Pastoral Letter on Blessed Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop, a pioneer Australian woman of the mid nineteenth century, whose respect for the inherent dignity of people led her to found a religious community dedicated to education in its broadest sense, is to be declared a Saint.

The canonisation will take place in Rome on October 17, recognising for the first time an Australian born saint among the great models for Christian living.

The eldest of eight, Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne in 1842 to Flora and Alexander, Scottish immigrants. A “down-to-earth” woman of deep personal faith, Mary was drawn to the needs of the isolated, disadvantaged and neglected. She was concerned they be helped to get a “fair go” and to experience God’s compassionate love in their lives.

Trusting in God’s providence and convinced of God’s protection for herself and the little band of women who shared her vision, she was assisted and encouraged by Father Julian Tenison Woods. She wanted her Sisters to live close to those being served, wherever the need was. Farmers, miners, railway workers, shopkeepers – people from all walks of life, struggling to find their way in a new land, were met by the “Sisters of St Joseph” with understanding, practical support and living examples of joyful trust.

Hardship, poor health, financial problems and opposition from Church leaders were obstacles she faced with courage and determination, enabling her to identify even more closely with the people on the margins of society.

There is a strong Aotearoa New Zealand connection with Mary MacKillop. Her Sisters established a school in Temuka in 1883, the first of their many schools throughout the country. Mary herself visited Aotearoa New Zealand on four occasions between 1894 and 1902, assisting the Sisters and ensuring their living and working conditions were satisfactory.

She felt very much at home here and was loved by the people she met. She would often speak of them and the country with great affection. In Rotorua, she suffered her stroke, spending six months recuperating with the Sisters at Remuera before returning to Sydney. Many of the MacKillop clan settled in Aotearoa New Zealand; her brother, John, is buried in the Christchurch Barbados Street cemetery.

Mary MacKillop is truly a woman for our time. Her holiness, powered by her deep love of God, together with her street-wise philosophy, make her a model of hope for all who grapple with doubt, misunderstanding and injustice. She brings us the gift of hope.

Pope Benedict, in his 2009 Encyclical, Spe Salvi On Christian Hope, tells us that “the saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with hope.” Mary MacKillop presents a way of life in direct contrast to the contemporary world of glamour, wealth and power. Her beauty, riches and strength come from within. Her own “great journey of human existence” was a journey of unshakable hope, travelled in the companionship of the God of Jesus Christ, her reason for being.

Saint Mary MacKillop will be especially honoured in the two lands of Australia and New Zealand. We strongly encourage parishes and schools to find ways to celebrate her canonisation on Sunday 17 October, because this is a unique and wonderful event for our two countries.

May Saint Mary MacKillop guide us on our own “great journey”, keeping us hope-filled and faithful.

+John Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
President, NZCBC

+Patrick Dunn
Bishop of Auckland
Secretary, NZCBC

+Colin Campbell
Bishop of Dunedin

+Barry Jones
Bishop of Christchurch

+Peter Cullinane
Bishop of Palmerston North

+Denis Browne
Bishop of Hamilton

Feast of Blessed Mary MacKillop
8 August 2010