The story of Mary MacKillop Mary’s family • Mary’s father (Alexander) came to live in Australia (from Scotland) on January 1838 at 26 years of age. The ship’s papers called him a teacher. • Two years later Mary’s mother (Flora) came on a ship to live in Australia. She met Alexander in Australia and they were married within 3 months. • Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne (Victoria) on January 15th, 1842, in Brunswick. • Within 3 years Mary’s father had a home, a family and the respect of many people. He was doing really well for himself in his new country, Australia. Mary’s Dad had strong opinions about justice and helping others. He joined with 11 others to borrow money for a man they believed needed financial help. All too late they discovered they had been tricked. The man took their money, and the bank then wanted all the money back that had been loaned to Alexander and his friends. Mary’s father was forced to sell his family home for a cheap price. Mary was only 3 months old when her family home was sold. For the rest of her childhood, Mary’s family relied on family and friends to provide them with a place to live and her parents never owned a family home again. Her childhood was spent moving from one house to another, and she lived in over 15 different houses. Mary’s father used to write a lot of anonymous letters to the paper, attacking people about things that he thought they had done wrong. One day his identity was discovered and he lost his job. Mary suffered a lot through what she later described as people’s desire to be seen to be right, rather than a desire to do right. After seeing the hurt that was caused to other people, and the hurt that was caused to her family when people found out that her father had been writing all those anonymous letters to the paper, Mary chose to never say anything bad about anyone for the rest of her life. Even when people did not treat Mary well, she never said or wrote anything negative about them. Mary also suffered a lot of grief in her childhood. When she was 5 her much loved grandfather, Donald MacDonald, died tragically in a storm when he slipped into Darebin Creek (Melbourne) and drowned. Only 6 months later her brother Alexander (Alick) died “from a fever that no one could stop”. Thinking time… 1. Do you think Mary had a very happy childhood? Why / why not? 2. Some people say that poor people deserve to be poor, and therefore we shouldn’t help them but they should learn how to help themselves. Do you think Mary MacKillop agreed with this statement? Why / why not? Quotes from Mary MacKillop • In 1873, Mary wrote: 'My life as a child was one of sorrow, my home when I had it a most unhappy one.’ • In 1900 Mary wrote: “Seek first the poorest and most neglected parts of God’s vineyard.” Why might Mary MacKillop have gone on to dedicate her life to helping those who were poor? Mary’s siblings Alexander and Flora MacKillop had 8 children: Mary, Maggie, John, Alick (who died from the fever at 11 months of age), Annie, Alexandrina (Lexie), Donald, and Peter. (Interestingly, none of Alexander and Flora’s children ever had children of their own, so there is no direct living link with Mary’s family today.) Today we know much about Mary’s life from not only Mary’s letters, but from the writings of Annie and Donald. Characteristics of Mary as a child When Mary was 4 she was walking with her mother and her mother complained of being tired. Mary said, “Lean on me”, so from a very young age Mary helped and supported her mother wherever possible. At the age of 8 Mary was helping her mother care for her younger brothers and sisters. At the age of 11 Mary sent a nurse away who was supposed to be helping care for her brothers and sisters. Flora came in to find Mary expertly dressing the baby, and Mary told her mother that the nurse was not doing her job properly and the children were not safe with her so she sent her away. As a child, Mary often stayed in country places and she learnt to ride horses very well. This skill stayed with Mary for life. At 8 years of age Mary wanted a new doll for her birthday, but her family could only afford new clothes for her old doll. Years later Mary realised that the ‘new clothes’ were made from her sister’s old coat. No matter how hard life seemed for Mary’s family, her mother always said that “God would provide” for their family so they would always find another way of earning money, or another place to live. When Mary was 14 years old she went to work as a governess, looking after a family’s children. When she was 15 she went to work at a stationery warehouse to provide money for her family. Here she learnt important business skills. Mary’s education Mary attended school for a short time, but when her family could no longer afford it her father taught Mary and her brothers and sisters. He also taught them about their Catholic faith, and through Alexander they ended up receiving a very high level of education. Thinking time… 1. What do you think was really important to Mary when she was a child? (This tells us what Mary really valued, and she kept these values as a adult.) Mary’s great work begins At the age of 18 Mary went to work as a governess in Penola, a small town in South Australia. She worked on a large property, and soon she was also teaching other children. She also taught them about their Catholic faith, and she met Fr Julian Woods who was the local parish priest in Penola. Fr Julian Woods Mary discovered that Fr Julian Woods and herself were both really interested in helping to provide poor children with an education. Mary’s brother John came and transformed an old stable into a school house, and later Mary’s sisters Annie and Lexie came to help open a Catholic school in Penola and work as teachers. This was Australia’s first free Catholic school. Click here to see a photo of the old stable school (and more). Mary believed that her life was meant to be lived helping and educating others, especially those who could not afford to go to school. Mary also believed that this was what God wanted her to do, and in 1866 Mary began wearing clothing to dress as a religious woman, who dedicated her life to God. In 1867 Mary became the first Sister of St Joseph, and all those who wanted to spend their lives as a Sister of St Joseph had to agree to live wherever they were needed, with a special emphasis on helping the poor and relying on God to help their work. By the end of 1867 ten other women had joined Mary to become Sisters of St Joseph. Mary and the Sisters of St Joseph set up an orphanage for children who had lost their families. When a little boy at the orphanage lay dying he asked to see Mary, and when she heard she set out in the midst of a terrible storm. When she arrived he said, “I knew you would come” and she stayed with him until he died. Later she walked in a violent storm to the cemetery and recited the rosary at his grave. Thinking time… 1. Why do you think that Mary would want to spend her life helping others? 