On August 8, we celebrated the feast of St Mary of the Cross, Australia’s first and only canonised saint. Mary MacKillop, her ordinary name, was the founder of the Josephite Sisters. She spent her life in Australia and New Zealand as a missionary of the Gospel.
Mary MacKillop imbued the women who joined the ‘Joeys’ with a new spirit and a way of connecting with secular Australian and New Zealand people who knew nothing about religious sisters.
This leads me to a story by a diocesan priest who was giving a talk at Pius XII seminary Banyo, Queensland, probably 40 years ago.
He described a Friday afternoon in western Queensland, where he saw ringers and rural workers coming into town for the weekend, to have a few beers and look forward to a weekend off.
As they passed the convent school they could see a cricket match in progress with the boys from the local school. Their eye was drawn to the umpire. ‘Sister’ with a hat and an umbrella, in her voluminous robes, was umpiring the game in 100 degree heat.
This image appealed to the secular instincts of the workers; this was what was good about the nuns. They were out with the children, they were involved in the life of the school, of the families, they were down to earth; it was something that the ringers could understand. The sisters were ‘true blue’.
Mary MacKillop broke new ground. She had her own vision, she stuck to it and maintained her confidence in Jesus.
Mary of the Cross is an appropriate name for her as her work was tough, challenging and arduous. She fought many battles including financial hardship, lack of support and opposition from the hierarchy of the Church at the time. But she understood her society and its culture. She was successful in attracting vocations because she knew what people needed in Australia and New Zealand.
The ringers may not have entered a church, they might have even been afraid of, or contemptuous of it, but Mary knew that credibility came when ‘Sister’ umpired a cricket match on Friday afternoon in the ‘sizzling’ heat. This was something that ringers could appreciate and understand. The Sisters never demanded respect but they earned it by the lives they led and still do.
Today, we need Mary MacKillop’s missionary spirit to take us forward in our changing society to create a new way of bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Happy Feast Day, Mary.
Fr Gary Walker SSC
LISTEN TO: From the Director - From the Director - The woman with the umbrella
(Duration: 3:39mins, MP3: 1.66MB)