AUSTRALIA - GREAT AUSTRALIAN WOMEN

Mary MacKillop (1842-1909)

Bombarded by articles about highly paid and sometimes rather dubious media celebrities and sporting stars, today's girls have a great need for good role models. However, the view of many is that 'good' or 'saintly' people are boring, pompous, cardboard figures. This is something that could never be said of beautiful, lively, strong-minded Mary MacKillop, a truly 'modern' heroine and an excellent role model for all women who struggle to be heard by male authorities.

         

In January 1995, Pope John Paul II declared Mary MacKillop 'blessed', the penultimate step before proclaiming her a saint who has gained wide recognition in the general community; in 2001, as part of Melbourne's official celebrations to commemorate Federation, Mary MacKillop was cited by popular vote as one of a select group of 'outstanding Australians'. The severe difficulties she overcame to bring the advantages of a practical vote as one of a select group of 'outstanding Australians'. The severe difficulties she overcame to bring the advantages of a practical education to all Australian children, regardless of race, creed or colour make Mary a truly heroic woman. With her sweet face, her bravery and high intelligence, Mary's life story should appeal to girls who read and view countless stories in the press and on television about pop singers, actresses or lavishly sponsored sportswomen, many of whom turn out to have feet of clay and are exposed as anorexic, bulimic or drug-addicted. Mary MacKillop's life sets an example to young people that they can have positive rather than materialistic aims in life and achieve goals that benefit others. One of Mary's main aims is to give all Australian children a better chance in life by providing them with an education at a time when this was reserved for those who could afford to pay school fees.
 

Sister Mary MacKillop, First Australian Saint - 17th October 2010

Today, 17th October 2010 (in Australia) is the official day that the
canonization of Mary MacKillop takes place in Rome - and Australia will have its first Saint! 

Mary's parents, Flora McDonald and Alexander MacKillop, both of whom came from the Lochaber area, south-west of Inverness, sailed separately from Scotland to Australia. They met soon after they arrived in Victoria. Flora's father also emigrated to Australia and became a farmer in Victoria. Flora's father also emigrated to Australia and became a farmer in Victoria. After Flora and Alexander MacKillop married, they found themselves scraping together a bare existence in rural Victoria, a very different way of life to the religiously orientated one they grew up with in the isolated Highland villages of their childhoods. Another very 'modern' note in Mary's story is the fact that her parents were Gaelic-speaking migrants, members of what was then a despised ethnic community. However, their Scottish connections brought to the notice of another Highland Catholic family, the Chisholms, and some sources suggest that a member of the Chisholm family later became Mary MacKillop's godfather. Caroline Chisholm is, of course, famous for having gained respect for the work she carried out looking after single young girls, mainly of Irish extraction, who came to Australia and found themselves homeless and endangered. 

Like the Chisholms, the MacKillops and other Highland families had remained true to the 'old' or Catholic faith. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the battle of Culloden, Catholics and other families who fought for the Stuarts were forced to forfeit their lands and money, but in spite of so much persecution, remained loyal to the Stuart line and what they called 'the King over the water'. This was their way of saying they owed allegiance to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the exiled Stuart line, rather than to the Germanic-Protestant House of Hanover in London. It was the hostility shown towards those of the 'Old Faith' as well as the infamous Highland clearances, when the clansmen were displaced to make room for thousands of sheep, that forced so many Highlanders to emigrate to other countries.

Sister Mary MacKillop, First Australian Saint - 17th October 2010

Alexander MacKillop was handsome, intelligent, passionate but restless, keen to avenge the slights his family had suffered as a result of their loyalty to the Stuart and Catholic cause. He spent many years in Rome studying for the priesthood and as a result spoke fluent Italian. However, after much soul-searching, Alexander decided that he did not have a vocation for the priesthood. He decided to emigrate to Australia with scarcely a penny to his name. Several members of his family would emigrate later, including his father who also established himself in Victoria. Initially, Alexander worked hard and made enough money to buy a house in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. The house is now demolished although the pavement in front of it bears a plaque recording the fact that Many, the first of the eight children of Alexander and Flora MacKillop, was born there. By the time Mary turned two, her family had moved, and her father had lost his money in rash speculations and been declared bankrupt, which altered his personality for the worse.

