Mary MacKillop was born in the year 1842 on January 15th. Both her parents were from Scotland, and she was the eldest of what would be a large family of 8 siblings.
Mary was fortunate in that her father was literate and taught his children the fundamentals of their Faith, in that he had once studied for the Priesthood before marrying his wife, Flora. Alexander MacKillop though well taught in matters of Faith and other learned topics, was not as well learnt when it came to business enterprises, which was to bring great discomfort and trouble upon his growing family.
His wife Flora was also rather temperamental in the way she handled adversity, which was to bring their marriage under strain, though both Mary's parents loved each other deeply. But through many failed business enterprises Alexander was to land his family in some financial difficulties, and so both he and Flora were dependent upon the other members of the families and friends to help them out. This was to cause a deep embarrassment to Mary and her other brothers and sisters, in that they were dependent upon others for their livelihood and a roof over their heads.
So, it was at the age of 16 years, that Mary took it upon herself to help her parents and family by becoming employed as a governess, then a clerk as well as schooling the young boys and girls around her. This brought in much needed income to her floundering family.
Mary was born with an exceptional degree of common sense, in that neither parent possessed this much needed virtue!
It was while she was employed as a governess that she first met the charismatic priest, Father Julian Tennison Woods, whose vision of providing schools for the poor and destitute, was the driving force of his life. Mary too was to embrace and share this vision of providing an education to the poor youth who could then rise above their poverty and become self supportive.
But Australia was a very large and inhospitable land with few roads and even less modern transport, but neither Fr. Woods nor Mary would allow this to inhibit what they envisioned for the young people of their area. Both were filled with much hope and zeal for their mission!
But Mary was to be torn in two for a while, in that her Fathers inability to provide for their family left Mary in the position of having to provide financial support for both parents and her siblings. But Mary was resolute in heart, and so in 1866 she opened her first school naming it after St. Joseph, in the small town of Penola, when a disused stable became available. This was to be the start of something so big that neither Fr. Wood nor Mary could have imagined!
Young women soon came to hear of what Fr. Woods and Mary had started and began to join their mission, which led to the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, for Mary had a deep devotion to this Great Saint.
But Mary’s life was to be peppered with extreme joy and also anguish, in that many misunderstood her strong and abiding belief in her Order and to provide the best possible education for the poor. In 1867, Mary started a school in Adelaide upon the request of the local Bishop. This work filled Mary's heart with great joy and she worked hard as did her fellow sisters in not only providing an education for the poor but in helping the destitute families in her area, including prostitutes and those released from prison.
This was to bring much heartache to Mary as some were opposed to her good works whilst others became jealous. Her once strong supporter Fr. Tennison Woods was to turn against Mary as he became increasingly unstable and tended to follow after those who pertained to having 'visions', rather than support her continued and valuable work amongst the poor.
This was to bring Mother Mary great distress and also upset her fellow sisters, when through misunderstanding, Mother Mary, by order of the Archbishop was excommunicated. This was repealed at a later date but through it all, Mary never once complained, nor did she become embittered though she suffered much!
Mary's inherent humility came to the fore. Therefore she was able to accept rejection, slander and calumny, whilst waiting upon the Good God to set things right, in humble submission to the Church authorities of that time. Mother Mary was to be completely exonerated at a later date from all adverse comments made against her.
But in 1872 Mother Mary MacKillop left the shores of Australia for Rome to have her Order of St Joseph officially approved by the Pope. Mary upon gaining the needed approval for her Order of Religious after the Pope made a few alterations, returned to Australia in 1875. Her trip was a great success and along with Mary came several women from Ireland who also embraced the ideal of providing an education for the poor youth in Australia as well as several priests!
Mother Mary even though she was Mother General of her Order still suffered persecutions and ridicule from those in power, most especially from several priests and bishops. But though she was disappointed, Mother Mary never allowed this to disturb her peace of heart, nor her vision for the Order.
Mary MacKillop truly lived the Spirit of St. Joseph in her humble submission to those in authority even if they are wrong. Mary never once criticized them nor did she lose her hope in God. Indeed the adversity which she faced merely strengthened her Faith and dependence upon God and her obedience to Holy Mother Church!
Despite several attempts by some Bishops to destroy her Order they never succeeded and there are still many Schools of St Joseph, which provide a good education for all of Australia to this day!
Mother Mary MacKillop died on 8 August 1909.
Mary was beatified by Pope John Paul on 19 January 1995.
Peace of Christ to you ALL
Copyright © 2005 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.