St. Francis Church and School [ca. 1875] by Liardet, W.F.E. / State Library Victoria.
In 1839, Rev P. Geoghegan arrived in the colony of Victoria as its first priest. In less than ten weeks, he had erected a wooden church where “friends used to meet Sunday after Sunday to exchange the news of the old world, or to help on some work in aid of faith or Fatherland.” [1]

Mary MacKillop’s parents, Flora McDonald and Alexander MacKillop, were married in 1839 and settled in Marino Cottage, Brunswick Street, Newtown, now called Fitzroy. The MacKillops, McDonalds and Camerons were among many Scottish pioneers of strong faith who worshipped at St Francis’ Church. It was to there as the centre of Catholic community life, that Flora and Alexander took their first child Mary to be baptised on 28 February 1842, as Maria Ellen, or Mary Helen.

The current stone building was dedicated in 1845 and today one can visit the church and see an imposing statue of St Mary MacKillop as Australia’s first saint, for this was her first parish church.

One can muse that just as the early Christian saint, Helena (250-330), mother of Constantine, is credited with finding the true Cross when she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so too, Mary Helen MacKillop found the cross in her daily life. So we call her Saint Mary of the Cross.

We can take heart from looking at Mary’s struggles in difficult times, and in the many times when she coped with physical disabilities. She wrote:

I could not be happy without my cross.  I could not lay it down for all the world could give. The only way I have of trying to show my gratitude to God for all that He has done for those I love…. is in the cross.

Judith Geddes rsj


[1] Some of the Fruits of the First Fifty Years. Annals of the Catholic Church in Victoria.