"Seek first the poorest,
most neglected parts of God’s vineyard."
Mary MacKillop – Australia’s first Saint
Today, on the 8th of August, we celebrate the feast of St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Australia’s first Saint. She was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square, Rome on Sunday, October 17, 2010.
Who was Mary MacKillop?
Mary MacKillop was an ordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. She was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne on January 15, 1842 to Scottish immigrants Alexander and Flora MacKillop and died in North Sydney on August 8, 1901.
After living what she described as “a most unhappy” early life, largely due to financial hardship, Mary moved to Penola, South Australia at age 18 to work as a governess for relatives.
There she met Fr Julian Tenison Woods and they set up a school for underprivileged children before going on to establish the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart – the first religious institute established by an Australian. The Order grew and the Sisters travelled the countryside setting up schools, orphanages and other good works for those in need.
In 1871 Mary was excommunicated following a dispute with the Bishop of Adelaide, but the following year, the Bishop lifted the excommunication order and exonerated Mary of any wrongdoing. She travelled to Rome by sea in 1873/74 to have the rule of her Order approved by the Pope himself.
Today, there are about 800 Sisters of St Joseph, still working with the poor and marginalised in Australia, New Zealand, Timor Leste, Scotland, Ireland and Peru.
The road to Sainthood
Even at the time of her death, those who knew her, or knew of her extraordinary work, spoke openly of her holiness – her heroic goodness. The official Cause for the Canonisation of Mary MacKillop was begun in 1925. In January 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified Mary during a Mass at Randwick Racecourse, Sydney. This followed official recognition of a woman being miraculously cured of cancer after praying for Mary’s intercession. The recognition in December 2009 of a second miracle, also a woman being cured of cancer, ensured Mary’s path to Canonisation.
Reprinted with permission from Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.