St. Basil's Homes (Australia)

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St. Basil's Homes is an outreach of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia that provides residential and community based services for the aged around Australia. St. Basil's Homes NSW was established in 1969 and currently has four residential facilities on three site providing a home to about 375 aged people.

In addition to the residential services St. Basil's Homes maintains a Day Care Centres that provides respite services for dementia sufferers and their families, and also send nurses into deliver care in peoples homes. In New South Wales, St. Basil's cares for about 800 clients and has a staff of over 400.

The Lakemba complex includes a chapel, dedicated to St. Basil. The services of a Greek Orthodox priest are available full time.

The following information is about St. Basils in New South Wales.

ST BASIL’S WORK

IN THE ANTIPODES:

THE FOUNDING OF

THE CHARITY

St Basil’s Homes is a non-profit, non-denominational registered charity in New South

Wales operating under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia. It
provides care for elderly and invalid Australians, including a significant number of
Australians of Greek origin. The name of the charity pays homage to St Basil, Bishop of
Caesarea. Born in Pontus, Asia Minor, around 329AD, St Basil relinquished a career in
administration and a life of wealth to join the clergy of Caesarea, where he was ordained
around 365AD. He was elected bishop in 370AD, and among his various pastoral duties
included the administering of care for the elderly and impoverished of Asia Minor. On
the outskirts of Caesarea he had built a facility, known as Vasileias. It offered succour to

strangers in need, the sick and the poor. It is the essence of St Basil’s lifetime

achievement – the establishment of Vasileias and his charity work – that inspires the
board of directors and staff of St Basil’s Homes, a modern day charity in Australia, to
provide care and assistance to elderly citizens in New South Wales.


The charity was originally founded as the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal by Sister

Mary Dorothea Flynn in 1954. Sister Dorothea had been a Roman Catholic nun, having
entered the Convent of the Sisters of St Joseph in Goulburn at the age of 17. On 14 May
1969, Sister Dorothea handed her administration of the charity over to the Greek
Orthodox Church of Australia, though not long after she was to dispute this in court. At
the time the registered charity had among its holdings a convalescent hospital facility at
Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains that housed 89 patients, hostels for the elderly at
Dulwich Hill and Enmore in Sydney, and had recently acquired a property at Robertson
in the Southern Highlands, which it had intended to turn into a nursing home providing
accommodation for 173 patients.


The Greek Orthodox Church of Australia’s administrative takeover was a

significant turning point in the history of the charity. It was Sister Dorothea’s second
invitation to the Church that led to the latter’s appointment of a new board for the charity.


Sister Dorothea had initially approached Ezekiel, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox

Archdiocese, then situated in Woollahra, in 1967. However, due to the Archbishop’s
impending departure from Australia, nothing was done to help her out at the time. It was
not until the new Archbishop, Iakovos, arrived that Sister Dorothea’s requests met with
some approval.


Sister Dorothea’s charity had run into some serious financial problems. Her newly

acquired property at Robertson, and the furniture she had bought along with the
renovations required converting it into a nursing home, all amounted to much more than
she had anticipated and much more than she could afford. As a defrocked Catholic nun,
she could not turn to the Catholic Church for assistance, and, instead, opted to approach
the Greek Orthodox Church. When she did so the second time, the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese had relocated to its new premises on Cleveland Street, Redfern. From there
the new Archbishop wrote to the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney for
information pertaining to Sister Dorothea and her charity. The Cardinal replied to the
Archbishop, ‘Your Eminence, the woman you refer to in your letter has nothing to do
with the Catholic Church’.


The Archbishop then wrote a letter to the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in

Constantinople (Istanbul) for advice on whether the Greek Archdiocese of Australia
should assist the defrocked Catholic nun and her charity. The Patriarchate replied that to
assist her in her time of need was a suitable course of action for the Church to take. Once
the Patriarchate’s approval had been granted, the Archbishop turned to James Samios (a
Crown solicitor at the time) for legal advice pertaining to the impending takeover of the
charity. Once legal approval was given, both Samios and Father John Kapetas, on the
behest of the Archbishop, attended the 14 May 1969 board of directors meeting for the
Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal as invited guests of Sister Dorothea, and as in-coming
administrators of the charity. Immediately the two appointed four new members to the
board and advised the old members to resign as directors of the charity. Sister Dorothea
remained as the Executive Officer of the new board.


