Mary MacKillop’s new tomb 1993.

The date, 20 December 1993, is etched in my memory not only because it was my mother’s 77th birthday but also because I was witness to an exuberant outpouring of excitement, adoration and awe.

Mary’s old tomb near Our Lady’s altar.

I was invited to the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney to see the transfer of Mary MacKillop’s coffin, placed inside a large bronze casket, into her new resting place in the Chapel. I must admit before accepting, I was a bit foggy about the details of the event so I simply followed along and did what I was told (I was a novice, after all)!

On arrival, the Chapel was abuzz with many Sisters, holding rosary beads, craning their necks to get a better view and then, to my surprise, many of them climbing on to the pews to see it all! I could hardly believe the uninhibited display of such a pragmatic solution to making sure they didn’t miss a thing! At that time Mount Street, as well as being the Mother House, was a convent for the retired, the frail aged, those who cared for them and some still engaged in outside ministries.

When the Chapel was built in 1913, Mary’s tomb was planned to be in front of Our Lady’s altar on the left-hand side of the Chapel. That was where she rested after being moved in January 1914 from Gore Hill Cemetery, her original burial site. However, in the early 1990s, as the cause for her canonisation was progressing, the hoped-for beatification became the catalyst to begin considerable planning to ensure that there would be adequate space around Mary’s tomb to meet the anticipated need of pilgrims who wished to pray for her intercession and to give thanks.

Pope John Paul II at Mary’s [new] tomb January 1995.
The decision was made to use the space that was previously a vestry on the right-hand side of the sanctuary and to open up the area. Hence Mary was moved again to finally rest in peace in a beautiful prayerful space of solace and spiritual refreshment. It has since been enlarged, and the pilgrims keep coming.

I believe that the buzz in the Chapel I experienced on that special day thirty years ago was because of the giving to all, of the gift and inspiration of Mary. The energy of the Spirit was palpable! She would no longer just be “ours” but be recognised and owned by all as a Saint for everyone, a woman who continues to touch others in her kind, inclusive way. How wonderful! How awesome! How joyous!

Over a year later, Mary MacKillop was beatified on 19 January 1995 in Sydney. Mary was then canonised in Rome on 17 October 2010.

Jeanette Foxe rsj

Photos provided by the Sisters of Saint Joseph Archives.