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
Next: Frédéric Ozanam