The new board of the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal were not without some initial

conflict. There had been a misunderstanding of the position of the new board members
from the Orthodox Church, and Sister Dorothea began legal proceedings against them.


She believed that they were planning to sell off the belongings of the charity for the profit

of the Orthodox Church, but this had not been their intention at all. For their part, the new
members wanted to make the charity financially feasible, and this included the sale of
assets – like the property at Robertson – which were incurring vast losses. It had not been
their purpose to close down the charity completely.


Sister Dorothea took the new board members to court citing that they did not have

control over the charity because the paperwork she had signed on 14 May 1969 did not
accede any such authority to them. However the court ruled in favour of the new board
members, acknowledging that the documents she had signed that evening did indeed
hand control over to them. From this moment on the new board members took charge of
the affairs of the charity, while Sister Dorothea remained in the background. She adopted
the role of a figurehead, and was feted as such by the members of the board (this included
an all expenses paid tour of Greece on Olympic Airways inaugural flight from Australia
on 20 May 1972!). Occasionally she would turn up to board meetings, but more often

than not she kept out of the formal decision-making discussions of the charity’s

executive. She was more content to spend her last years living as a recluse out of the
charity’s Ashfield headquarters, known as the ‘Our Lady of the Snows’ Convent. She
lived there until 1987 before moving to the Wentworth Falls nursing home where she
passed away in September 1988. In her lifetime she was bestowed an MBE by Queen
Elizabeth II and the status of Lady of the Patriarchal Court by the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate (the first person not of the Orthodox Church to receive such an honour).


THE NEW VASILEIAS:

LOURANTOS VILLAGE


The new members of the board appointed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of

Australia to run the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal were determined to resolve the
financial predicament that the charity found itself in when they first took over. They
steered the charity in a new direction; one that took into account the interests of a large
ageing population of Greek heritage, and those of the Greek Orthodox Church as well.
This necessitated a name change, which had first been canvassed at the board meeting of
11 February 1971. The Chief Secretary’s Department officially approved St Basil’s
Homes as the name of the charity on 13 April 1972. With the name change came a new
insignia for the charity as well, and these were disseminated through a number of ways
including the production of 10 000 buttons bearing the new symbols of the charity as
resolved by the board meeting of 7 September 1972. Interestingly, at the same meeting it
was resolved that existing buttons bearing the old name and logo of the charity be kept in
use at its nursing homes outside of Sydney.


When in charge, Sister Dorothea began to expand the charity’s ambit beyond the

urban localities of Sydney and into rural New South Wales. Once she had relinquished
her administrative control of the charity, the new members decided to limit this expansion
into rural New South Wales, and this entailed the sale of the property for the proposed
nursing home at Robertson. At the board meeting of 11 May 1972, the Chairman,
Samios, announced that the latter had been sold for $55 000. This allowed the charity to
settle its debt with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which was owed a substantial
amount of the mortgage that the preceding board had taken to finance the original

purchase of the property.


The charity was prepared to make full use of its Wentworth Falls nursing home

until it had such funds to begin building another in the Sydney metropolitan area. It even
went to the trouble of approving the construction of a chapel for its Greek Orthodox
patients at a board meeting on 2 March 1972. However, Wentworth Falls did have at least
two major problems. First, the 89-bed nursing home was some distance from Sydney and
its inner-city suburbs. This proved particularly burdensome on Australians of Greek
heritage who were quite often not prepared to make the trek to the Blue Mountains. They
also disliked the fact that not one of the hospital staff could speak fluent Greek. And
second, the charity spent enormous sums of money updating its facilities to meet the
required levels of hygiene expected of them by the Department of Health.


