Archive for October 14th, 2010


An Object of Wonder: 1961

October 14, 2010

What exactly  is a miracle? The word itself comes from the Latin: “miraculum” mean, rather beautifully, “an object of wonder”. For all of us, a miracle is indeed an object of wonder: an astonishing, inexplicable event.

Mary MacKillop Rose

Image Credit: Suey_i, Flickr

For the Catholic Church, a miracle is also a gift from God: a symbol of His power, a sign of His presence, a proof of His love. Christian theology is “studded with miraculous happenings”, says Professor Tony Kelly from the Australian Catholic University, one of the 30-member International Theological Commission, which advices the Vatican on questions of theology.

“They don’t even have to prove anything, really: they can be just to show the saving power of God at work. But in the case of canonisations, the church is saying, ‘If we’re serious about it, and God’s serious about it, miracles will occur.'”

Of course, you have to be serious, too. Religious miracles are, by definition, issues of faith. And with faith, all things are possible. Which is why Rome – the centre of Catholicism for more than 15 centuries – possesses the only office on earth where miracles are plucked out of the ether and nailed down: organised; investigated; even given index cards. The door in the Vatican corridor is, quite literally, the door to the miracles department.

Mary MacKillop was serious; God is serious – miracles occurred.


Mary MacKillop’s first miracle occured almost 50 years ago, in 1961, when a 23-year-old newly married Sydney woman began to lose weight and feel inexplicably exhausted. As her testimony recorded, “My health started to decline from April or May [of 1961]. I got very tired. Bad cramps in hands; they were cold and numb.” By the time she was admitted to hospital, she was feverish and suffering from spells of faintness and menstrual haemorrhaging. She was quickly diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukaemia.

The news was broken to her family – including her new husband – that her condition was terminal: she might have as little as a month to live. Unable to walk, she was sent home in a wheelchair. She then developed painful abscesses in her left arm and right thigh. On her return to hospital, one of her doctors recalled, “She was even more acutely ill than before. I think [we] had a gloomier outlook on that second occasion…..[She] presented a pitiful picture”.

Image Credit: Mary MacKillop Place

Desperate, the young woman’s mother telephone Mary MacKillop’s order, the Sisters of St Joseph. Together, the sisters and the woman’s family began a novena – a nine-day cycle of prayer – to plead for her recovery. “Sister gave me a relic of Mother Mary to pin on me,” the young woman explained. “The relic had a litle photo of Mother Mary and a tiny piece of white cloth.”

As prayers progressed, the young woman – who has maintained her public silence, and her anonymity, for almost 50 years, and is known in documents only as “X” – began to feel stronger. Less than 12 months later, she was pregnant. As Father Paul Gardiner later explained, “pregnancy is not a good thing for a leukaemia sufferer”. But not only was X pregnant, tests revealed that her cancer had completely disappeared.

Her child – a healthy baby boy – was born on August 8, which is, as fate (or God) would have it, the anniversary of Mary MacKillop’s death.

Image Credit: Miracles are Your Responsibility, Period.

People simply could not believe her recovery – least of all her original doctors. “Though we know that remissions can occur, such a remission as hers is without precedent in my experience,” said one of her treating haematologists. “In light of all the circumstances, and in particular the fact that she has successfully had a baby, such an outcome is absolutely unexpected. If it could be proven that is was a permanet cure, I would regard it as a miracle.”

The woman, Madame X, went on to have five more healthy children, and is now 73 years old and a grandmother.

The cure filled all requirements for consideration for canonisation. The Vatican’s verdict:

Progressiva, completa e duratura; nonspiegabile in base alle nostre conoscenze scientifiche.

Extrapolated from The Miracles of Mary by Amanda Hooton, first published Good Weekend, October 9, 2010

MacKillop: The Musical

Read More about the musical here.


A Nun in Rome: City of Echoes, City of Illusions

October 14, 2010

 Because of the openness of her nature, Mary found it difficult to tolerate injustice, dishonesty, disobedience, and stupidity in other people. Yet, when it was necessary for her to point out these faults, she always did so with love and kindness as well as firmness. It took much courage. ~ from Blessed Mary MacKillop:A Woman Before Her Time by Father William Modystack, 1982.

Apollo and Daphne, Galleria Borghese

 Image Credit: 36 Hours in Rome

The following extrapolated from ‘The Miracles of Mary’ by Amanda Hooton, published Good Weekend, October 9 2010:

Mary MacKillop herself was in Rome between 1873 and 1874, seeking papal approval for her new and revolutionary order of Australian nuns. She’d co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Josephites) in 1866, and in the next seven years she endured significant opposition – even wrongful excommunication – from some clergy, and increasing crticism from her cofounder.

