LEAP OF FAITH

An Aus­tralian liv­ing in the Vatican re­veals her #bless­edlife in­side the Pa­pal city. By Jane Al­bert.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

An Aus­tralian liv­ing in the Vatican re­veals her #bless­edlife in­side the Pa­pal city.

Joanne Bergamin is the first to ad­mit she was al­ways the naughty kid when it came to study­ing re­li­gion at school, so it sur­prised her as much as any­one that re­li­gion would lead her to mar­ry­ing a Swiss Guard and be­com­ing the first Aus­tralian to live in­side Vatican City in Rome.

Four years ago, the Gold Coast-born PR and me­dia pro­fes­sional had be­gun work­ing for the English ver­sion of L’Osser­va­tore Ro­mano, the Pope’s news­pa­per, which is com­piled and printed in­side the Vatican. Walk­ing through the Pa­pal city gates each morn­ing, Bergamin would be saluted by the colour­fully dressed Swiss Guards, whose pri­mary job is to pro­tect the Pope, the pa­pal palace and the city-state’s en­trances and ex­its.

“I re­mem­ber my man­ager say­ing to me: ‘The only way you can live in the Vatican is to marry a Swiss Guard’ and I laughed, be­cause they’re so aloof, they don’t talk to any­one, and they don’t smile,” she re­calls of when she first no­ticed her now hus­band, Cor­po­ral Do­minic Bergamin. “But there was a sweet one who did smile at me when I was walk­ing through the gate ev­ery morn­ing and I ended up mar­ry­ing him and mov­ing into the Vatican.” That was in 2014 and Bergamin is now Aus­tralia’s first Vatican pass­port holder, and the only Aus­tralian liv­ing in­side the holy head­quar­ters of the Catholic Church.

It is al­most 12 years but feels like a life­time since Joanne Ford, as she was then known, packed up her life on the Gold Coast and booked her­self a one-way ticket to Rome. She had no cer­tainty about her fu­ture be­yond the Ital­ian lan­guage course that awaited her, but ever since she’d first vis­ited the Eter­nal city as a young child she had been deter­mined to re­turn.

It has been a steep learn­ing curve for the Queens­lan­der: “My par­ents have a jew­ellery busi­ness that was started by my great-grand­fa­ther and Mum and Dad dragged us all around the world when we were lit­tle and Rome left a last­ing im­pres­sion. I al­ways wanted to live here. So I fi­nally picked up and came over here. My par­ents said I was crazy – I didn’t know any­one, didn’t have a job and didn’t know how long I’d stay.”

Bergamin is speak­ing to Vogue Aus­tralia from her of­fice at John Cabot Univer­sity in Rome, where she is the co­or­di­na­tor of the In­sti­tute for En­trepreneur­ship. Back in 2006, how­ever, her stu­dent visa only per­mit­ted her to work 20 hours each week, so she promptly ap­plied for a part-time job with Prada.

“I re­ally ap­plied as a joke, I could barely speak Ital­ian, but I got an in­ter­view the next day – in Ital­ian – and they asked me to go and work on Capri. So my first sum­mer in Italy I was work­ing for Prada on the Isle of Capri. In­sane. I spent way more than I ever earned,” Bergamin says, laugh­ing.

Obliged to con­tinue study­ing to re­main in Italy, Bergamin turned to the­ol­ogy, a sub­ject taught by Do­mini­can fri­ars that un­ex­pect­edly en­grossed her, ul­ti­mately lead­ing to her con­ver­sion to Catholi­cism. “It was never some­thing I thought would be on the cards; I was al­ways the naughty kid in re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion classes,” she says. “But the fri­ars taught me all the joy and beauty in the church, and it wasn’t at all re­stric­tive.”

The week be­fore she con­verted to Catholi­cism Bergamin landed a job with L’Osser­va­tore Ro­mano, and with it her in­tro­duc­tion to the Swiss Guard.

The old­est and small­est mil­i­tary unit in the world, the Swiss Guard typ­i­cally take a vow of celibacy and are only per­mit­ted to marry if they at­tain the rank of cor­po­ral (there are only 10 in Vatican City). With their mem­o­rable gold, blue and red

Re­nais­sance dress uni­forms and beret they are a must-have on any vis­i­tor’s In­sta­gram feed. Far from be­ing a cer­e­mo­nial role, the 120 Swiss Guards are highly trained, elite sol­diers who work six days a week for the pe­riod of the guards’ ser­vice. As a cor­po­ral, how­ever, Do­minic is a ca­reer guard and one of Pope Fran­cis’s top se­cu­rity men who can work at Vatican City for up to 25 years be­fore re­tir­ing.

