Mary MacKillop (15 January 1842 – 8 August 1909) was an Australian Roman Catholic nun who, together with Father Julian Tenison Woods, founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

Since her death she has attracted much veneration within Australia as a symbol of the strength of the early Catholic Church. On December 19, 2009 she was beatified when the Vatican announced the recognition of a second miracle attributed to her intercession.[1] She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 17, 2010 during a public ceremony at St. Peter's Square, becoming the first Australian to be recognized as as saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Early life and ministry

Mary Helen MacKillop was born to Scottish migrants Alexander MacKillop and Flora Hannah MacDonald in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Victoria. MacKillop was educated by her father, who had spent time in Rome studying for the Catholic priesthood before his health forced him to return to Scotland. Mary was the eldest of eight children, and from the age of sixteen worked as a governess.[2]

MacKillop met Father Julian Tenison Woods while she was working in Penola, South Australia as governess to her uncle's children; here she learned of the need for religious and secular education for outback children. For a brief time MacKillop left to work elsewhere as a teacher, but in 1866, at age 25, she returned to Penola and adopted the religious name Sister Mary of the Cross,[3] and with Woods founded the first Saint Joseph's School in a disused stable.

In 1867 the newly formed Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart moved to Adelaide to found a school at the request of Bishop Laurence Sheil.[2] As well as providing education, the Sisters also established a women's refuge, an orphanage and a House of Providence, a home for older women.[4] In 1869 she and some of the Josephite sisters arrived in Brisbane. They were based at Kangaroo Point and took the ferry or rowed across the Brisbane River to attend Mass at old St Stephen's Cathedral. She left Brisbane in 1871. The Josephite Congregation expanded rapidly and, by 1871, 130 sisters were working in more than 40 schools and charitable institutions across South Australia and Queensland.[4]

Excommunication, papal approval and further expansion

The rule of life Mary MacKillop had adopted when she founded the Josephites was a source of tension between the order and the Church hierarchy. Bishop Sheil did not approve of the sisters' way of life, while MacKillop felt she was following a call from God.[4] As director of education, Father Tenison Woods came into conflict with other members of the clergy over educational practices, adding to the tension between the Josephites and the Bishop. In September 1871, the day after a meeting with Fr. Charles Horan, Sheil excommunicated MacKillop for alleged insubordination and attempted to disband the sisters.[5] After five months, regretting his previous action, Sheil removed the sentence (nine days before his own death), allowing the Josephites to continue their work.[4][5]

MacKillop travelled to Rome in 1873 to seek papal approval for the religious congregation and was encouraged in her work by Pope Pius IX.[3] The authorities in Rome made changes to the way sisters lived in poverty,[4] and assured MacKillop that the congregation, and their rule of life, would receive final approval after a trial period.[3] The resulting alterations to the rule of life caused a breach between MacKillop and Father Tenison Woods, who blamed her for not getting the rule accepted in its original form.[5]

While in Europe, MacKillop travelled widely to observe educational methods.[5] During this period, the Josephites expanded their operations into New South Wales and New Zealand, and MacKillop relocated to Sydney in 1883 on the instruction of Bishop Reynolds of Adelaide.[4] Pope Leo XIII gave the final approval to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 1888.[3] Mackillop was elected Superior General in 1875 and served in this position until removed by the Bishop of Sydney, Francis Patrick Cardinal Moran, in 1885, and was again elected to head the congregation in 1899.[3][4] MacKillop died in the Josephite convent in North Sydney in 1909.[2]

Canonization process

In 1925, the then Mother Superior of the Sisters of St Joseph, Mother Laurence, began the process to have MacKillop declared a saint, and the then Archbishop of Sydney Michael Kelly established a tribunal to carry the process forward. After several years of hearings, close examination of MacKillop's writings and a twenty year delay, the initial phase of investigations was completed in 1973. After further investigations, MacKillop's 'heroic virtue' was declared in 1992. The process for determining this declaration is an internal one conducted by those in senior positions in the church.

That same year, it was considered that prayer as MacKillop's intercession to God had been responsible for the recovery of an apparently dying woman in 1961; the patient was still alive and healthy in 1995. The decree on the miracle was read in 1993, and MacKillop was beatified in 1995.[3] For the occasion of the beatification, acclaimed Croatian-Australian artist Charles Billich was commissioned to do the official commemorative portrait of Mary MacKillop.[6]

On 19 December 2009 the Congregation of the Causes of Saints issued a Papal decree recognising a second miracle, the complete and permanent cure of an Australian woman of lung and secondary brain cancer. Mary MacKillop was canonized on October 17, 2010.

Other commemoration

In 2001, a Callistemon cultivar was released in Australia to honour Mary MacKillop.[7]

She is also the subject of the first of the Inspirational Australians $1 coin series, released by the Royal Australian Mint in 2008.[8]

A number of schools across Australia, Germany and New Zealand, several with links to the Josephites, have been named in honour of Blessed Mary MacKillop. After the controversy over the establishment of safe injecting rooms in the treatment of drug addiction, the then Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne established the Mary of the Cross Centre, (on the site of MacKillop's birthplace in Fitzroy) in 2000, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre conducted in accordance with Catholic principles.



  • Saint Stephen's Chapel (n.d.). Unpublished guide notes.
  • Her Holiness, a play by Justin Fleming and Melvyn Morrow, Origin Theatrical Pty. Ltd 2008.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Mary MacKillop. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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