Mary: To Mac or not to Mc, what was the question?October 11, 2010
Image Credit: Australian Image Gallery, Labyrinth
A Vision Grows
When God plans anything, He sees the end as well as the beginning, and so every event and circumstance leads towards the final realisation of Her plan.
As Mary found one occupation after another – governessing, running a boarding house, teaching in a Catholic school – she may not have realised that God was forming and fitting her for the work She had for her to do. She did, however, have unbounded confidence in His wisdom and complete abandonment to Her will. So when, in 1865, the family had to break up again, Mary was ready to answer Father Wood’s invitation to come to Penola, there to commence the school of their dreams. This was to be a really Catholic school where pupils would either pay no fees at all, or only what they could afford.
Father Wood’s dreams, however, did not come down to practical details, so on arrival Mary’s first tasks was to look about for a building large enough for their needs and cheap enough for their very limited means. She found at length a disused stable and decided to have that coverted. Her brother John came to her rescue and removed the six stalls, lined the walls, put in a floor, windows and new door. The result was a room which could comfortably house about forthy pupils, and there Mary and her two sisters, Annie and Lexie, opened the first St Joseph’s school.
All this time Mary had not lost sight of her desire to become a religious. Indeed, for the past few years she had been living a life as regular as that of any nun, with set hours of work and prayer. Under Father Wood’s direction her spiritual life had deepened and developed. Now she felt it was time to take a decisive step, so, on 19th March, 1966, she put off her pretty, fashionable clothes and put on a simple black dress. Her desires were becoming closer to fulfilment.
Nowhere so much as in a small town does rumour circulate freely and speculation run rife. So when Mary McKillop appeared in her neat black dress, tongues began to wag busily and eyebrows were raised. “She is going to found a new society of religious teachers,” the gossips whispered. “Father Woods is behind it all.” Who was she, they insinuated, to be setting herself up in such a way? Weren’t there plenty of Orders of good, holy nuns already? Why couldn’t she join one of them?
But Mary was not one to be easily daunted, and her courage had its reward when, in January of 1867, Bishop Sheil visited Penola and publicly greeted her as “Sister Mary.” From that time on everyone called her by that name, and she signed all her letters “Sister Mary, Sister of St. Joseph”.
Shortly after this incident Father Woods was transferred to Adelaide as Director-General of Catholic Education. Already he had interested one or two other young girls in his plans and a second St. Joseph school had been set up in Mount Gambier. Now, however, his new appointment gave him added influence and so he was able to take further steps towards establishing the new religious congregation.
Image Credit: Lake Cave, South-West WA
By June of 1867, he wrote to Mary that she and a companion could come to Adelaide where he had rented a cottage and arranged for them to open school in the hall attached to St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. He even had another aspirant ready to join them.
So Mary gathered her few belongings together and set out for the unknown. How could she set up a new teaching Order without funds, without influential friends, without experience? Where would recruits come from? How could they be trained? Supported? These were questions she would leave to God’s Providence to answer. She had heard the call. Dauntless, she set out to answer it.
Extracts: Dauntless Daughter of Desires: the story of Mary McKillop and her work 1866-1966 by Sister M. Peter. Published by Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 1965
Further Reading: Mary MacKillop Place