"Travel over any distance was for the fearless and tough. Roads were merely tracks through the bush, travel by steamer was not for the faint-hearted and trains were rare. Mary used all means to visit her sisters," Sr. Casey said.
As an innovator and as a woman in the 19th century, MacKillop encountered many challenges, including from inside the Church.
"Mary envisaged the sisters being governed centrally by one superior and being free to go wherever there was a need anywhere in the colonies. … The system of governance was contrary to that experienced in most European religious congregations of the time and was the cause of disputes with some of the bishops as the fledgling Institute expanded," her postulator said.
"A complex set of circumstances led to the Bishop of Adelaide, who was once her friend and benefactor, excommunicating Mary in September 22, 1871 for supposed disobedience. This excommunication was invalid and unjustified in the light of later information. Mary accepted the excommunication and the dismissal of many of her sisters with serenity and peace. The Bishop revoked the sentence before his death less than six months later."
By the time of MacKillop's death in 1909 there were 650 sisters in her congregation ministering in all Australian states and in New Zealand.
Today, the "Josephites" have extended their ministry to Ireland, Peru, East Timor, Scotland and Brazil.
St. Mary Mackillop was remembered at an event in Rome co-hosted by the Australian and U.K. Embassies to the Holy See, which also honored another innovative female Catholic leader, Blessed Mary Ward, who founded the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in England in the early 17th century.
The undersecretary of Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Sr. Carmen Ros Nortes, said at the webinar that both Catholic women founded religious institutes that were "born from an inspiration of the Spirit that seeks to renew the Church."
"If we ask from where Mary MacKillop and Mary Ward received this vision of the future and the inner strength to realize it, we can only say that the Spirit blows where it wills, and that God has his time for everything," Sr. Carmen said.
"There are men and women designated as instruments of Providence in times of great historical crisis."
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.