On a personal level, she faced a chronic illness – perhaps some form of endometriosis – that gave her great pain and was accompanied by terrible migraines.  It was this illness, for which she was prescribed brandy to help with pain, that later led to charges of drunkenness.

She had no money, and had to beg her passage to Italy, which was caught in the violently anti-religious aftermath of the wars of unification. She arrived in Rome under the pseudonym of Mrs MacDonald, dressed as a widow, with no passport, no money, no Italian, and, according to some sources, not even a hotel booking. She was 31 years old.

As it turned out, Rome was a turning point – as well as almost the midpoint – in her life.

Though I loved Rome, Rome did not love me”, Sister Mary wrote, “for after the first month I was scarcely a day well in it”. The heat shattered her: day after day she was too sick to get up or eat or go to Mass. For a woman with so much determination about everything in life – and particularly about getting to Mass – this is really saying something.

I, needless to say, do not have anything like Mary MacKillop’s grit, so I stagger into the shade at the base of a colonnade and breathe deeply. There is an entry in the shadows ahead, which is the beginning of a typical Vatican journey: up a winding staircase, past various guards, round various corners, and down a long, anonymous passage. “Take a wrong turn around here and no one will find you for 400 years”, says Tim Fischer, the Australian ambassador to the Holy See.

Eventually you come to a door. Not a terribly glamorous door, if the truth be known, nor a terribly glamorous passage, painted industrial cream and floored with the Vatican version of everyday marble. At this door, and beyond it, the heat of Rome is brown.

Unremarkable brown, with flickering dust motes in it: the colour of archives and folders, of filing cabinets and card catralogues; of the habits once worn by Mary MacKillop’s Josephite nuns.

And also, as it turns out, the colour of miracles.

 Image Credit: Rhett A. Butler

…..And More Trials

News which gladdens some may well bring sorrow to others. This was the case with the news Mary brought from Rome. The Sisters rejoiced that now they had the approval of Rome, that they had held their first General Chapter, and that Mother Mary had been elected their first Mother-General, but Father Julian Woods was far from being content.

He was undoubtedly a zealous and holy priest, and to the end of her life Mother Mary was conscious of the great debt she and all her Sisters owed to him as Father Founder. Now, however, he found it difficult to accept the fact that Rome had set aside the Rule he had drawn up for the Sisters as enjoining too extreme a poverty and requiring too much by way of penitential and devotional practices for Sisters in active work. He blamed Mother Mary for these changes, and for the first time a cloud rose over the friendship between them, a cloud which would darken with the years and bring her much sorrows.

Extract: Dauntless Daughter of Desires: The Story of Mary McKillop and Her Work 1866-1966, by Sister M. Peter, published by Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sacred Heart, 1965

 After prayerful reflection Mother Mary wrote to Julian, “Long ago you used to wish me to tell you anything I saw in you that was not as pleasing to God as it might be. Today I asked St John the Baptist in Holy Communion grace to be as unreserved with you in these things now as I once was, and this for God’s sake only, no matter at what cost. God does not lead anyone as He leads you, nor are there many to whom He has given such a wonderful supply of graces, nor from whose words and actions towards others he expects so much winning attraction to Himself, and so much prevention of what might grieve Him. If you would only consider the feelings of others a little more, and not act quite so hastily in some things, I am so sure that much good you really wish to do, would thus be so easily done. Make allowance for those who do not see as you do – I mean make it in time, not when, through some want of thought or haste on your part, someone has been grieved or perhaps provoked to irritation. It is better to prevent the smallest evil if we can, and this from love of Him who is grieved by such, rather than to be sorry after we see the evil done. Sometimes, without meaning it, you slight others, and cause them much bitterness and pain . . . All are not as patient under an imaginary slight, as through the grace of God, you are. All cannot bear what you can – and human nature is very weak. I cannot express myself clearly but if it pleases God, He will make clear to you what I mean about this. As long as I live, Father, I will feel anything I see like this, in one I love. I have some other thoughts which I can speak now, if only I get time and we are not interrupted, and that you can dwell a little upon each subject if only to satisfy my mind and spare it future troubles. May God’s holy will be welcome – I do from my heart think Him for my sorrows of this day – and even for the weakness I have, in spite of myself, shown tonight. I struggled against it all day – I could not go with my sad face amongst the poor Sisters, they know that I felt ill, so will not wonder, and you dear Father must not grieve or mind me.” 

Mary’s heart was filled with remorse. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was to offend Julian, yet in this instance, she saw it was necessary to try to make him think and hoped that her words would have the desired effect. ~ from Blessed Mary MacKillop: A Woman Before Her Time by Fr William Modystack

Image Credit: How to Fire Your Lawyer by Erik J. Heels