Photo by lilartsy.

To commemorate the anniversary for when Mary MacKillop received Constitutions of the Institute (Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart) and when Central Government was accepted on 21 April 1874, Sr Maria Casey shares what she would have written to Mary if she was alive today.

Dear Mary,

On 25 March 1873, you wrote to the sisters, “I am going to Rome… and I go full of hope!”

Your words to the sisters hide times of grief, anxiety, disappointment, ill health but also amazing experiences of the Providence of God whose will you had previously encouraged your sisters to accept in “humble submission”. You set out for Rome on 28 March hoping to get the Constitutions approved for your newly founded Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

You reached Rome on 11 May 1873, after a long journey by land, sea and rail. After a night in a hotel, you made your way to the Irish College to meet its Rector, Monsignor Kirby. Your trust in the Providence of God was profound. Monsignor Kirby found you lodgings at the Monastero della Compassione overlooking the ruins of the Roman Forum. Monsignor Kirby became a staunch friend and introduced you to Cardinal Barnabo who was present when, on 1 June, Pentecost Sunday, you were presented to Pope Pius IX. Cardinal Barnabo explained that you were “the excommunicated one”.  You were wearing your habit (a rare and dangerous act given the troubles in Italy then). Pope Pius IX gave you a fatherly blessing that day and on two other audiences.

Your trust in Providence was unshaken when the Rule you wanted approved was given to Dominican Father Bianchi to re-write in the form required by Rome. Because the Roman heat was affecting your health you were advised to leave Rome. You set out on 1 August making your way to Scotland to the land of your beloved father.

Your return to Rome on 17 March, must have been a mixture of joy and anxiety at what you might find in the re-written Rule – especially regarding Central Government and the desire to express poverty by owning no property.

Fr Bianchi sent the revised Rule to the office of Propaganda. On Saturday, 18 April 1874, two documents were delivered to Monsignor Kirby – one with comments and the other the Revised Rule in Latin. On 21 April, your joy must have been great to receive both the Latin and English translations. While it did not receive the Decretum Laudis (approval), you must have thanked your God to realise that Central Government was accepted but ownership of property was deemed necessary. You were advised to live the Revised Rule for some years, hold a General Chapter, and then seek approval later.

On 25 July 1888, you received the joyous news of the Decree ordered by Pope Leo XIII that the Constitutions were approved and the Institute erected as a Regular Congregation with the Mother House in Sydney. Little did you think, that 122 years later, with many sisters living the Approved rule, you would become Australia’s first canonised Saint. And, Mary, little did I ever envisage completing that process as Postulator for your Cause. Your trust in the loving Providence of God never failed.

Your child and sister,

Maria Casey rsj
NSW Region