Archive for October 13th, 2010


Sister Mary: Rumblings

October 13, 2010

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A remarkable wooden statue of Sister Mary MacKillop located right in the centre of Brisbane at St. Stephen’s Chapel. It is carved from one huge tree and stands approximately 3-4 metres in height. One of the hands of the statue is missing because some yobbo knocked it off. (Translation for Non-Aussies: an individual of low intelligence swiped it.)

Sister Mary, later to become Mother Mary, was briefly tossed out of the Catholic Church in 1871, when she was 29, and her order shut down, officially for insubordination after she refused to allow the Catholic hierarchy to take over her self-governing order of Josephites. But there may also have been a more sinister reason behind the move.

The excommunication came soon after members of her order of nuns reported a pedophile priest. The order discovered that children were being sexually abused by Father Patrick Keating in Kapunda Parish, northeast of Adelaide in South Australia. After being reported, Keating was sent back to Ireland, where he continued to serve. 

A friend of Keating’s, Father Charles Horan, swore revenge on Sister Mary. She was excommunicated after Horan became assistant to Adelaide’s Bishop Laurence Shiel.  Father Paul Gardiner, the man in charge of the MacKillop canonisation process for 25 years, says Bishop Shiel was “a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests”.

“This sounds terrible, but it’s true”, Father Gardiner says.

Marie Foale, Sister Mary’s biographer and a leader of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart – the order formed by MacKillop – says the independent Josephites were “a great threat” to the bishops. “They were Australian, they were independent thinkers, they went out among the people. They worked among the poor; they didn’t care about the rich. So they (the priests and bishops) just didn’t know how to handle them”.

After the excommunication, Sister Mary and many of her nuns were thrown on to the streets. Help came from an unlikely admirer – a wealthy Jew named Emanuel Solomon, who let MacKillop and the sisters stay in several of his houses.

Bishop Shiel, on his deathbed, five months later, absolved the punishment and restored Sister Mary to the sisterhood. “It was just an absolute disaster from every point of view”, says the present Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson. “It was a disaster for Mary and the sisters. It was a disaster for the church. It was a disaster for the bishop and everyone else involved because it was such a bad reflection on the church of the time”.

Extrapolated from “Fight to the Finish for battlers’ saint” by Faithworks writer,Bryan Patterson; article published Sunday Herald Sun, October 10, 2010.


Image Credit: Shannon Rogers

Location: St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Adelaide.  Mary MacKillop Plaza.  This life sized statue, so beautifully sculpted by Judith Rolevink, depicts Mary MacKillop in full stride with a child in each hand; an Aboriginal boy on one side and a young girl on the other.

Trial and Triumph

from the 1965 book Dauntless Daughter of Desires

by Sister M. Peter

It was St. Teresa, whom Crawshaw so aptly termed “undaunted daughter of desires,” who remarked wryly that it was small wonder the Lord had so few friends, seeing how He treated them!  It is, indeed, well-known that the path of holiness is a rough and thorny one – and that of Founders and Foundresses has always proved particularly so.

Sister Mary had more than her fair share of bitter opposition. Some of this came from the dislike of the more conservative of the clergy for this new, untraditional religious congregation. More came because of Father Woods’ inability to handle financial affairs and his reputation for involving himself and others in impractical schemes. At one stage the Bishop of Adelaide, Dr. Sheil, was so influenced by reports circulated about the Sisters that he actually excommunicated Sister Mary and disbanded the Adelaide Sisters. This tragic mistake was rectified within a few months, however, and once again the Sisters continued their work. (Read more: Broken Rites Australia)

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Whatever the growing opposition, this work had certainly been blessed by God, for within a few years there were almost a hundred Sisters teaching 2,460 children in 45 schools, and carrying on many other charitable and apostolic works as well. In view of this growth Sister Mary was advised to go to Rome to ask for approval for her Congregation and to submit the Rule for expert examination.

With characteristic courage she set out for Rome. She was alone, practically penniless, and had neither influential friends nor a knowledge of foreign languages. However, her gentleness, sincerity and warmth soon won her friends in Rome. When she found that she would have to wait almost a year whilst matters were under consideration, she spent much of the time visiting schools in Europe and Great Britain, and in interesting people in the work.

By the end of 1875 Rome had given approval – indeed warm praise – to the new Sisterhood, but had greatly changed the Rule to make it more in keeping with the special work of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Rome or Bust

Image Credit: Courageous MacKillop 

Following article from The Southern Cross 1 April 2009

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson has made a public apology over the wrongful excommunication of Mary MacKillop in 1871. The Southern Cross newspaper reports that the apology occurred at the blessing and dedication of the Blessed Mary MacKillop statue and plaza in Victoria Square on 22 March 2009.

 Archbishop Wilson stressed the apology was a follow up to the regret expressed by the dying Bishop Sheil when he revoked his excommunication of Mary in 1872.

 He said he was ‘profoundly ashamed of the Church’s actions in driving the Sisters out into the streets’. ‘This statue will stand as a sign of our affection and as an act of reparation for what happened so long ago’, he said.

 The Jesuits have their own place in the Mary MacKillop story. When the excommunication took place, the Jesuits at Norwood realised the act was invalid and gave MacKillop shelter, allowing her to receive the Eucharist even though she could not publicly attend church.

 Adelaide Jesuit Bishop Greg O’Kelly said the Jesuits in South Australia were great supporters of Mary MacKillop during all the troubles, both before and after the excommunication. ‘All those early Jesuits knew Mary Mackillop quite well, and wrote highly about her work and the work of all her sisters.’

 Sister Marion Gambin, Leader of the South Australian Province of the Sisters of St Joseph, said the apology was unexpected and humbling.

