Foundress, educator, and social reformer, Mary MacKillop is Australia's first canonised saint.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Mary was one of nine children born to Scottish immigrants on January 15, 1842.
When she was 14, MacKillop began working, and she was often her family's main source of support. In 1860 she moved to the small rural town of Penola to serve as governess for the children of her aunt and uncle. There MacKillop provided her cousins with a basic education and soon extended this to the poor children of the town. A young priest, Father Julian Tenison Woods, encouraged her to continue this work, assuring her that educating the poor would be an ideal way to serve God.
In 1866, Mary and Fr Woods founded Australia's first order of nuns, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and also established St.Joseph's School in a converted stable in Penola, providing a free education to children from the area. In 1867 MacKillop took vows and became the first mother superior of the sisters. In the following year the sisters opened schools in other Australian cities, as well as an orphanage and a refuge for women released from prison.
MacKillop intended that the order be self-governed and devoted to teaching and charity. She and Fr Woods, who composed the rule for the order, insisted that the sisters would accept a life of total poverty, trusting in Divine Providence. Her schools provided secular as well as religious education, regardless of the religious affiliation of the students, and accepted no money from the government, remaining open to all and accepting only what tuition parents could afford, at a time when the government still provided funding to religious schools.
Some Australian priests and bishops were openly hostile both to the degree of autonomy that the Josephites enjoyed and to MacKillop's rejection of federal funding. In 1871, perhaps intentionally misinformed by his advisers, Bishop Laurence Sheil of Adelaide excommunicated MacKillop for insubordination. The next year, however, on his deathbed, Sheil acknowledged that he might have been misled, and he reinstated MacKillop.
The remainder of Mary MacKillop's career was marked by some clashes with priests and bishops of the Australian church. After an 1873 meeting with Pope Pius IX, she won papal approval for the Josephite rule, with modifications that relaxed the degree of poverty imposed upon the sisters. MacKillop expanded the order's educational and charitable endeavours and attracted new sisters.
In 1875 she was appointed superior general of the order. Despite her elevation, she continued to meet with hostility from a number of priests and bishops, and the sisters' work was circumscribed in certain cities. In 1885 she was removed as superior general, though she was reinstated in 1899 and remained at the head of the order until her death.
Mary died August 8, 1909, North Sydney, New South Wales. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in June 1995. In February 2010, after evaluating the testimony of an Australian woman who claimed that her terminal cancer had disappeared after she called upon Mary MacKillop in prayer, Pope Benedict XVI recognized her as a saint. She was canonised that October.
Mary MacKillop is remembered in numerous ways, particularly in Australia. The electoral district of MacKillop in South Australia and several colleges are named after her. In 1985, the Sisters of St Joseph approached one of Australia's foremost rose growers to develop the Mary MacKillop Rose. MacKillop was the subject of the first of the 'Inspirational Australians' one dollar coin series, released by the Royal Australian Mint in 2008.
Several Australian composers have written sacred music to celebrate her. In 2009 Nicholas Buc was commissioned by the Shire of Glenelg to write an hour-long cantata mass for the centenary of the death of Mary MacKillop. It was premiered by the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic in Portland, Victoria. The Mass of Mary McKillop is a setting for congregational singing, composed by Joshua Cowie.
MacKillop is also the subject of several artistic productions, including the 1994 film Mary, directed by Kay Pavlou with Lucy Bell as MacKillop; Her Holiness, a play by Justin Fleming; and MacKillop, a dramatic musical created by Victorian composer Xavier Brouwer and first performed for pilgrims at World Youth Day 2008 in Melbourne. Novelist Pamela Freeman's The Black Dress is a fictionalised biography of MacKillop's childhood and young adulthood.
Read about the Sisters of St Joseph: www.sosj.org.au
Today is also the Feast of St Jeanne Delanoue
Foundress of the Sisters of Providence, St Jeanne was born in Saumer, in France in 1666. As a young woman she had a reputation for being small, flirtatious and bossy. When she grew up she took charge of the family draper's shop. At the age of 26, she met the Abbe Genetau and a visionary called Francoise Suchet. From this point she gave all her goods to the poor and turned her home and shop into a hostel for them. Situation by the River Loire, it had caves and wine cellars which she turned into extra dormitories. All this was lost in a disastrous earthquake in 1703.
Undeterred, St Jeanne made a new start, founding the Sisters of St Anne, later called the Sisters of Providence. The community worked through times of war and famine, caring for many sick, elderly, homeless and abandoned people. By the time she died on this day in 1736, there were 12 communities with more than 400 sisters.
St Jeanne was canonised in 1982.