Following this disaster, the MacKillops spent a restless period, living for a time at Glenroy, Marri Creek and Sydney before moving out to Darebin Creek, where Alexander's father took pity on them and gave them a block of land to live on and farm. Unfortunately Alexander was a dreamer by nature, always involved in some crazy scheme or other. Money slipped through his fingers like water. Mary's mother, worn down from caring for a young family, was scarcely any better as a money manager. Since her mother frequently had difficulty coping with her family responsibilities, Mary, as the eldest daughter, had no option but to care for her younger siblings. This meant a childhood that made constant demands, entailing upon her responsibilities beyond her years. Mary's greatest support came from her adored maternal grandfather McDonald. She loved visiting him and hearing tales of Scottish history and life in the Highlands. 

Mary MacKillop, First Australian Saint - 17th October 2010

Just before Mary turned six, her beloved grandfather drowned in their local creek as the result of a freak accident, shocking Mary deeply. Her father and brothers had to drag the waters of the creek to retrieve his body; Mary would never forget the traumatic sight of the drowned, bloated corpse. Then came the sudden death from an unnamed fever of Alick, Mary's baby brother. Still in shock, Mary was sent away to Melbourne to stay with an aunt. While she was there she dreamed of a beautiful lady who, Mary said, told her she 'would be a mother to me always'. Mary's aunt believed that Mary had seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. By now Mary's family was increasingly dependent on the generosity and charity of wealthier relatives. Out of work and lacking the money to have his children educated, Alexander taught them to read and write in English, speak Gaelic, construe Latin, and simple mathematics. Mary also received religious instruction from her father.

At that time it was considered a huge disgrace to leave the priesthood, and Mary wondered how her father could possibly have left his studies in Rome and the chance to serve God to live amidst a bleak pioneering society like that of rural Victoria. Slowly she came to believe that God's plan for her life was to follow her father's origin al path, dedicate her life to God and become a nun. This was an especially hard decision for Mary to make. She was a lively, extroverted girl with a great love of life, a brilliant horsewoman and widely admired by the young men of the district for her outstanding good looks. She had long, thick dark hair, delicate creamy skin and huge blue eyes fringed by long lashes. By now her father had been dismissed from a series of jobs and had mortgaged the Darebin property to return to Scotland for an extended visit. In his absence, the family was unable to keep up the mortgage payments, and the mortgagee (her uncle) took possession and evicted Mary, her mother and the other children from their farmhouse. Alexander MacKillop was totally irresponsible. In today's terms one would probably say he was severely maladjusted. What were his family to do?

At this time, it would have been impossible for Mary to take the veil. As the eldest daughter, she had to become the breadwinner and support her family. She took a post as nursery governess to the children of relatives, before working as a shop assistant at the Sands and Kenny stationery shop in Melbourne, where she made Protestant friends who would remain her staunch supporters throughout her life. From Melbourne she moved to remote Penola and south Australia to work as a governess to the children of her uncle, Alexander Cameron, and aunt, Margaret MacKillop, and live with them at their home, Old Penola Homestead. On his return home, Mary's father proved no help at all to his struggling family. Instead, he became a liability. He would happily appropriate any money that came his way and spend it on some mad scheme or other. The MacKillop women realised that thy must band together to support themselves and the younger members of the family at a time when women rarely worked outside the home. Teaching was one of the few ways for middle-class women to earn money, so Mary and her sisters decided to open their own boarding school, with their mother as the housekeeper.

Mary MacKillop, First Australian Saint - 17th October 2010

They borrowed money from concerned relatives, moved briefly to Melbourne and then in mid-1862 moved to Portland, where Mary worked in the Catholic Denominational School. Everything was going well until her father came to visit. He complained arrogantly about the way the school's headmaster treated his hard-working daughter, which caused problems for Mary. Mary's father meddled in the running of the school and entered into heated arguments with the parents of pupils. Finally, she and her sisters bravely rented an old guesthouse to start a boarding school. Somehow or other, the money for the school and a new piano sent to them by sympathetic relatives found its way into Alexander's pocket, with the result that parents withdrew their children and the Mackillops' school failed. Clever, hardworking, responsible Mary was left wondering what else she could do to support her mother and younger siblings.

