Blessing and Unveiling of Mary MacKillop Sculpture

Thank you for the privilege of being here today for the unveiling of this beautiful sculpture. Thank you Linda for sharing with us what captured you in the life story of Mary MacKillop and expressing that through your artistry. You have certainly developed a relationship with Mary MacKillop in the crafting of this image.

Being captured by Mary’s life and developing a relationship with her seems to be a very common experience for Australians and for people beyond our shores, particularly in East Timor and Peru where our sisters have taken her story and where the people have taken Mary, our Australian saint, into their hearts. In the land from which Mary’s parents came, Scotland, people too have been captured by this Australian woman of Highland descent.

When Mary died on the 8th August 1909 in the Convent around the corner she was already venerated by the general public as a woman of great vision, of heroic character and outstanding holiness. Cardinal Moran, the Archbishop of Sydney at the time, visited her in her last illness and declared, “Her death will bring many blessings ….on the whole Australian Church.” On leaving the convent he added “I consider I have this day assisted at the deathbed of a saint.” [1]

Professor Craven asked me today to say a few words about the significance of Mary MacKillop to the Sisters of Saint Joseph and to the Australian community.

The Constitutions of the Sisters of Saint Joseph speak of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tension Woods being led by God to respond, in their words, to the ‘misery and wretchedness’ of the ‘bush children’ and the ‘afflicted poor’. They responded to this situation in the colonies of the 19th century by making the catholic education of poor children the Sisters’ prime task and, at the same time, undertaking urgently needed works of charity for which no other religious were available.

Mary’s charism, the gift given to her for the Church, was the catalyst for the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. That charism sprung from her belief that God was active in her life and the life of her companions and that God was calling them to service. That God active in her life was the God of Providence and the God of Compassion.

She and the early sisters set about providing for the poor in the absolute confidence that God would provide all that they needed. She and the early sisters knew in their own lives the compassionate love of God and they were generous in sharing that compassionate love with all whom they encountered. They did so as simple, ordinary women who immersed themselves in the lives of the people.

It was the lived expression of the charism given to Mary MacKillop that attracted thousands of women like me and the other sisters here to join this great Australian Congregation.

For the Sisters over the years the memory of Mary MacKillop has been a memory of Mother Mary of the Cross:

the woman whose passion for God and passion for humanity led her to found a congregation which would suit this country,

  • a woman who constantly travelled the colonies to be with her sisters,
  • a woman who taught those who joined her to have great respect for the calling of the priesthood,
  • a woman who loved the Church into which she was born,
  • a woman who saw all people as deserving of human dignity,
  • a woman who made the journey to Rome, alone and by ship to ensure that the Congregation she founded would receive the Pope’s approval to be a Congregation of Pontifical rite with central, not diocesan, government. This was the only way Mary saw the congregation being able to share the resources of her sisters where they were needed.

So for the Congregation Mary is ‘mother’, the one who birthed, nourished, guided the early congregation and the mother who loved her daughters.

The Congregation, aware of the holiness of her life, began the long process towards canonisation in 1925.

For the cause to reach the stage of Beatification, which it did in 1995, it was necessary to prove that this woman was well known and loved in the Australian community.

It was at this time that the Congregation took positive steps to tell her story more often and to more people and in so doing presented her as Mary MacKillop, not just Sister Mary or Mother Mary, but as Mary – a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend as well as religious sister and founder of a congregation.

Since that time when the Sisters of Saint Joseph decided that Mother Mary was not just for the Congregation and that Mary MacKillop was for the people of Australia, her life took on greater significance.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph today understand that that spirit and charism given to Mary MacKillop is not confined to women who have become Sisters of Saint Joseph. That charism is alive in the hearts of many others and her spirit lives on in so many women and men who have been captured by Mary’s life.

The Australian Catholic University of course is caught up in Mary’s story too as the University can trace one of its story lines back to the founding of her first school in Penola in 1866 and then to the teacher training she began in 1884 just around the corner in Mount Street.

As founders of the Congregation, Mary and Fr Julian Tenison Woods knew that education would be the only way to relieve the poverty of the people and this in the context of bringing children to the knowledge and love of God and to the riches of a Catholic faith.

Today this campus of our Australian Catholic University bears her name and now Linda’s sculpture invites students, staff and visitors to also be captured by the life of Mary MacKillop, not so much by her achievements but by the virtues with which she lived her life.

There is no doubt that Mary MacKillop has been taken into the hearts of Australians and become a popular part of our nation’s story.

To people of faith, Mary inspires as one whose focus never wavered from God.

To people who suffer, Mary inspires as one who knew sorrow in her family life, in the family of her religious community and within the church she loved.

To people of goodness, Mary inspires as one who went about daily life in the most ordinary of ways focussed on the needs of others, filled with kindness and abounding in generosity.

To Australians filled with the desire for a fair go for all, Mary inspires through her life of ensuring a fair go for all and erring always on the side of favouring the least, the most vulnerable, the poorest.

Media Monitors show that Mary is referred to frequently in our country in all types of media. It is amazing how often her name appears in a quiz show or in comedy routines or plays and musicals are written about her. Requests come daily to our congregational administration centre for permission to call something by her name be it a park or a building or to use her image or her words.

Even the Oprah Winfrey show rang a few weeks ago asking permission to film the Mary MacKillop Chapel because Nicole Kidman had told them it was her favourite Chapel!

And all day every day pilgrims come to pray at Mary’s tomb. During WYD as ACU well knows from supporting Mary MacKillop Place during those weeks, thousands came to pray and be inspired by the 24 year old Australian who took up her catholicity in life with enormous commitment.

Three Popes have come to pray at the tomb of our humble Australian saint.

In 1988 Mary was listed as one of the country’s outstanding citizens. This year the Australian Mint featured her on the first coin in the Inspirational Australians’ coin series recognising her in their words as a staunch and often rebellious champion of Christianity with a determination to provide education in Australia.

Many Australians have been captured by this woman born of our soil, raised in a family struggling to survive, instilled with a faith, perhaps a faith of the heart from her mother and a faith of the mind from her father and responding wholeheartedly to a call from God in her life.

Linda’s sculpture is a precious image of the woman Cardinal Moran knew to be a saint. And the sculpture resides in North Sydney the place she described in 1884.

“Thank God all is peace and quiet in this sweet little spot. Though in one of the most important streets of the North Shore, we are quite off the road – in the midst of a good -sized garden with high fences all around. The birds sing here as in Adelaide… there is a beautiful balcony commanding three views of the harbour.” [2]

Thank you to all at ACU responsible in any way for this newest and lovely image of one of Australia’s favourite daughters blessed and unveiled by Cardinal Pell today. Hopefully Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Moran’s words come true in your time as Archbishop of Sydney and she will be declared a saint for the universal Church.

[1] Paul Gardiner, An Extraordinary Australia: Mary MacKillop: The Authorised Biography (Sydney: E.J.Dwyer,1993) p 472

[2] 15th May 1884