I wish I had known about Saint Mary Mackillop, Australia’s only canonized saint in the RC church, when I was drawing up a programme for Kharis ( children’s church) on saints a couple of years ago. Sandra Palmer writes.
I must have passed a museum and church dedicated to her a number of times but she only came to my attention when I listened to Soul Search an excellent podcast from the Australian Broadcast Commission (ABC).
Mary was the eldest child of a large RC. family; her father was a clever man but not practical and could not provide for his family. They were often dependent on relatives for a roof over their heads , yet somehow Mary got an education. At 16 she became governess to her cousins on a homestead in South Australia; there she became aware of the large numbers of ragged children living in shacks on the edge of the town. Moved by their plight, convinced of the importance of a basic education for all children and with the assistance of a visionary Catholic priest , Father Tennison Woods, she founded an order of nuns , The Sisters of the Order of St Joseph. The Josephites took a vow of absolute poverty, owning nothing but the simple black dresses which led the sisters to be known as the black joeys. They worked in pairs throughout Australia wherever there was a need for a school for the poor. They owned no properties but rented rooms or lived in tents and sometimes taught outdoors .
Perhaps inevitably she made enemies among the hierarchy. It seems she accused one of sexual abuse but most of all she was a maverick. The bishops did not like these women running loose, responding to need rather than controlled by one of them. They made false accusations which led Mary to be excommunicated for five months. The sisters were turned out of their homes
They might have been homeless but for the generosity of a Jewish Member of Parliament and business men , Emanuel Solomen.
But the battle with the hierarchy continued. It was the norm for Religious Orders to be under the control of a Bishop. Mary didn’t want this: the Josephite sisters had jointed to serve ‘ the poor, the homeless, and the uneducated and unemployed rather that the wishes of a particular bishop.’
She took herself to Rome and appealed to Pope Pius IX. She won, but there was a price to pay. The Josephites had to surrender their absolute poverty and own property to provide some security.
She lived with the pain of endometriosis for much of her life, and then the aftermath of a stroke but always with endurance.
I think it is brilliant that a woman who was a thorn in the flesh of the church has been canonized though I fear that the relics and the shrines could interfere with what she actually stood for.
Pope John Paul II praised Mary as for openness, hope, hospitality. perseverance in the face of adversity, kindness, justice and generosity: values I hope we are all nurturing in our children.