Early in 1866 she returned to Penola with the aim of setting up a Catholic school there. She was encouraged in this scheme by Penola's remarkable parish priest; tall, dark English-born Father Julian Tenison Woods, a highly intelligent, largely self-educated man who, before recently entering the priesthood, had worked as a journalist. Father Woods was a visionary who wanted to help Australia's poor by starting a series of free schools and refuges for the homeless. The charismatic Father Julian became Mary's confessor. She admired him for his dedication to scholarship (he read scientific papers to learned societies, preached brilliant sermons and was one of the first people to recognise that the Coonawarra district's terra rossa might produce very good wine). This multi-talented man encouraged Mary to achieve her childhood dream of becoming a nun and founding her own school rather than working as a governess. In 1805, helped by her younger sisters Annie and Lexie, Mary started teaching children free of charge of Penola. Their first schoolroom was a dilapidated stable which had been converted into a schoolroom by their brother John.  

Pope Benedict XVI canonized Sister Mary MacKillop
in Rome 17th October 2010. 

Father Woods told Mary it was possible with his backing (in that male-dominated period a woman could do nothing by herself) for her to found a teaching order of nuns. Like the Franciscan Order, these young ladies (the nucleus of the 'Josephites') would take vows of poverty and chastity. The Josephite Sisters would own nothing but their robes and live in cottages or houses loaned to them free of charge by well-wishers. With no property to tie them down, the Sisters would be free to go wherever there was a need for their services and could set up schools, orphanages and refuges for the homeless in pioneer country areas. Sharing the hardships of itinerant railway workers, fettlers and pioneers on the land at the goldfields, the nuns could minister to their families and educate children who would otherwise receive no schooling at all. How could they manage to do all this without any funding? Mary wondered.

'God will provide,' Father Julian replied. And He did. There was certainly no shortage of ragged and hungry children to care for and educate around Penola, a bleak settlement just inside the border of South Australia and Victoria. Settlers lived thee in squalor in bark or log huts with dirt floors and no running water or sanitation. Mary's father, Alexander MacKillop, went on to follow other diggers to the goldfields in search of riches and excitement. It was not long before he returned home empty-handed, and this led to even more family dissension about how to pay their rapidly mounting debts. Finally, Father Woods agreed to settle the MacKillops' debts. (Unfortunately this was a promise which, as a priest vowed to poverty, he was unable to keep.) Mary's father was now behaving in an eccentric manner; and he may have suffered some undiagnosed mental illness. There was no such specialty as psychiatry at that time; all the family could do was send him away to stay with his relatives on a large property near Hamilton in the Western Districts of Victoria. This was a great relief to his long-suffering wife and children, who were now able to get on with their lives at last. Three years later Alexander MacKillop died. Mary wrote to her mother about the 'humiliations of the past few years' and added: 'I am sure you cannot regard Papa's death as a trial.' This chilling sentence shows just how dysfunctional the MacKillop family had become.

Encouraged by Father Woods, Mary gave away her pretty clothes. According to Mary's biographer, Father Paul Gardner, the Josephites are considered to have come into existence in 1866. From that time onwards, Sister Mary, as she was henceforth known, wore a plain dark dress with a large white collar and signed her letters 'Mary, Sister of St Joseph'. Mary was now the head of a religious order in which the members were vowed to poverty, dedicated to the service of God and educating the children of the poor. They owed a direct allegiance to Rome. Other orders of nuns ran convents that were under the control of various bishops and used European methods to educate Australian children. Mary believed firmly that in a pioneer country, Australian nuns should be familiar with the stark realities of bush and migrant life, the lack of amenities, the loneliness and absence of close relatives, the frequent droughts and the shifting nature of pioneer society. Nuns familiar with these conditions would be advantaged when educating Australian children to survive in a harsh environment. It effects great credit on Mary's ability that she was only twenty-four when she founded the Josephite Order. With the help of Father Woods she drew up a Constitution for the order, which was ratified by Bishop Sheil, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Adelaide. Mary and Father Woods worked together to educate the new recruits who flocked to join them.

Sister Mary MacKillop, First Australian Saint - 17th October 2010

Parents paid for the education of their children if they could afford it, but many paid nothing at all. Sister Mary's beauty, her warm personality and her evident happiness in her work, and Father Woods' striking good looks and charismatic personality attracted many young girls to join he order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Supporters donated money, books, food or vacant cottages for the nuns to live in. Somehow they managed - God had provided, just as Father Woods said He would. Ten years before free State-funded education was introduced in South Australia, Josephite schools gave the children of the poor a basic and very practical schooling to help them earn a living. Unlike the fee-paying educational establishments, Josephite schools did not teach the piano, French or what Mary termed lady-like 'accomplishments'. They taught only basic skills such as reading, letter-writing, sewing, religion, geography, history and simple maths. At the core of their curriculum there lay recognition of the needs of a new and egalitarian pioneer society, based on hard work, justice and a fair go for all. Mary relinquished the wish to acquire possessions and accepted living in poverty, happy to own nothing except her black dress and her rosary. She devoted her life to caring for the poor, the sick and the destitute, regarding this as the principle tenet of Christianity. What drew people of all denominations to Sister Mary was her kindness and devotion, the warmth of her personality and her wonderful sense of humour, which she kept even in times of hardship and stress.