2. Why do you think that Mary had a special interest in helping children whose families could not afford to provide them with an education? The Sisters of St Joseph • Over the coming years, Mary’s work continued throughout much of Australia. By 1870 there were 21 Catholic schools that had been opened in South Australia and were run by the Sisters of St Joseph. • By 1871 over 120 women had become Sisters of St Joseph. In 1870 Mary went to Brisbane to establish more communities. A year later Mary returned to Adelaide, and discovered there had been complaints made to the Bishop about her. The Bishop arrived at the Convent at 8am one morning with 4 priests. Mary knelt for a blessing but the Bishop refused. Then the Bishop told Mary she was no longer allowed to be part of the Catholic Church because he believed she had been disobedient. Thinking time… 1. How do you think Mary felt at this time? 2. How do you think the other Sisters of St Joseph would have felt about Mary not being allowed to be part of the Church anymore? Quotes from Mary MacKillop From a letter Mary wrote to Fr Julian Woods in 1871. “When I was ordered to kneel before the Bishop I felt lonely and bewildered. It was an intense relief when the Bishop ordered me to kneel down. I do not know how long I knelt there facing the Bishop and four priests with all my Sisters standing around. I knew they were there but saw no one and I think I was trying to pray. I shall never forget the sensation of the calm, beautiful presence of God”. Thinking time… 1. What does this letter tell us about Mary MacKillop? 2. Why might Mary have never written or spoken any cross words about the Bishop (or anyone else)? Mary travels to Rome Five months later, the Bishop of Adelaide was dying and just before his death he realised he had made a mistake and allowed Mary to be part of the Church again. The following year Mary travelled to Rome to the Vatican, and met with Pope Pius IX, to seek approval for the way the Sisters of St Joseph worked. Apology In 2009, 100 years after Mary MacKillop's death, the Archbishop of Adelaide apologised to the Sisters of St Joseph for Mary's wrongful excommunication. He apologised for “what happened to them in the context of the excommunication when their lives and their community life was interrupted and they were virtually thrown out on the streets and that this was a terrible thing," he said. Mary’s work continues Mary travelled throughout Europe and came back to Australia with some young women from Ireland who also wished to become Sisters of St Joseph. Mary travelled to the following places establishing more communities and schools run by the Sisters of St Joseph: New Zealand, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. By 1891 there were 300 Sisters of St Joseph working throughout Australia and New Zealand. Life in Colonial Australia Mary was very aware of the challenges that the Sisters of St Joseph experienced, living and working in the time of colonial Australia. The Sisters lived in groups of two or three so they had company and support, because they were living long distances from other Sisters of St Joseph. To support them Mary used to write regular letters of encouragement, as she knew they would experience loneliness in the isolation of country Australia. The Sisters also had to rely on the goodness of others, and when they ran out of food they would need to ask others to provide for them. Land was donated to Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of St Joseph at North Sydney. Mary MacKillop spent the last part of her life living here, and today people can visit to see where Mary MacKillop lived and learn about her work. Alma Cottage where Mary lived in North Sydney Mary suffered a lot of pain in the last years of her life and needed a wheelchair to get around. (Inside Alma Cottage today.) The Chapel at North Sydney also reminds people of Mary’s great love of the Eucharist. She drew strength and courage from participating in Eucharist, and offered herself to God for the service of others. Mary MacKillop died in Alma Cottage on August 8th, 1909. Her last words to the Sisters of St Joseph were, “Go on”. Mary MacKillop’s tomb in the Chapel at North Sydney. Every day many people come to pray in the chapel at North Sydney where Mary MacKillop is buried. The Sisters of St Joseph continue important work today. Thinking time… 1. What kind of statements do you think Mary MacKillop would have written to other Sisters of St Joseph? 2. From all Mary learnt to value in life, what kind of statements do you think she may have written in her letters to family and friends? Quotes from Mary MacKillop “Judge not, murmur not, but oh, love one another” 25.9.1873 “I trust in the goodness of God” 3.3.1873 “We have so much for which to be thankful” 16.5.1873 “Help one another, and forgive and forget anything painful in the past” 9.8.1881 Quotes from Mary MacKillop “Remember that we must always expect, from time to time, to receive ‘crosses’ and know that we also give them” 14.4.1882 “God’s ways and ours are so very different”. 15.11.1875 “We can do nothing without God” 11.11.1880 “God loves those best who help the weak become whole” 2.9.1906 Quotes from Mary MacKillop “Never see a need without doing something about it”. 1871 This was Mary’s motto that she lived by. What work would Mary MacKillop commit herself to now if she lived in Australia today?