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First Home-grown Aussie Blessed
By Barbara Beckwith


Trusting in God
'She Blamed Nobody'
'With Courage and Compassion'
Blessed Mary MacKillop

Not every saint had clear sailing and support in dealing with the Church. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated by one bishop and forced out of her own religious community by another. How could such things happen to a holy person?

When she was born in 1842 in Melbourne, Australia, to Catholic immigrant Scots, European settlers had only been on the island continent 50 years.

The oldest of eight children, Mary remembered her childhood as “a distressing period. My home, whenever I had one, was a dreadfully unhappy place.” Her father had studied for the priesthood, but was never ordained and proved a poor breadwinner.

At 16, Mary became a wage earner, first a governess, then a store clerk and finally a teacher. In 1860, she met Father Julian Tenison Woods, the parish priest who would change her life. He helped Mary found an institute dedicated to the Catholic education of poor children and “urgent works of charity.” By the time Mary took her final vows as Mary of the Cross in 1869, she had recruited 27 sisters and opened 34 schools.


Trusting in God

Pope John Paul II, in beatifying Mary, found it significant that she named her congregation after St. Joseph, “one who committed his whole being to God’s loving providence.” Her sisters organized schools, orphanages and homes for young women. All these existed on freely given alms, and one of Mary’s disagreements with the bishop was about ownership of property.

Mary valued poverty because it made her and her community dependent on God. That trust was sorely tested when Bishop Sheil of Adelaide excommunicated her because of her independence. Shortly before his death, Bishop Sheil withdrew his excommunication.

In 1873, Mary went to Rome to see Pope Pius IX, who granted her sisters the right to choose their own field of activity. By now, her work had expanded to include the elderly homeless, plus schools in mining communities and along railways then under construction.

In 1883, she faced more opposition from another bishop. Father Reynolds had been one of the two Jesuits who had defended her during her excommunication. Now Bishop Reynolds appointed a commission to control her community in 1886, forcing Mary to leave South Australia. In 1888 Pope Leo XIII’s full recognition of the Order freed them from diocesan control.

January 15, 1842
Born in Melbourne, Australia

Founded Sisters of Saint Joseph

Excommunicated, then restored

August 8, 1909
Died in Sydney, Australia

January 19, 1995
Beatified in Australia by Pope John Paul II

What impresses me most about Mary MacKillop is that she forgave those who were unjust toward her. The postulator of her cause, Father Paul Gardiner, S.J., noted how charitable she was: “She judged nobody, she blamed nobody, she was never heard to utter a word of criticism or bitterness.”

I can also learn from Mary’s forbearance with her health problems. She battled crippling rheumatism for many years before she died of a stroke.

Just one look into her penetrating eyes reveals a remarkable woman who worked to better the lives of immigrants and Aborigines.

Next: Frédéric Ozanam


“In the vastness of the Australian continent, Blessed Mary MacKillop was not daunted by the great desert, the immense stretches of the Outback, nor by the spiritual ‘wilderness’ which affected so many of her fellow citizens. Rather, she boldly prepared the way of the Lord in the most trying situations. With gentleness, courage and compassion, she was a herald of the Good News among the isolated ‘battlers’ and the urban slum dwellers. Mother Mary of the Cross knew that behind the ignorance, misery and suffering which she encountered there were people...yearning for God and his righteousness.”

—Homily from the Mass of beatification


Barbara Beckwith is managing editor of this publication.

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