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Mary MacKillop – A lifetime of service

Michele Frankeni  |  01 August 2019

Mary MacKillop, who founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, lived a life of charity in both the sense of giving help to those who need it but in having kindness and tolerance in judging others.

The Virtues of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842-1909, by Paul B Gardiner SJ, is an indepth look at her life, her work of service and how she lived the virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.

The Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart was founded in Penola, South Australia in 1866 by Australian Mary MacKillop and an English priest Julian Woods. Originally founded to respond to the need for education of children, the Sisters of St Joseph worked to meet the many other needs they found.

In early 1866, aged 24, Mary MacKillop took charge of a school started by Fr Woods and accepted his invitation to become the first Sister of St Joseph. It was the beginning of a lifetime of charity and service.

Her Christmas message in 1899 to her Josephite Sisters was typical of her approach to charity.

‘And oh my dearest Sisters, love charity more than ever. Help one another, bear with one another as God bears with each of us. We cannot do this as He does, but at least we can try to imitate Him, and so please His loving heart which we wound so much by acting otherwise.’

Earlier in December that year, she had written to her sisters.

‘Ah, let us ever remember that we have been called by God to serve Him, and that He has chosen us from amongst many, that He has conferred great graces upon us, and that He has a right to our perfect service. Let us often ask ourselves if we give Him the perfect service to which He has a right.’

In 1873 she wrote to the Sisters:

‘I would joyfully suffer death, a thousand deaths, if I could – to preserve the spirit of unity, love and charity amongst us.’

And 35 years later in 1909 as she was dying she sent a few words to her Sister continuing on the theme of charity.

‘ . . . God bless you all. Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them cheerfully, remembering Whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another, and let charity guide you in all your life.’

Despite many difficulties with the church hierarchy she had great reverence for sacred orders.

‘She would never allow any Sister to say a word against a priest or bishop. She said she would prefer to have a dagger in the heart rather than a word spoken against God’s anointed.’ (Sr Annette, Process)

Indeed, in the 21st century with the 24-hour news cycle and a general cynicism of those in authority, Mother Mary MacKillop’s attitude is the epitome of charity.

‘On one occasion when the public trial of a priest was in the news, Mother Mary had us praying incessantly that the prestige of the priesthood and the glory of God would be upheld.’ (Sister Sabina, Process)

Mary was beatified in 1995 by Pope John Paul II and canonised on 17 October 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her Feast Day is 8 August.

See for more information on St Mary MacKillop.

Quotes taken from The Virtues of Saint Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842-1909, by Paul Gardiner SJ, St Pauls Publications, Strathfield NSW.


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