De­spite the se­ri­ous na­ture of his job, Do­minic man­aged a daily smile to the pretty Aus­tralian woman as she en­tered Vatican City, and af­ter years of smil­ing shyly at each other the cou­ple fi­nally had their first date.

“We met up one night for din­ner, laughed all night, ended up clos­ing the restau­rant and have been to­gether ever since,” Bergamin says. “We were mar­ried in 2014 in­side the Vatican in a lit­tle church, Saint Stephens, the old­est church in Vatican City. We had 30 guests from Aus­tralia and 60 from the rest of the world; it was like or­gan­is­ing a wed­ding ev­ery day for a week.” Bergamin was mar­ried in a Jenny Pack­ham gown and the cou­ple hon­ey­mooned in a Si­cil­ian town be­fore spend­ing a month in Aus­tralia.

To­day the Bergamins live in the mil­i­tary bar­racks of the Vatican along­side 14 other Swiss Guard fam­i­lies. Bergamin says there aren’t as many reg­u­la­tions around life in­side the Pa­pal city as you might imag­ine. The small­est city-state in the world, there are around 800 peo­ple liv­ing in the Vatican, the head­quar­ters of the Ro­man Catholic Church. Bergamin says she is obliged to dress mod­estly but never finds it an im­po­si­tion. “Be­cause I’ve been liv­ing and work­ing there for 10 years, I don’t re­ally give it a sec­ond thought. I save all my strappy dresses for Aus­tralia, but I think you can still be cov­ered up and re­ally el­e­gant,” she says. The apart­ments them­selves are tiny by Aus­tralian stan­dards, and Bergamin rue­fully points out she has run out of room for her shoes and hand­bags.

An­other rule she hap­pily fol­lows is re­spect­ing the pri­vacy of the for­mer Pope, Bene­dict XVI, who lives within the Vatican and prays the rosary in the gar­dens each evening. Bergamin has a spe­cial af­fec­tion for Pope Bene­dict, who was in of­fice when she worked at L’Osser­va­tore Ro­mano. Know­ing of Joanne’s fond­ness for him, Do­minic or­gan­ised a pri­vate meet­ing be­tween the pair in the gar­dens for her birth­day last year. “The me­dia never showed how sweet he is – he’s like your dream grand­fa­ther,” she says.

Be­yond the Vatican gates is, of course, a city that brims with fash­ion, art, par­ties and ro­mance, a glam­orous back­drop that is reg­u­larly por­trayed on Bergamin’s In­sta­gram feed @swiss­guard­wife and travel blog Travel An­gel, giv­ing a glimpse into her life in the Vatican and love of travel.

With her In­sta­gram tagline #bless­edlife, Bergamin cer­tainly seems to be liv­ing la dolce vita, al­though she con­cedes there are a cou­ple of trade-offs. “Dom works nearly ev­ery day, of­ten 12-hour days and nights, so we’re like ships in the night,” she says, adding that his job is un­de­ni­ably dan­ger­ous, par­tic­u­larly when trav­el­ling with the Pope. She also keenly misses her fam­ily and friends in Aus­tralia and looks for­ward to her an­nual vis­its home (of­ten on her own) where she rel­ishes be­ing ‘Aun­tie JoJo’ to her sis­ter’s two daugh­ters. “It’s hard to be away all the time. I miss the beach a lot, and as much as I have a re­ally nice set of girl­friends here there’s noth­ing like your school friends.”

She says the plan is to re­lo­cate to Aus­tralia where they are dream­ing of a re­laxed life on Tu­gun beach, near By­ron Bay. But for now she’ll hap­pily con­tinue to en­joy her back­yard in Rome and all the ad­ven­tures that holds.

“Noth­ing works here; you have to fight ev­ery day over the price of a cof­fee, be­cause they think you’re a tourist, so you have a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with this city,” she says. “But Rome is a fairy­tale; I know the back en­trance into Saint Peter’s Basil­ica and can sneak in any time I want; or walk out­side the Vatican gate and get a sa­lute from the Swiss Guard, all day, ev­ery day. My Aus­tralian friends just laugh and say: ‘You won’t get this on the Gold Coast!’”

“I was al­ways the naughty kid in re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion classes, but the fri­ars taught me all the joy and beauty in the church”

Clock­wise, from top left: Joanne over­look­ing Rome; Joanne and her hus­band, Cor­po­ral Do­minic Bergamin; an Easter cel­e­bra­tion in the square; sis­ters in Saint Peter’s Square; in­side Saint Peter’s Basil­ica; meet­ing Pope Fran­cis dur­ing a Swiss Guard cer­e­mony; Michelan­gelo paint­ings in the Sis­tine Chapel.

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