Generous donor honours her parents’ memory

07 Dec 2022

Caritas Christi in Kew has a special meaning for Ellen Lew and her family. After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Caritas was where Ellen’s mother, Joanna, spent her final days.

Giving back to the community is a long-standing tradition in Ellen’s family. Her uncles have a strong philanthropic mindset, and this is something Ellen also feels strongly about.

After Ellen’s parents passed away, she and her husband James wanted to create a lasting legacy for them, while also donating to an organisation that they felt provided a valuable service to the community.

“We felt that naming a room at the newly upgraded Caritas Christi centre in memory of my parents, Joanna and Les Youie OAM, achieved both of these goals, as well as acknowledging the important role Caritas Christi played in my mother’s final journey,” Ellen said.

Joanna dedicated her life to nursing. She spent 30 years working at a variety of hospitals and aged care facilities.

Ellen recalls, “Duty of care was always high on my mother’s agenda. She always strove to do her job well and said she felt very satisfied when patients appreciated what she did for them. I remember one of Mum’s patients in aged care had a doll with a dress she had knitted. She called the doll Joanna, after Mum, and gave it to her as a gift.”

Les and Joanna met in 1961 and were married the following year. They had two children, Ralph and Ellen. In 1966 the family went to Hong Kong, but after six months the family returned to Melbourne where they remained, enjoying 51 happy years of marriage.

In 2012, Joanna noticed a growth in her belly button and was eventually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Joanna chose to be admitted to Caritas Christi for pain management in April 2013. She quickly formed a bond with the Nurse Manager, Jenny, the music therapist, Clare, and the pastoral care team.

“Mum made friends with everyone. She loved music so she really enjoyed her time with Clare, who helped her write her own words to her favourite songs, expressing her feelings for God, her family and Caritas. She also found a new talent at art therapy with Maggie and painted a couple of plates which are beautiful keepsakes.”

“The staff were really good. They looked after us as well as caring for my mother. I would sometimes go with her to art therapy to paint or make something and if I needed to talk, they were always there. Even after Mum had passed, Jenny would ring to check how we were going,” Ellen said.

When her condition was manageable, Joanna was able to go home for day visits and overnight stays. After six weeks at Caritas Christi, she came home to celebrate her 51st wedding anniversary with Les and spend time with her son Ralph, who was visiting from overseas. However, she had to be readmitted and finally passed away at Caritas Christi on 30 June 2013.

Joanna’s friends and extended family were very appreciative of the care Joanna received at Caritas Christi and many donations were made during that year. These donations enabled items such as a food trolley, ceiling hoist slings, audio ports, an oxygen conserver, a portable PA system, and a chalice and paten for use during Eucharistic services to be purchased.

Ellen’s dad, Les, remained active in sport and the community well into his 90s. He played golf until the age of 91, and was founding president of the Moomba Youth Band Association. It was his volunteer activities that are most noteworthy. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2007 Australia Day Honours list ‘for service to the community, particularly through a range of youth, service and Chinese cultural organisations.

“Dad passed away at home due to renal failure in September 2018, aged 94. I would certainly say his was a life well-lived,” Ellen said.

Ellen and James want to encourage others to support Caritas Christi.

“Caritas is a special place. The team provide an important service to families and people at a time in their life when they really need emotional and medical support. We think that makes it a very worthwhile organisation to support,” Ellen said.

Click here if you would like to support Caritas Christi. 

The significance of Room 6

Its view of the statue of Jesus: Joanna was a faithful Christian and felt at peace during her last months, knowing that she was “going home” to be with Jesus. The pastoral care team at Caritas and her church friends supported Joanna and her family greatly.

The camellias outside the room: Joanna and Les had a bountiful garden filled with camellias, roses, azaleas, gardenias, hydrangeas and many fruit trees. Ellen is following in her mother’s footsteps and has been experimenting with growing plants using cuttings from her parents’ garden.

The significance of the number 6

  • In Chinese culture, the number 6 means “to flow” and can indicate smooth progress in life. James and Ellen hope that anyone residing in this room will have a smooth transition to the next stage of their journey.
  • June is the sixth month of the year, is the month that Joanna and Les were married, as well as the month in which Joanna passed away.

James and Ellen hope that those who use the services at Caritas Christi, especially those residing in Room 6 and their families, will feel at peace.


St Vincent's Foundation
Ground floor
Rear, 55 Victoria Parade
Fitzroy, Victoria 3065