As more and more recruits joined the order, more vacant cottages and houses were put at their service. The number of Josephite schools, orphanages and shelters for the homeless rapidly increased across South Australia. In 1867 Mary moved to Adelaide to establish new schools in the city and at Port Augusta. A branch was also opened in Bathurst. Subsequently she went to Brisbane to open a branch of the order there, in what was formerly a public house, a move that evoked fierce hostility from Brisbane's famous Catholic Bishop James Quinn. This expatriate Irish prelate also had great charisma and had brought with him an order of nuns to found what became the prestigious All Hallows School. He firmly believed that any order of nuns should come under his jurisdiction.

The American Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia states that 'Mary MacKillop's sufferings in a patriarchal church have made her a heroine to modern Australian feminists'. There is no doubt she and her Josephite Order did endure suffering and humiliation at the hands of certain bishops. The problem started in 1870 while Mary was away in Brisbane and the Josephite Sisters at Kapunda, who were caring for abused and battered children, were informed by Father Woods of certain undesirable incidents (presumably child sexual abuse) involving a Father Ambrose Patrick Keating and some children. In the absence of the bishop, who was overseas, Father Woods reported the incidents to the man in charge of the diocese in the bishop's absence, Father Smythe, the Vicar-General and Administrator. Father Woods' complaints were taken seriously and resulted in the expulsion of Father Keating. Father Keating vowed vengeance on Father Woods and the Josephite Sisterhood. He stumped off in a rage to complain to his good friend and fellow Irishman, Father Horan, advisor to the rather unworldly and ailing Bishop Sheil of Adelaide. (Father Horan seems to have been as effective in spreading poison to the Bishop as Anthony Trollope's malicious Rev Mr Slope in The Barsetshire Chronicles.) His malicious desire for vengeance contributed to the dramatic and lamentable events leading to Mary MacKillop's difficulties with Bishop Sheil and its disastrous result for her and the Josephite Sisters. Father Horan was aware that character assassination of Josephites and Father Woods was the best way to defend his good friend Father Keating on the charge of child sex abuse. Accordingly he used smear tactics to malign Mary's character, claiming that she had a fondness for alcohol which was at times smuggled in to her, to blacken her reputation and that of the Josephite Order.

In fact, Mary MacKillop had suffered for a long time from what is today known to doctors as dysmenorrhoea (distressingly severe monthly period pains) and at that time a mixture of brandy and water was actually prescribed by doctors to alleviate menstrual pains. In that era, women were never even examined internally by male doctors and topics of a gynaecological nature were taboo. Period pains were certainly not a subject that could be discussed with the opposite sex. As a result, Mary could not defend herself and her treatment with brand for a distressing condition which would have laid her low each month unless she received some alleviation of the severe pain and cramps. In 1885, writing a confidential letter to her mother, Mary made a veiled reference to her pains as 'the illnesses you know of try me terribly'. The brandy that her doctors prescribed for this extremely painful condition was the only alcoholic drink she took. She was careful to do this under self-imposed supervision and some of the Sisters knew of her painful condition at certain times. However, malicious gossip managed to turn her prescribed spoonfuls of medicinal brandy into an issue about temperance and self-indulgence. The Bishop of Adelaide was unwell and far too unworldly to recognise the poison father Horan was spreading although he had previously always supported Mary. but the damage was done. Nothing Mary could say to defend herself would make any difference. As a woman trying to run an organisation in a male-dominate world, she was a disadvantage.

