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

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