Saint Mary MacKillop (AD 1842 – 1909)    





IGHT years ago, Mary MacKillop, also known as Mary of the Cross, was made Australia’s first canonized Saint by Pope Benedict XVI on October 17th, 2010. Mary’s parents emigrated  from Scotland to Australia while it was still a part of the British Empire.

Mary’s father Alexander had studied to become a priest in Rome at the Scots College, but fell ill and chose to live in holy wedlock with Flora MacDonald whom he married in Scotland.

The two immigrated to Australia, seeking a better life, and Mary was born one of their nine children in 1842 in Melbourne. The family was poor. By the age of 14, Mary was already working, often her family’s main source of financial support. In 1860, she moved away and became a governess for her better-off aunt and uncle. But she insisted on educating not only the couple’s children, but the poor of the town.

Her work was endorsed by a young priest named Fr. Julian Tenison Woods. With his help, in 1866, Mary formed Australia’s first religious order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, taking vows and becoming the Mother Superior the following year. They also founded a free school in a converted barn. Just one year after that the sisters founded an orphanage, a half-way house for women released from prison, and similar schools in other Australian cities. By 1871, over 130 Josephite sisters were working in more than 40 schools across Australia.

St. Mary MacKillop also showed forth the virtue of fortitude. The schools of the Josephite order refused to teach children of wealthy affluent mothers in their schools with curricula designed for the poor whose mothers could not afford to teach them themselves. This caused them to be expelled by the Dioceses of Queensland and of Brathurst. Nevertheless the order stood on its principles and continued to expand.

More apropos the current crisis, Mary heard credible allegations that the popular Fr. Patrick Keating was sexually abusing children in a parish where the Josephites were working. Mary duly reported the priest who was sent back to Ireland for discipline, but Keating’s allies allegedly held a grudge against Mary for her action. False rumors that Mary suffered from alcoholism began to be spread.

Fr. Horan, an associate of Fr. Keating, influenced Bishop Sheil, under whose authority Mary worked, to command that the Josephites’ constitution should be altered. When Mary resisted this change, Bishop Sheil excommunicated her, citing insubordination. She could receive none of the sacraments. Many of her schools closed down because of the scandal. She was forbidden from having any contact with any Catholic families and had to live with a Jewish family. During this period, she was also sheltered by Jesuit priests. Five months later, Bishop Sheil from his deathbed instructed Fr. Horan to lift the excommunication on Mary, which he dutifully performed.

In her later life, Mary suffered from rheumatism, and had a stroke in 1902 that left her wheelchair-bound the rest of her life and forced her to re-learn how to write with her left hand. Despite this, she was re-elected as Mother Superior in 1905. At length, she died on August 8, 1909 of complications relating to her stroke. Like many saints before her, after her burial, miracles began to occur due to her intercession, and people started taking the earth around her grave. In 1914 her remains were moved to their current location, a vault before an altar to the Virgin Mary in a memorial chapel in Sydney.

“Believe in the whisperings of God to your own heart.”   “Remember we are all but travellers here.”

“Inspired by the holy virgin, Saint Mary of the Cross, * let us listen in our hearts to the whisperings of our God.”

-Second Evensong of the Feast of St. Mary of the Cross, Aug. 8, Ordo of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross     

For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

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John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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