 ‘I was touched by the fact that Mary walked around here, between the Cathedral and the west end of the city…holiness is something that was around not just in the 18th century in another hemisphere’,
Archbishop Wilson said. ‘Mary showed that holiness is possible along our own streets; she was a living example of holiness and sainthood through her love of human life intersecting our lives in this city.’



Mary MacKilllop: Beggar-in-Chief

October 13, 2010

I have dismounted to love
gliding towards me dauntless nautch-girl on the face of the waters
dauntless daughter of desires in the old black and flamingo
get along with you now take the six the seven the eight or the little single-decker

take a bus for all I care walk cadge a lift
home to the cob of your web in Holles Street
and let the tiger go on smiling
in our hearts that funds ways home

~ Sanies I, Samuel Beckett, from Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates (1935)

Image Credit: Trever Phillips

The Work Begins

 Mud and more mud – slanting rain and squalid, tumbledown shacks – men and women shabby and dejected – ragged children with the pinched faces of hunger – Mary’s impressions had been building up ever since her steamer had nosed its way into the Port River. They deepened as the train bore Father Woods, her companion and herself towards Adelaide, and as they joted their way in the carriage over a wretched, muddy road to the cottage in Grote Street that was to be their Convent. Mary had not been prepared for all these evidences of stark poverty in the city that boasted of its free and planned origin.

Father Woods, however, explained rapidly how immigrant ships were continually arriving from Great Britain and Ireland, and of the lack of employment for those who came. Even those who obtained work, he said, were not much beter off, for wages were low and prices high. There was need, great need, for the kind of religious congregation they planned where the Sisters would be poor among the poor.

Image Credit: Trevor Phillips

Of that there was no doubt. Mary waited only long enough to make an eight-day Retreat and put on a religious Habit before plunging into the work. On July 2 they opened a school with sixty pupils, and within a few months the number had risen to more than two hundred as word spread around that these new Sisters taught very well and did not charge fees. They were content with the few pence that could be given, or with gifts of eggs or vegetables from those who could spare them.

Not only were most of the pupil’s parents too poor to afford any fees; often they could not even clothe their children. So Sister Mary simply went out and begged clothing for them. Adelaide watched and wondered. Nuns who worked among the poor and even begged for them were something quite new – scandalously new – revolutionary even. Maybe they were not nuns at all?

Image Credit: Ask Sister Mary Martha: Life is tough. But Nuns are tougher

The Work Expands

The Sisters of St. Joseph did not long confine their attention to teaching the children of the poor. As more generous young women came to join them, they were able to take on other work. The poor and sick were visited in their homes; children were gathered in off the streets, fed and sheltered; a Providence for old ladies was taken over; the gaols were visited (to the consternation of the warders!) and a Refuge for unmarried mothers and prostitutes established. And all the time more and more requests were coming in for schools to be opened so that an increasing number of Catholic children could benefit from free education and the refining influence of the Sisters.

There was no doubt, at least, that the poor of Adelaide took the new Sisterhood to their hearts. They saw in them generous young women, full of the love of God, and willing to serve Her poor at whatever cost to their own comfort and feelings. They knew that the Sisters barely had enough to exist on, and they bought the poorest of food, slept on straw, had convents bare of all except absolute essentials. They knew that the Sisters were ready to tramp the streets, begging for food, clothing, furniture even, for those destitute ones for whome they cared, that they accepted whatever was given with a smile and word of gratitude. So they cared little that these new Sisters were very different from the Religious who came from Europe, and who lived in large Convents behind high walls. They accepted and loved them for what they were.

Sister's room, Schoolhouse, Penola, SA

As their numbers grew, the Sisters opened more and more schools, not only in Adelaide, but in places in South Australia as far distant as Port Lincoln and Maitland. They were ready to go wherever the pioneers went, and share all their hardships and privations. By coach and steamer, by rail and by butty, they followed the settlers or miners into the outback.

Dust, flies and heat, loneliness, hunger, inconvenience, privations – whatever the early settlers knew and endured, the Sisters shared. Their Convents were no better than the shanties of the miners, sometimes they were only one or two rooms of hessian lined with calico.

A privation more keenly felt was that of Mass and the Sacraments, for often the settlements were so isolated that a priest could seldom visit them. However, the Sisters were there to keep the Faith alive not for their own spiritual consolation, so every Sunday they gathered the people and children together and prayed with them and gave instruction. Bravely and quietly they went on with their teaching and other works of mercy, and their presence must have brought new hope and courage to the hard-pressed women of the outback.

The Wimmera, 1864, by Polixeni Papapetrou

Image Credit: Junk for Code

Sister Mary visted her Sisters in these scattered outposts as often as she could, thinking nothing of the dreary, tiring journeys entailed. Her visits meant renewed zeal and enthusiasm and deeper confidence in God. Soon the bishops of other dioceses and colonies implored the Sisters to work with them. In 1869 they were invited to Queensland, and Sister Mary set out for Brisbane with several Sisters. No funds had been provided for the journey so they had, literally, to beg their passage from colony to colony.

This caused some scandal among those who overlooked the humility, the courage and self-forgetfulness entailed, and they were too ready to make unfair comparisons with Religious they had known in Home Countries. These critis did not realise that this was a unique Religious Congregation, one formed and fitted for the needs of the times, and one in complete harmony with the democratic spirit that was, even then, developing in Australia. They did not realise either that this new Congregation was, above all, suited to the task of bringing the knowledge and love of God to the poor and ignorant of the city slums and to the children of the distant outback.

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: Mother Mary of the Cross: Her personality, her Spirit


Image Credit: JollySwagmanBackpackers