By Caroline Smith
After 65 years of marriage, Perth couple Sid and Marie Gasper say there is one thing that has supported them during their time together, including the challenges of moving to a new country and raising children: the power of prayer.
“It’s prayer that held us together – I have great faith in that, and our 65 years together I always put down to the Sacred Heart,” Mrs Gasper said.
The couple – who are 88 and 87 respectively – gathered with family and friends on Sunday 25 June to celebrate their wedding anniversary: a story which began in the town of Syriam in Burma, where they both grew up, and later married in 1952.
“Both of our families worked at the Burma Oil Company in the town, so from the age of six we grew up together,” Mrs Gasper said.
“Then the war came, and I went to India and Sid remained on with his parents. I went to Calcutta and was educated there, then I came back to Burma in 1946, and we met up again in 1948.”
However, a military coup d’etat in 1962 changed many aspects of Burmese society, and this prompted the couple to migrate to Australia five years later.
“The army took over in 1962, and they were going to teach Burmese so it would become the first language and English would only be taught from fifth grade onwards,” Mrs Gasper said.
“And religion would be interfered with as well – we had Irish and English priests and nuns in Burma, and when they went home for holidays they were never allowed back.
“The government was also going to change our Sunday into a day for Buddhist belief – when they interfered with religion, that was it for us.”
She added that initially it was difficult to leave, because Mr Gasper was serving in the army, and they wouldn’t allow him to leave.
“He told his major, my wife and five children have British passports and are leaving. The major told him, let them go, you stay back and you can find another wife,” Mr Gasper said.
Arriving in Perth in 1967, the family found support from future-Archbishop William Foley, who helped them find accommodation in North Perth, although within two weeks they purchased a house in Kelmscott, where they lived until four years ago.
Mr Gasper said the decision to buy had been prompted by difficulties they faced in finding rental accommodation with five children.
“They asked you first, do you have any animals? No. Do you have any children? Yes. Now many? Five. They’d say come back tomorrow, then you’d go there tomorrow and the place was gone,” he said.
Not having a car, the family was lucky to live in an area where there was a church close by, something which Mrs Gasper also attributes to the power of prayer.
“When I was in Burma, I prayed a lot to Our Lady of Fatima to help us, and I asked, please give me a home that is close to a church,” she said.
“Our Lady helped us and we got a house that was just seven minutes to walk to church.”
The next challenge was finding work and getting to know the locals, especially in a community where migrants from non-European countries were a rarity.
“After a couple of years, people started accepting us. They often asked us where we learned English – they didn’t realise that under the British, we grew up speaking English in our house,” Mr Gasper said.
The family settled into life in Perth, with Mr Gasper doing maintenance work for several public works projects, and Mrs Gasper working as a typist in a government laboratory. Their children attended school at St Norbert College in Queen’s Park and Armadale Senior High School.
Throughout their lives in Western Australia, a connection to faith and the Catholic Church was always an important element, whether at their home parish of Kelmscott, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth – where they served as acolyte and reader respectively for seven years – or in Port Hedland, where they moved from 1975 to 1982 after Mr Gasper found work there.
“When we were in Port Hedland initially, there was no church, so we used to have Mass in the school hall,” Mrs Gasper said.
“Then the community helped to build a church, but we had to raise our own money.”
On the day of their anniversary, 25 June, Mr and Mrs Gasper renewed their marriage vows during a Mass at Yangebup Parish, Mater Christi Church celebrated by Father Cyprian Shikokoti.
“During his homily, Fr Cyprian mentioned us both and the achievement we have reached, then he renewed our marriage vows and it brought tears to my eyes,” Mrs Gasper said.