False allegations were made that Mary was alcoholic, power-mad and incompetent. What those around the bishop wanted was for the Josephites to be under the bishop's direct control. The bishop told Mary he planned to change the constitution to which he had previously agreed. The Josephite Order was to come under the control of the Dominicans and have one fixed convent (which, of course, would limit their work in the outback). Unless Mary agreed to the bishop's changes she would be replaced as Head of the Order and the aims of her order would be totally changed. Overcome by stress at the thought that her years of work among the poor and homeless would be destroyed, she collapsed. Father Horan arrived at her convent and told her she was guilty of the sin of pride in resisting God's will. In 1871, Mary, without a chance to defend her reputation, suffered the disgrace of being 'excommunicated' by the Bishop of Adelaide, who had been so cleverly manipulated by Father Horan into becoming her foe. The offence cited was that of 'insubordination'. It meant that priests who sided with the bishop could denounce Mary from the pulpit but her official biographer Father Paul Gardner says Mary was never legally excommunicated.

The bishop's directives were a terrible blow to devout and law-abiding Mary, who had a clear understanding of the nature of authority, of law, and of the 'chain of command'. The internal government of the Josephite Sisters was not in heads of bishops but in those of its Mother General in Australia and of the Pope in Rome. Mary was protecting her Sisters against a few bishops who were trying to ignore the law. She remained respectful but firmly upheld that law. But all to no avail. The ragged schools 'without fees' she and the Sisters had worked so hard to establish and run were closed. Without homes to live in and work from, her Sisters were forced to find resident jobs as governesses or domestic servants. Mary had virtually become an outcast, her dreams of helping the poor shattered by the dramatic turn of events. Fortunately, the strength of her personality, combined with her charisma and her overwhelming kindness to those in need, however humble, had the power to draw people of all faiths to her. Turned out of their cottages and with no money to pay for other accommodation, Mary and her devoted sisters were helped by a Jewish Member of Parliament and businessman, Emanuel Solomon, who loaned them, free of any charge, an entire row of terrace houses in Adelaide which he had been renting out. 

In Adelaide the overworked and dynamic Father Tenison Woods was not only a priest but also Director of Catholic schools, editor of a paper, and a schools inspector. His huge work load affected his physical and mental health and blunted his powers of judgement. Unlike Mary he had never seen prudence as a virtue. Now he entered into bitter conflict with some of the Catholic clergy over details of his schooling system. Then he put forward the astonishing claim that several of Mary's Sisters had been visited by the devil. Father Woods had a credulous, almost 'New Age' streak in his character, and was an avid reader of mystical writings. It was this fascination with the paranormal and with Satanic visions that led him to believe reports by several hysterical or morbidly neurotic women connected with the Josephite Order, such as the mentally disturbed Mary Joseph, who was cared for by the Sisters. these unfortunate women genuinely believed they had received Satanic visitations, which may well have been the manifestation of mental illness, and at that period thee were no psychiatric drugs to control the visions. Father Woods totally ignored Mary's views that Mary Joseph was mentally disturbed. He insisted that Mary Joseph had the makings of a saint, which naturally caused problems for Mary and her order when rumours of these 'visitations' and Father Woods' assertions of their validity circulated among members of the priesthood unfavourable to Mary and the Josphites.

Naturally, the bans imposed on Mary by the bishop, which lasted for five long months, caused her intense pain. However they did have one positive effect: they bonded 'her' Josephite Sisters to her but badly affected what had once been a close relationship with Father Tenison Woods. Mary's 'excommunication' was lifted only days before Bishop Sheil's death. It was at this distressing and stressful time in her life that the real goodness of Mary's character shone through. Respecting the authority of the Church, she refused to blame either of the bishops who had caused her such bitter sorrow. Mary's enemies were gathering in South Australia and in Brisbane, determined to get rid of her. To protect the sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Mary moved their headquarters to Sydney. She resolutely refused to see herself as a victim or blame anyone for what had happened realising that, through no fault of her own, she had been caught in a power struggle and a clash between male church dignitaries. All she and her sisters wanted was to administer their own religious Order, going out to succour those in new areas, providing free education for children as well as classes for unemployed adult migrants, teaching them new skills such as book-keeping with which they could obtain jobs. Her 'modern' ideas upset bishops who wished to keep the nuns in their convents and dominate religious orders, rather than have them respond directly to the Pope.

Mary MacKillop stood firm and appealed to Church law, although she had no legal training. She was in her thirties, inexperienced in the ways of the world, but she prayed long and hard about her decisions and was deeply convinced that god was on her side. Bravely, she dared to stand up for the legality of the constitution of the Josephite Order. She declared that if the bishops wanted to found convents under their control, they were welcome to do so. But the Josephite Sisters had agreed to work under their own leadership, serving 'the poor, the homeless and the uneducated and unemployed' rather than the wishes of any particular bishop.

