to help them build the Church. These were days of helping freely when a need arose. There were echoes of this as the project went on, as Orlando donated more and more marble – free of charge to now floor the Altar Server’s Room and also the Sacristy. Orlando speaks with a gentle voice – but his voice contains the authority of expertise, and the authority based of years at the helm of a successful and respected business. As Nicola and Orazio were also working two other major jobs at the time, they agreed to the additional projects that Orlando asked of them for our Church, but needed help to strip the existing lino tiles off the floor. Like their fathers before them – Nick Karpewycz, Rostik Grynyshyn, and Borys Marunczyn just got to work – asking nothing in return. They just got to work. The work was tough – but so are our people.

Nicola and Orazio, promised that their work would leave our Church, with the same beauty, as two other projects they had installed marble in: St. Mary’s Cathedral in Perth, and St. Patrick’s Basilica in Fremantle. They delivered on their promise.

There were parishioners involved literally on many levels.

Now I have to share a humorous tale. One day I arrived at the Church to Orazio and Nicola’s heartfelt entreaty. They were concerned. Fr. Ihor was like no other priest they had met. On all their other projects in churches – these priests would observe from afar. Fr. Ihor rolled up his sleeves. The problem was that he not only helped on the floor, and on the ceiling – but was nearly always on the actual Church roof. Nicola and Orazio, kindly requested that I convince Fr. Ihor to leave the roof alone. I spoke to Fr. Ihor – the effect of which was that a few days afterward he now had his eldest daughter, Victoria, cleaning windows with him near the top of the roof. Fr. Ihor’s constant companion on the roof was Mr. Myron Kuczerepa. The immediate cleaning done in order to conduct the first Liturgy involved: Fr. Richard Charlwood, and Mrs. Marta Osoba-Buttrose, Mrs. Luba Valega published in the Parish Bulletin a call-out for people to help clean the Church and people cam freely to offer their hands and time. Immediately after little Kalyna Petrowsky’s Baptism, a group of young, and not so young men, lifted pews and small altar tables to have the Sanctuary ready for work commencement the day after.

So many projects were going on simultaneously. There were parishioners involved literally on many levels.

The project of the marble flooring was one that should be remembered for selflessness

Now I would like to end this piece by speaking about one of the most important figures in the whole project of making the marble floor come to fruition: Mr. Sam Taweel, the co-Director of Aurora Stone with Orlando. A kinder, more humble, more sincere man is rare to meet. Sam is ill – and could not come out to the Church, but he is held in the eyes of his workers, in the highest esteem, and also in the close the friendship and confidence of Orlando. Every time I spoke with Orlando, Orlando would ask only for prayers for Sam. When I went to the Factory one day, I had the absolute privilege to meet Sam, and sat with him: Marlene, Hamish, Orlando and Damiano – talking together for an hour as old friends do. I could see in Sam’s eyes the journey he has had with illness – but in those same eyes, I saw courage, resilience – manliness. As a Church community we need to offer up prayers for all our benefactors – but I emphasize that in our prayers we remember those who have been kind to us, who came to our help who are not part of our community – and of these, fervent prayers for Sam and the Aurora Stone Family.

The project of the marble flooring was one that should be remembered for selflessness; an example of sacrifices made, friendships built up; a journey in honouring God’s physical Church. As a parishioner rightly pointed out to me – let this be a symbol and commencement of building up the Body of Christ in our Parish – of building up the People of God who shelter under her roof. There will come a time when the key characters who are named in this piece are no longer among us – me of course, included. Let this episode be a lesson to those who are to follow – so that the Church lives and thrives into the future.

By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper