15 Apr 2021

St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney

Throughout history Death has often been portrayed as a someone, more than just a something. Anubis and Osiris were the Egyptian gods of death, Thanatos and Hades for the Greeks, Pluto and Proserpina to the Romans. The dullahans carried their heads around Ireland tucked under their arms, while riding a black horse and calling to the dying. Yama, the Hindu lord of death, preferred to ride a black buffalo and carried a rope to lasso souls. The Poles had a female Grim Reaper in a white robe, but the German-Baltic version was masculine and in black, shouldering a scythe, and it was he who passed into Western funerary art in the Middle Ages onwards. We know him from TV ads and pop culture: a fearsome, annihilating force, stronger than life and hope, who responds to no argument or plea, and always has the last word…

At this point Christians part company with all the myths. In the first recorded Christian homilies (Acts 2:14-36 esp. v. 24; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32), one of which Brigid read us (Acts 10:34-43), St Peter proclaimed that, try as he might, Death could not contain Jesus. So, too, St Paul celebrated Christ’s victory over Sin and Death, and foresaw Christ eliminating this last enemy of ours (1Cor 15:26; Rom 5:14; 6:9; 2 Tim 1:10).Paul even dared mock: “So Sir Death, where is your victory, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

What gave Peter and Paul such confidence? In a word: Easter. At Easter we proclaim the death of Death and, as Paul puts it, new public housing in heaven (2Cor 5:1,6-10). Christ invites us to follow Him safely into eternal life, for Death is no match for Him(Jn 12:23-6; Rev 1:17-8; 6:8; 21:4). To believe in Christ is to know that He rose victorious over death and so will all who belong to Him.

What might all this say to Carla, a Christian by faith and ideals, conformed to Christ by Baptism at her birth and Last Rites at her death? Her fall at the opening night of La Traviata poignantly took place amidst the high art and beauty she had long loved and promoted. It also took place as the world turned its annual gaze to a young man’s death. Like the faithful few gathered around the cross, Carla’s family kept watch by her hospital bed. She died on Holy Saturday, as Christ was harrowing hell, only hours before the proclamation that He had risen from the dead. She moved, then, not into the grim limbo of ancient nightmares, but to the bright stage-lighting of eternal life, meeting her Risen Lord face-to-face.

Our readings today resonate with further aspects of Carla’s story. In our first reading Peter declares: “The truth I’ve come to understand is that God shows no partiality, but that people of any nation who revere Him and do what is right are acceptable.” (Acts 10:34-43; cf. 11:1-18; 15:6-11) The breadth and inclusiveness of salvation speaks to a great theme of Carla’s life: that a nine-year-old girl could arrive from Italy with no English and limited education, and rise to great heights in this country, joining millions of other newcomers in enriching our shores while enjoying its opportunities. A big supporter of so-called ‘new Australians’, she long served on the boards of the Ethnic Business Awards, the Multicultural Foundation, and the European-Australian Business Council.

What was Carla’s particular contribution? Well, it’s fortuitous that in the epistle read to us by Jillian Broadbent AC, where Paul is reaching for an image to describe the mystery of life after death, he talks of skēnous σκήνους, meaning ‘tent’, the earthly covering of our bodies, folded up as we die, only to be replaced with an everlasting one in heaven. Paul picked this analogy because he was a leatherworker himself, a manufacturer of tents, sails, clothes or smaller items with animal skins and furs (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35; 1Cor 9:12; Phil 4:14-16). That’s how he fed himself and funded his missions all around Europe. Carla, too, knew leather and fabrics and turned them to extraordinary ends as one of the great fashion designers, producers, retailers – and models – of our age. But if Paul is right, her great work was only an inkling of the glory with which she is now arrayed, that wardrobe that God is preparing for us all.

Mother of the Australian fashion industry, Carla Zampatti started making her own clothes at age 10 or 12. She spent the next six decades expressing her creative genius through the medium of fashion, growing a hugely successful family business, and delighting in other beautiful things such as cars and the performing arts. She told Alex that her life-long search for beauty began as a child, visiting and delighting in the churches of Lombardy, with their colours and fabrics. One was the parish church in her hometown of Lovero, near the Swiss border and about 100 km from the fashion centre of Milan. It was named for St Alessandro, as would be her first-born. It sports colourful paintings of the Marriage of the Virgin, the Nativity, Mary Magdalene at the cross, and the Pietà – all images of powerful women – and a statue of that feistiest of all woman saints, Catherine of Siena.

Christ does not romanticise human life even for great women: in today’s Gospel He warns that sacrifice precedes success. Carla knew this. After migrating to Australia her family settled in Bullfinch Western Australia. Bullfinch is no Milan! She left school at age 14 to go to work – already demonstrating her strong work ethic. Pregnant with Alex when she separated from his father in 1969, the single mother courageously built her own fashion house from scratch. The banks at the time would not lend to such women, and so Carla raised a $5,000 family loan. It was not the last time she encountered resistance to female entrepreneurship or advancement. But this brave-spirited woman would not be deterred. Her career symbolises the progress of Australian women and inspired others of all ages and backgrounds, starting with her two beloved daughters Allegra and Bianca.

Carla’s determination, even defiance, in a world where women were presumed to be ‘the weaker sex’, once again echoes the Easter story. For it was the women who stood by the cross of Jesus, while the men fled in fright or betrayed Him. It was the women who first saw the empty tomb and the Risen Lord. It was the women who first announced the Christ Risen.

Mother of three and nonna to nine, Carla was enormously proud of her little ones – or in Alex’s case not so little one. In her Italian way, she insisted the whole family gather every weekend and give her lots of hugs. She resolutely demonstrated that being a great businesswoman need not detract from being a great mother. Each time I met her at the Sydney Catholic Business Network I was struck by her creativity and charm, intelligence and grace.

None of us knows what Carla said to her Creator upon her return to Him – though I suspect the choirs of angels are about to get new uniforms! She lived as a woman of creativity, principle and hard work, and died only after wowing us one last time with her elegant appearance and sheer presence on her last night at the opera! It was fitting that it was Opera on the Harbour – popular and accessible – for she was not all haute couture, but for beauty for women in every walk of life.

Carla, today as we celebrate your many contributions to your family and our community, the aesthetic and love that you carried and carried you through the ups and downs of your stellar career, we pray that you will now share in Christ’s Easter joy. In those last words of Alfredo in La Traviata that were ringing in your ears along with the priest’s words of absolution as you left this world, we say: “So soon, oh no, Death cannot take you from me.” To which we hear your reply, dear Carla, in the mouth of Violetta: “È strano! How strange! The spasms of pain have ceased: A strange vigour has brought me to life! Ah! ma io ritorno a viver! Oh gioia!  Ah! I shall return to life! Oh joy!”


St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney

Thank you Bianca, Allegra and Alex, for your words of remembrance. My thanks to all who’ve contributed to this service for Carla Maria Zampatti AC, OMRI: those from the state Government, who offered and supported this State Funeral and the other dignitaries; those from the Archdiocese and Cathedral, who celebrated this Service of Christian Burial; above all Carla’s family and friends who shared her with us these 78 years past. We will continue to pray for you, as we do for our beloved Carla.


St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney

Welcome to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney for the State Funeral and Pontifical Service of Christian Burial for Carla Maria Zampatti, Companion of the Order of Australia, Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Centenary Medallist, Australian Fashion Laureate, and inaugural Australian Business Woman of the Year. A trailblazer of the Australian and global fashion scene for more than five decades, Carla has been hailed as a great Australian, whose passing is mourned by all who knew her or, indeed, all who wore her; a champion of women; and a multicultural success story.

The late Prince Philip will not get a state funeral, as in Britain these are largely reserved to reigning monarchs. Here in Australia we are more generous and more democratic with such recognition, but it could be said that Carla Zampatti was indeed a reigning monarch, the Queen of Fashion. I therefore acknowledge the vice-regal presence today of Captain Heath Robertson, representing His Excellency Hon. General David Hurley AC DSC FTSE, Governor-General of Australia.

From the State of New South Wales I salute: Her Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, and Mr Wilson; the Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian MP; former Governor of New South Wales, the Honourable Professor Dame Marie Bashir AD CV; and many present or former state ministers and other parliamentarians.

From the Commonwealth I recognise Mrs Jenny Morrison, representing the Prime Minister, Hon. Scott Morrison MP; along with Senator the Honourable Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women; two former Governors-General of Australia, the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO DOSJ, and General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC(Mil) CVO MC, with Lady Cosgrove; three former Prime Ministers of Australia, the Honourable John Howard OM AC, with Mrs Howard, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull AC, with Mrs Turnbull, and the Honourable Tony Abbott AC with Mrs Abbott; and other present or former federal ministers and MPs.

I also acknowledge Mr Andrea De Felip, Consul-General of Italy, representing the Ambassador of Italy; Councillor Jess Miller, representing the Lord Mayor of Sydney, with other city councillors; many corporate leaders, leaders of arts, cultural and academic institutions, leaders from major media organisations, representatives of women’s organisations, multicultural associations, the fashion industry and more.

Fr Emmanuel Lubega who cared pastorally for Carla while she was in St Vincent’s Hospital and will conduct the rites at the graveside.

I welcome in particular Carla’s beloved children: Alex Schuman, with Erica and their children Brigid, Marcus, Conor and Dario; Allegra Spender, with Mark Capps and their children Arietta, Octavia and Rafferty; and Bianca Spender, with Sam McGuinness and their children Dominic and Florian. Our sincere condolences to you and to all Carla’s extended family and friends.

Due to COVID-safety restrictions, many are watching this commemoration through live-streaming, and I welcome you also.