Mary's enemies and those of Father Woods circulated stories about her love of power and continued to fabricate the rumour that she was an alcoholic. bishop Quinn of Brisbane disapproved of Mary and her nuns. What the bishop wanted in his diocese were educated, lady-like nuns, following the pattern set in Ireland, teaching good manners and giving music lessons to middle-class girls. He did not want Mary and her Sisters, who owned nothing but the clothes they stood up in, living in converted public houses or cottages loaned by laypeople, establishing a new Australian-style order and insisting on donating all their money to the poor. Bishop Quinn wrote to his agent in Rome describing Mary as 'this sentimental young lady who is now only thirty-two years of age', when in fact she was down-to-earth and far from sentimental. Mar possessed sound commonsense and a practical approach to life. From adolescence on, she had coped well with her dysfunctional family and with the difficulties of running a religious order with no regular source of funding; ministering to people who lived under pioneer conditions in bark huts and hovels. She could not have accomplished so much without a practical mind, high intelligence and a belief in the power of education plus her boundless faith in God.

When Mary went to Rome early in 1873 thee was no Bishop of Adelaide. She went there at the direction of the man in charge in the absence of a bishop, who was the Vicar-General and Administrator. It was he who supervised details of her travel, approved her informal mode of dress and arranged the inconspicuous nature of her departure, travelling under the name 'Mars MacDonald' to avoid interference from people of ill-will. She hoped to secure an audience with the Pope to try to obtain Papal approval for the Constitution of the Josephites under the control of its Mother Superior and the Pope in Rome. She was still respectfully but firmly upholding the law. Mary had just enough money to pay for a one-way ticket to Rome and prayed that God would find the money for her return. This was an era when travel was time-consuming and far from pleasant, especially in steerage class, which was all Mary could afford. Women rarely undertook long journey on their own as Mary had to do.

Once she reached Rome, Mary stayed free of charge in a convent run by French nuns who wee sympathetic to her plight. Friends at the Vatican arranged a Papal audience. Through an interpreter Mary told her story to Pope Pius IX. The Holy Father listened to her attentively as she told him how very different conditions were in Australia, and what were the crying needs of the Catholic congregation. He laid his hands on her head and blessed her. Mary described it as 'a day never to be forgotten, a day worth years of suffering'. Subsequently Sister Mary did obtain Papal approval of the Josephite sisterhood, but they were told to make changes to their Constitution and rule of Life and officially move their headquarters to Sydney. The tenets of poverty and non-ownership of property as laid down by Father Woods and Mary had to be rewritten. Rome, with centuries of experience of the sudden dispossession of monks and nuns by anti-religious governments and rulers like Henry VIII who had dissolved monasteries and nunneries and turned their occupants out into the street, was eager to secure a permanent home for the Sisters of St Joseph, so that they would not be put out onto the streets again. 

Mary had to accept Rome's terms in order to gain acceptance for the Order. However, Father Tenison Woods never forgave her for her compromise, hurt and disappointed that his dream of an order of nuns vowed to poverty had been tampered with. In his deeply troubled state of mind, he withdrew from contact with Mary. He never spoke to her again for the next fifteen years. Indeed, he tried to undermine her and to establish an entirely new Order, the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (which still operates in Queensland today). He also tried to get other groups of nuns going and to divert some Josephite into them but thy failed to take root. Such was the loyalty the sisters showed to Mother MacKillop that all father Woods' attempts to persuade them into joining his new order met with scant success. Mary was saddened by Father Woods' change of attitude towards her. Showing Christian charity, she forgave him and continued to praise him in the highest terms and to write pleasant letters to him but her sound Scottish commonsense did not desert her. She was careful to warn new (and vulnerable recruits to the sisterhood that Father Woods, while a very charming and intelligent man, was no longer the keen supporter of the Josephite Order that he had formerly been.

