Today is a very special day, here in Australia and New Zealand.
Mary Mackillop is the patroness of Australia and is our first saint. She is dearly loved and respected in this land.
She was one of eight chidren. The Australian colonies were still young and developing. It was within the first 80 years that she started to teach poor children in a stable; and soon after joined a priest to start her religious order of Sisters of St Joseph.
Up to about 1970 when religious orders started to disappear from our schools), you could find these nuns in almost every parish. I myself was educated by these beautiful nuns and have fond memories of them.
St Mary MacKillop had many trials during her whole life – she herself described her early years as “a most unhappy” early life, largely due to financial hardship. Towards the end of her life she suffered a stroke.
To read her life story is inspiring. She even chose her religious name to be Mary of the Cross. She had great courage and zeal. She was even excommunicated for a time because she did not agree with the bishop.
An article written for her canonisation, said of her:
“Mary MacKillop has quite rightly gained a reputation in recent times as ‘The Australian Peoples’ Saint’. Largely, this is because people can relate to her. She was one of us. Born in Melbourne, and fired by a deep desire to serve God and to help alleviate the plight of the poor, Mary was an ordinary person who lived a holy life.
Perhaps it is because of her down to earth nature that we relate to her so well. Mary MacKillop could be feisty and stubborn. She suffered terrible setbacks, discouragement and injustice and yet through all of this her faith in God did not falter. Plagued by ill health for much of her life, she was still able to found a religious institute aimed at serving the poor, particularly in the field of education, which remains a vibrant and active presence in the fabric of Australian life today.
Mary MacKillop is to become a saint not only of the Australian people, but for the Australian people and indeed, for the world. Her motto of “Never see a need without doing something about it” continues to call us forth to action. At a time when real heroes are in short supply, Mary MacKillop is a true inspiration. Her heroism is all the more firm because it is built not on celebrity or sporting skill but on her love for Jesus Christ and a life of dedication to God and her fellow human beings.”
There are about 800 Sisters of St Joseph, still working with the poor and marginalised in Australia, New Zealand, Timor Leste, Scotland, Ireland and Peru.
One thing I remember, most clearly, that we always wrote “J.M.J” at the top of each page in our exercise books at school. The sisters of St Joseph had a special devotion to the Holy Family. This logo was also on the front of their habits. The habits were dark brown. They had the long Rosary beads draping down the front and had the Crucifix tucked into their belt. The logo was blue.
WE pray today to our dear Saint: we pray for courage, determination, perseverance, charity, for our bishops and most of all our educators.
God knows how we need her prayers in this country (and indeed the world) today!
Some inspirations from St Mary of the Cross
(From her letters to her mother):
Mary wrote to her mother in 1867:
- Dearest mamma, you ever taught me to look up to and depend on Divine Providence in every trouble and when you saw me dull or unhappy you always had the same sweet reminder for me. Ah do not now forget what you were the first to teach me.
- Mary wrote again to Flora in January 1868, “Oh Mamma let us belong to Him completely and He will take care of us all.”
- In September 1869 Mary wrote to her mother, “You used to tell me to love the Will of God – to submit to it in all things. Your words still often ring in my ears and I bless God that they were my mother’s word’s to me.”
- Mary wrote to her mother on 7 January 1868: “God in His infinite mercy has been extremely good to one and all of us. His greatest blessing has been what to the worldly eye appears a severe and heavy trial, or a continuation of trials..”
Sr. Mary’s voting advice (to her sisters):
At a time when women had just earned the right to vote, as the Mother Superior of her order, she urged her Sisters to take voting seriously.
Non-Aboriginal women were given the right to vote for the new Commonwealth Parliament in 1901, having first been enfranchised in South Australia in 1894, followed by Western Australia in 1899. Women in Australia first voted for the Commonwealth Parliament in the second Federal election in 1903.
In that year, Mary MacKillop wrote to her Sisters on July 16, directing them to get on the electoral roll, and, according to the conventions of the times, to inform themselves of the issues and the candidates.
“My dear Sisters,
It is a duty on us all to vote, and for this reason all must have their names on the Electoral Rolls where they are placed. See to this at once. Get advice from some leading man in whom you have confidence, or from the priest, but keep your voting secret. Find out who are the members proposed for election and vote for those who are considered most friendly to the Church and Religion. Every so-called Catholic is not the best man. I can say no more, but with love and blessing and praying for God to guide you in this important matter, remain as ever.
Your fond Mother in JMJ,
Mary of the Cross.”
Sr Sheila McCreanor rsj, who arranged and edited the book in which the letter has been published, Mary MacKillop on Mission to her last breath, said Mary’s message to her Sisters remains relevant today.
“I am sure that the essence of her message remains true today – be responsible in casting your vote; weigh up the attitudes and values of those standing for election and above all, pray for wisdom.”
Her life and achievements:
- Mary MacKillop was born in Victoria in 1842. She was the eldest child in her family and had 3 sisters and 4 brothers.
- Her father had an excellent religious education and most of Mary’s education was at home.
- Mary’s first job was as a clerk when she was 14, she then worked as a governess looking after her cousins and teaching them (and other farm children) their lessons.
- She loved children and later became a school teacher.
- In South Australia she met a priest named Father Julian Tenison Woods who also wanted to help poor children attend school.
- Together Mary MacKillop and Father Tenison Woods started the ‘Stable School’ in 1866.
- All of the children had lessons in reading, writing, math and singing. The girls also enjoyed learning to sew whilst the boys enjoyed woodwork. Mary and her sisters also taught the children about God and taught them to trust in Jesus.
- In 1866 Mary MacKillop and Father Tenison Woods started the religious order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites) and in 1867 Mary MacKillop became a nun – Sister Mary of the Cross.
- Mary and the Josephite nuns set up schools in Australia and New Zealand.
- They also set up houses for elderly women, young girls and women without jobs.
- They gave their life to people in need often giving comfort to the sick and dying and even visiting people in jail to give them whatever help they could.