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.


One comment

  1. Miracles are all well and good, but to have a musical written about your life — now THAT’S something! Ha ha — the musical looks like it’d be great. And Oct 17th — the Big Day approaches!! Hooray for Sister Mary and Australia!

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