Catholic Australians are planning to mark the August 8 feast day of Blessed Mary MacKillop and the 100th anniversary of her death with Masses and various other celebrations in honor of the co-foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Australia.
Mary MacKillop was born to a Scottish immigrant family in Australia in 1842. The eldest of eight children, from the age of 16 Mary helped to support her family by working as a governess.
Mary met a priest named Fr. Julian Tenison Woods, who asked her to help with the religious education of children in the Outback. Later, in 1866, she opened the first Saint Joseph's School in a vacant stable in Penola. Young women came to join Mary, and so the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was begun. The congregation later spread to the large cities in Australia, and is now also present in New Zealand, Peru, Brazil, Uganda and Thailand.
Pope John Paul II formally beatified the holy woman, known as Mary of the Cross, in a Mass at Randwick Racecourse during his 1995 visit to Australia.
“In the vastness of the Australian continent, Blessed Mary MacKillop was not daunted by the great desert, the immense expanses 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,” the pontiff said.
“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, men and women, young and old, yearning for God and his righteousness.”
Thousands are expected in North Sydney at Mary MacKillop Place, a spiritual, cultural and hospitality center at whose chapel the tomb of the holy woman is located. Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, will concelebrate a Mass at St. Mary’s Church to mark the feast day.
Sr. Brigette Sipa, Director of the Mary MacKillop Center, said it was unlikely that Pope Benedict XVI would announce Mary’s canonization on her feast day, a news report from the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn says. However, she added that the day was still significant and an opportunity “to remember and pay respects to one of Australia’s true heroes."
The Archdiocese of Adelaide reported that Archbishop Philip Wilson will concelebrate a Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral with Archbishop Emeritus Leonard Faulkner, Bishop of Port Pirie Greg O’Kelly and twenty priests. About 100 nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph will be in attendance, while students from Mary MacKillop College will join the choir.
“The Australian press, both secular and religious, spoke of her holiness, her heroic service to God, her love for the poor and deprived, and her determination to bring a Catholic education to the children of the colonies,” a press release from the archdiocese said.
Michael Malone, Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, will commemorate Bl. Mary MacKillop in a vigil Mass on Friday at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Speaking in a press release, he told of increasing devotion to Mary around the world.
“I hold high hopes for her imminent canonization,” he said.
Sr. Carmel Pilcher RSJ, Liturgy Consultant for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, said she was attracted to the life of Blessed Mary because she would “struggle for what she wanted no matter what, but all out of deep faith and prayer.”
“It was always God’s work, not her own. Mary was 24 years of age when she founded the Congregation,” she added, explaining that opposition from certain bishops required her to go to Rome to seek papal approval of her order’s rule.
“So, in the guise of a young widow, Mary begged a passage from Adelaide to Rome, and, eventually, succeeded in her quest,” Sr. Carmel added.
The process of Blessed Mary MacKillop’s canonization is underway, requiring one verified miracle and the approval of Pope Benedict XVI for its completion.