To offset this situation, the charity sought the approval of the State government

and the Department of Health to build nursing homes for Greek-Australians in Sydney.
Such approval was not forthcoming until 1987. It was only in that year that an agreement
was reached with the Department of Health, and a license was issued to the charity to
build a nursing home in Lakemba. The Greek-Australian ethno-specific nursing home
was funded by the sale of the charity’s 89 beds at Wentworth Falls, each to the value of
$25 000. This agreement not only allowed for the construction of the new 60-bed nursing
home in Lakemba; it also saw the curtain fall on the nursing home at Wentworth Falls.
The latter was closed on 24 November 1989 and replaced by the former, which was
officially opened by the Minister for Housing and Aged Care, Peter Staples, on 3
December 1989. The new nursing home was preceded by the construction of Lourantos
Village and Sister Dorothea Village, and was situated adjacent to the former on the
charity’s Lakemba property. Plans for the building of Lourantos Village were first
canvassed in the early 1970s.


As soon as the court case with Sister Dorothea had been resolved, the charity’s

board members discussed the suitability of various locations for the building of more
hostels, and the means by which these hostels would be built. In 1972 the William
McMahon Federal Government put forward its ‘2 beds for every bed’ policy. This policy
allowed charities like St Basil’s Homes to procure much needed resources for the
building of its proposed hostels. At the time the charity had 110 beds: 89 at its
Wentworth Falls nursing home and 21 in its existing boarding houses. Therefore, it stood
to receive funding for 220 additional beds from the government.


When this funding was approved its board members agreed upon a suitable

location for the building of the first of the charity’s new hostels. They approached
Canterbury Council for assistance to help them purchase the site where once an old
timber yard had stood. However, the charity required additional funding for the outright
purchase of the land. They simply did not have enough of their own to complete the sale
themselves. It was at this particular juncture that a Greek migrant who had been living in
Australia for almost 70 years, and who had made a substantial fortune since his arrival
there, offered to help the charity build its hostel.


Sir Nicholas Laurantus migrated to Australia from the island of Kythera as an 18

year old in 1908. From very modest beginnings, and with no English literacy skills he
made his wealth through numerous business ventures throughout New South Wales.
Beginning as a fruit shop worker in Grenfell on a $1 a week wage, he and a friend
combined their savings and bought out the business within 15 months. Having doubled
their money on the sale of the fruit shop four years later, Laurantus bought a pub in
Young with his share of the proceeds, and others soon followed at Grenfell, Woodstock
and Koorawatha. Then in 1922 he entered the small but burgeoning film industry. He
acquired cinemas in several country towns – Junee, Cootamundra and Narrandera – and
entertained large audiences who flocked to see the latest cinematic releases. After a brief
stay in Greece, Laurantus returned to Australia to buy his first grazing property. It was
running at a loss for almost six years before things took a turn for the better. By 1951 he
had purchased an additional two grazing properties – one in Hay and the other in
Narrandera - and was shearing 28 000 sheep with a wool cheque of over $200 000 a year.
His accumulated wealth from numerous business interests in rural New South Wales
allowed him to enter the property market in Sydney on a grand scale. In 1957 he bought a
12-storey building on Pitt Street valued at $500 000.


In the late 1960s Laurantus became interested in the lives and experiences of

other migrants from Greece, and in the preservation of Greek culture and heritage in
Australia. He donated $250 000 to the University of Sydney in 1969 to establish a
Modern Greek language department. Immediately following his Knighthood, this
department was issued a name change as an acknowledgement of Laurantus’ legacy and
standing in society. In correspondence sent to Father Kapetas by the Vice-Chancellor of
the university, Professor B. R. Williams, on 9 April 1980, the latter wrote: ‘The Senate of
The University of Sydney at its meeting yesterday decided to name the Chair of Modern

Greek “The Sir Nicholas Laurantus Chair of Modern Greek”.’


Laurantus’ goodwill also extended to St Basil’s Homes, where another $250 000

was donated by him for the building of the charity’s hostel in Lakemba. This pledge to
donate $250 000 was announced at the charity’s board meeting on 18 November 1973. In
the minutes of the meeting it was stated, “it gave him great pleasure to make his donation
to such a worthy charity”. Laurantus then handed a cheque of $75 000 to the Chairman of
the board, and promised the remainder of the donation in two subsequent instalments of
$75 000 on 1 July 1974 and $100 000 on 1 July 1975. The significance of this donation
cannot be understated. It provided the necessary capital to finalise the purchase of the
Lakemba property which was valued at $243 375. It also allowed the board to place a
deposit on the purchase of another property in Annandale, where the second of its new
hostels was to be built.