Mary worked tirelessly establishing refuges for woman, orphanages for abandoned babies and the first permanent Mother House of the sisters of Saint Joseph in the Adelaide suburb of Kensington. the Josephite Order, under Mary's determined and skilful leadership, went from strength to strength, opening new orphanages and schools in areas that needed them and closing old ones as the population changed. They also housed prostitutes who wished to leave sex work and rehabilitated them. Mary travelled by stagecoach, ship and rail over long distances to visit her sisters, often under very uncomfortable conditions. In 1876 her friend sister Laurentia and another sister were badly burned when a lamp exploded where the sisters lodged at Port Augusta. Mary took the train as far as she could and then tried to get a coach and horses to take her to Port Augusta but the coachman refused to go there at night. Fearing Sister Laurentia might die, Mary asked the man to saddle her a horse to ride there over a lonely and dangerous pot-holed track. Her courage in volunteering to ride all alone in foul weather shamed the coachman into driving her there. Inspired by Mary, and through perseverance and hard work, by the late 1880s the sisters of St Joseph had schools, orphanages and refuges of various kinds in many areas of Australia and in parts of New Zealand.

It is important to remember that, all her life, Mary MacKillop believed strongly in the rule of law. those who had met her said that what struck them most about her was her sweetness of character and extreme kindness to all those in need. she was, however, an excellent administrator and strong when she needed to be. She was a woman in advance of her time, determined to provide the gift of education to all children; including those from deprived backgrounds and those who lived in remote areas where there were, as yet, no schools. Without Mary's vision and energy, many of these children would have remained illiterate. In her later years 'Mother Mary', as she was then known, suffered health problems but managed to overcome them. An additional cross she bore with fortitude was the appointment of Mother Bernard (described as 'weak and incompetent' by some sources) as Head of the Josephite Order for a period of years. Finally, however, in 1899 Cardinal Moran cleared the way for the Sisters to re-elect Mother Mary as Mother General.

Disappointed that his chances of promotion were blocked by powerful enemies in the Catholic hierarchy, Father Woods channelled his drive, his intellect and charisma into fresh fields. He became a member of the royal Geological Society in London and the Royal Societies of Sydney and Tasmania. He researched and wrote the two-volume Discovery and Exploration of Australia (1865) and the classic textbook Fish and Fisheries of New South Wales, which today is a rare and highly valuable volume. In old age Father Julian Tenison Woods moved to Sydney where he spent his final days severely paralysed and bedridden. Sweet-natured and forgiving as always, Mother Mary, who was then residing at St Joseph's Convent in Mount Street, North Sydney, remembered Father Julian's love of strawberries. When she received the news that the man who had done so much to found the Josephite Order had not long to live, she took a basket of strawberries and caught a ferry to visit him. However the ferry broke down and, to her distress, Father Woods was dead by the time she arrived at his bedside.

However Mary had sufficient greatness of spirit to forgive the cavalier way he had treated her. She suggested someone should write his biography but when those that she approached refused, she researched and wrote a moving and sensitive memoir praising his scientific work and what she saw as his greatness, quoting from many of Father Woods' books and scientific papers, and applied to Cardinal Moran for funds to have it published. But, alarmed by some of Father Woods' more extreme beliefs and utterances, Cardinal Moran replied that he regretted he could not approve the publication of such a volume, which must have been very distressing for Mary.

In May 1901, Mother Mary MacKillop suffered a stroke while she was on a visit to the Sisters in Rotorua, New Zealand. Although she retained her mental faculties, she lost the use of her right hand. This disability sadly curtailed her life, but she met it with a brave front. A period of depression followed, which she overcame by her stable personality, the love and devotion of her sisters, and by prayer. The Sisters wished Mary MacKillop to remain Mother General of the Order, which she did until her death in August, 1909. She lay, serene and peaceful in her coffin in the chapel of the Mother House in North Sydney. People from all over Australia, many of whom had been helped by the Josephite Order, flocked to Sydney to pay their last respects. The streets of North Sydney were lined with mourners as her coffin was taken to its resting place.

In a final act of inter-denominational friendship, Mary's white marble gravestone was paid for by her long-term friend and benefactor Joanna Barr Smith of South Australia. Even before the Pope beatified Mary MacKillop for 'heroic virtue', many Australians thought of her as a saint. Mary was heroic in adversity, and showed a truly Christian lack of malice towards those who slandered her and sought to destroy the work of her Order, which continues today. Members of the Josephite Order now work with underprivileged migrants in inner-city areas and with Aborigines in remote regions. But one thing is certain, the name of Mary MacKillop will always be honoured as a great Australian and a great humanitarian.

A SHORT HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA - PART 2

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Back to Jane Resture's Oceania Page

Back to Jane's Oceania Home Page

(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 16th May 2015)

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