St Mary MacKillop's Feast Day

Posted on 07 August 2015 by Paula Sgherza

“Mary MacKillop is one of the most outstanding figures in Australia’s history. I know that her perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated, and her practical example of holiness have become a source of inspiration for all Australians. Generations have reason to be grateful to her.” --Pope Benedict XVI—World Youth Day, Sydney, July 19, 2008.

Mary MacKillop's Story 1842 - 1909

On January 15, 1842 Mary MacKillop was born to Scottish parents, Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria. A plaque in the footpath now marks the place of her birth in Brunswick Street.

Mary, the eldest of eight children, was educated by her father.  Unfortunately, he lacked financial awareness, so the family was often without a home of their own, depending on friends and relatives and frequently separated from one another. Mary wrote of her early years, “My life as a child was one of sorrow, my home when I had it, was a most unhappy one.”

From the age of sixteen, Mary supported her family by working as a governess, a clerk and a teacher at the Portland school.

While acting as a governess to her uncle's children at Penola, Mary met Father Julian Tenison Woods, who was looking for help educating children in the outback. Mary was unable to take up the opportunity as her family depended on her income. However in 1866, greatly inspired and encouraged by Father Woods, Mary opened the first Saint Joseph's School in a disused stable in Penola. She was 24 years old.

Young women soon came to join Mary, and so the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph was founded. In 1867, Mary was asked to come to Adelaide to start a school. From there, dedicated to providing free education to all who needed it, the Sisters spread in groups to small outback settlements, mining communities, railway camps and other cities around Australia, New Zealand and later throughout the world.

During this time Mary also opened orphanages, homes for babies and their mothers, homes to care for the homeless and destitute, both young and old, and refuges for ex-prisoners and ex-prostitutes who wished to make a fresh start in life.

Throughout her life, Mary met with opposition from people outside the Church and even from some within it. They were mostly challenged by Mary’s freshness of vision and her practical action for the poor. Even in the most difficult of times, she consistently refused to attack those who wrongly accused her and undermined her work, but continued on the path she believed God was calling her, and was always ready to forgive those who wronged her.

During these difficult times, Mary was strongly supported by a wide and diverse group of people within the community, including people of different religions.

Throughout her life Mary suffered ill-health. She died on August 8, 1909 in the convent in North Sydney where her tomb is now enshrined. August 8th is now remembered as her feast day.

Mary’s Legacy

Mary MacKillop’s story is much more than one of a groundbreaking educator and social worker; or of a pioneer woman who founded and led the Josephite Sisters; or of an especially endearing woman who opened her generous heart to all-- especially to those who were doing it hard.

Mary is recognised as a Saint because she lived her life with extraordinary faith, even in the face of harsh opposition. Those who met her remembered her humour, her joy and her kindness.

Find out more about Mary MacKillop.

You are all warmly invited to any or all of the Events this Saturday to celebrate the feast day of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop:

Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre (MMHC) and Chapel open from 10.00am -4.00pm
Guided Mary MacKillop Walking Tour around East Melbourne and Fitzroy 11.00am- 12.30pm
Armchair (Virtual) Mary MacKillop Tour – Large Meeting Room MMHC 2.00pm- 3.00pm
Afternoon Tea with Sisters of St Joseph at MMHC between 1.00pm – 3.00pm
Awakened by the Spirit Online Retreat -- a five day online retreat open to everyone.