The laying of the foundation stone for the new hostel took place on 23 August

1975. Invited dignitaries included the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who had been kept
waiting by Archbishop Stylianos for almost half an hour. The Archbishop had been
delayed by a minor car accident and was very apologetic upon his arrival. The two men
shook hands when proceedings finally got underway. In his official speech the Prime
Minister praised Laurantus for his generosity, referring to him as “a great Australian with
Greek ancestry”. He also praised the Greek-Australian community, their ancestry and
their contributions to Australian society, which included the new hostel that was open to
all Australians irrespective of cultural background, religious adherence, and political
affiliation. Once the Prime Minister had dispensed with his official duties, the
Archbishop began his. This involved a brief sermon and the sprinkling of holy water on
the foundation stone.
         The hostel was named in honour of Sir Nicholas Laurantus, its primary private
sector patron. Laurantus was present at the ceremony and mixed freely with all
dignitaries and guests. However, the completion of Lourantos Village would not have
been possible if not for the substantial contribution of the Federal government. As the
then Chairman of St Basil’s Homes, G. Varvaressos, explained it to the Campsie News at
the time, “They (the government) gave us a $4 subsidy for every $1 we raised”.


Upon its completion Lourantos Village was able to provide accommodation for

84 residents. The hostel was divided into four communal areas, each with its own
individual residential rooms and group lounge. Each communal area was serviced
individually, and this included a laundry facility. In addition, there was a general TV
room, dining room, and a commercial kitchen that all residents and their guests shared
with one another. By late 1975 advertisements were placed in the local media for
prospective residents. At the board meeting of 14 April 1976 it was announced that 37
residents were already living in Lourantos Village – and this before its grand opening on
29 May 1976. These earliest residents enjoyed a concert organised by the Arts Council on
11 May 1976. By September of the same year, Lourantos Village was full and had a long
waiting list. Subsequently, excursions to Goulburn and Bowral were organised for
October; and a first anniversary party took place in May of the following year.


At the first anniversary celebrations for the official opening of Lourantos Village,

Sir Nicholas Laurantus was guest of honour. In front of an audience that included the
charity’s board members, staff, the Ladies’ Auxiliary, residents, and their families and
friends, Laurantus blew out a single candle on a cake, especially made for the occasion,
and then proceeded to cut it. ‘Uncle Nick’, as the hostel’s residents affectionately knew
him, bestowed wisdom on the occasion and on the founding of Lourantos Village.
Previously he had done as much to a writer for the Bankstown Observer when in an
article that was printed in the paper on 13 April 1977, he commented that ‘it’s better to
give than to receive’. And at 87 years of age Laurantus reflected, ‘I don’t want to be the
richest man in the cemetery’. The official function was held one year to the day of the
official founding of the charity. It was marked by speeches from dignitaries, a small
concert, and the provision of refreshments by the Ladies’ Auxiliary.


Soon after this celebration Laurantus offered to donate a further $250 000 in

instalments to the charity for it to purchase properties adjacent to the new hostel in
Lakemba as each came to market. At the board meeting of 8 February 1978, Laurantus
had enclosed a cheque for $36 500 to the board to settle the purchase for one such
property. It was the first of his promised instalments. Gradually these instalments helped
the charity to acquire adjoining land, thereby expanding its operational base. In time this
was to lead to the relocation of the charity’s headquarters from Ashfield to Lakemba, and
to the development of additional facilities like the nursing home already discussed.


External links


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Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

Archdiocesan Organisations
Educational Institutions
St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College
Philanthropic Institutions
St. Basil's Homes | Estia Foundation | ProviCare Foundation
St. Andrew's Orthodox Press
Phronema | TO VEMA | The Voice of Orthodoxy
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Byzantine Music School | Australian Byzantine Choir, NSW
Saint John of Damascus, SA | David the Psalmist, Vic.
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