Feast of St. Mary MacKillop (August 8)   Leave a comment


Founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart

Mary MacKillop is one of the most recently minted saints on the Roman Catholic calendar.  Pope Benedict XVI canonized her on October 17, 2010.  I write these words on November 18, 2010.

The saint’s parents, originally from Scotland, settled in Australia prior to her birth on January 15, 1842.  Her father, Alexander MacKillop, arrived in 1838, and her mother, Flora MacDonald, settled in Australia two years later.  They married later that year. The saint grew up in a Roman Catholic family; her father had almost become a priest, Donald, a brother, did become a Jesuit priest, and Lexie, a sister, became a nun.

Alexander MacKillop tried hard to provide for his family, but struggled to do so.  So Mary went to work at age 14 and began a progression of jobs, such as clerk, teacher, and governess.  Her siblings had to work to support the family, too.

In 1866, Mary and her sisters, Annie and Lexie, joined Father Julian Woods in opening a Catholic school at Penola, South Australia.  Woods was concerned about the lack of Catholic education available in South Australia, so he had decided to do something about the matter.  The following year, at age 25, the saint took the name Sister Mary of the Cross and became the first sister and Mother Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.  The new order dedicated itself to educating poor children and opened and operated schools across southern Australia.

Church politics threatened the good work, though.  Laurence Sheil, Bishop of Adelaide, had encouraged the work of the new Josephite order.  Yet some clergy tried to discredit the efforts of St. Mary MacKillop and Father Woods to educate poor children.  In 1870,  MacKillop, via Father Woods, alerted Father John Smyth, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Adelaide, that one Father Keating was a pedophile.  The Vicar General removed Keating from the diocese and Australia, but one Father Charles Horan became upset over Keating’s removal.  After Smyth’s death in 1871, Horan became acting Vicar General.  He used his position to persuade Bishop Sheil to order a change in the constitution of the Josephites.  The saint refused the order, and Sheil excommunicated her, officially for insubordination.  Most of the Josephite schools closed soon afterward.  MacKillop, cut off from the Church, took shelter among Jews and insubordinate Jesuits.

Bishop Sheil recanted the excommunication on his death bed in 1872, and the saint was soon restored to the good graces of the Catholic Church.  Ecclesiastical authorities removed Horan from Australia, for the common good and tranquility, they said.  Pope Pius IX approved the order’s rule in 1873, and the Josephites expanded once more.  Relations with subsequent bishops and archbishops varied in quality, for some had a higher opinion of the Josephites than did others.  Patrick  Moran (later a Cardinal), who became Archbishop of Sydney in 1883, replaced MacKillop as Mother Superior, appointing Sister (henceforth Mother) Bernard Walsh.  MacKillop remained active in the order, visiting nuns and assisting Mother Bernard Walsh in administering the Josephites.  MacKillop also helped the order expand to New Zealand in 1896.

Mary MacKillop died at the order’s convent in North Sydney on August 8, 1909.  This prompted Cardinal Moran to say that a saint had died.  He was correct.





A collect I have written and readings I have selected:

Blessed Lord, we thank you for the faithful life of St. Mary MacKillop, who sought only to serve you and the poor, and to improve the lives of impoverished children via education.  When opponents, out of jealousy, attack us, may we trust in you and walk in paths of righteousness, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  To the glory of Christ Jesus, who suffered reproach unjustly, and to the praise of the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 3

3 John

Luke 6:20-36

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