Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop mural located at Mary MacKillop Memorial School, Penola SA.

“Jesus wept!” This simple verse speaks volumes of the inner life of Christ. The effects on those around were not lost – “See how he loved [Lazarus],” they said (John 11:35). Soon after the death of Father Julian Tenison Woods on 7 October 1889, Mary MacKillop, on behalf of Mother Bernard, Mother General, wrote to the sisters, referring to ‘the gentle spirit of our Father Founder’:

… try to honour his memory by imitating his virtues. Mary MacKillop, Letter to the Sisters, 28.10.1889

Josephite author, Margaret Press rsj, writes that one year later Mary proposed that, as well as honouring Julian in their plans of building the mother house chapel in his memory, someone “should write his life story”. As we are now aware, the lot fell on Mary herself! She had hoped that another sister would do so, suggesting that, “it wants someone who had more faith in him than I latterly had… it should be done”. (December 1890) Margaret Press rsj draws our attention to Mary’s opening lines of the finished product: “It was a labour of love”. [1]

The whole of Mary’s life, as highlighted by Jesuit Paul Gardiner, was characterised by an ardent love; “she loved people as an extension of her love of God”. Despite Mary’s many disappointments and crosses, surely those who have studied the personal dynamics in the Mary/Julian story, could proclaim, as did the people around Jesus, “see how she loved [Julian]!”.

Mary met Fr Julian when Australia was still an infant colony, about seventy years old. Coming to the small town of Penola (in South Australia) at the age of eighteen, Mary’s immediate concern was to earn money as a governess for her wealthy Cameron relatives. With this income, she was able to help her mother and family. In her heart there was growing a desire to help the poor and disadvantaged of the outback. Then, on meeting the parish priest, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, a friendship of inner fire and shared vision was soon aglow between the two. It was this friendship that enabled the beginnings of the young foundation.

Later years saw a rift in this relationship; Fr Julian could not accept that Rome would dare to change aspects of his Rule, laying the blame at Mary’s feet. It was painful for both. The friendship was never really reconciled. We are aware, however, of Mary’s desire that it be otherwise – she consistently reminds her sisters of his place in our beginnings and asks of us a non-judgmental respect for our “Father Founder”.

Reflection and Prayer

As it is customary for us to revisit the story or Fr Julian Tenison Woods at this time, let us give thanks for his contributions to our congregations, our wider church, our country’s scientific community. Let us reflect on how we as individuals might lay some claim to his influence. Today particularly, let us sit with Saint Mary MacKillop’s invitation to “imitate his virtues”.

Most would recognise a connection between Fr Julian’s enthusiastic insights in creation’s revealing the divine presence and the thought-provoking words of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Fr Julian was a contemplative. He experienced a delight in creation’s mesmerising deep call to divine union. We find an echo in Pope Francis’ words:

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #223

From your personal understanding of 19th century spirituality and the harshness of the undeveloped Australian environment of the time – bush tracks, few bitumen roads, no transport as we know it today – reflect a while on the virtues of Julian fresh from cool temperate England.

  • What stands out for you about Julian, maybe some positive aspect you would like to imitate? Our Josephite Prayer Books highlight some interesting terms – love of God, vision, passion for mission, respect for First Nations Peoples, ecological leadership.

Over several years, we have been gifted by the contributors to the annual Josephite Calendar featuring both beautiful Australian landscape photos and the insightful Fr Julian’s sayings.

  • Ponder your own experience of nature. What activity – stargazing, fishing, bush hiking, etc. – still has power to arouse admiration, praise to our God?
  • As you sympathise with “the pain of the Earth” today, what surfaces as the biggest challenge to our call to “care for our planet home”?


Entering contemplative space, in quiet with Fr Julian, may we mindfully reach out in blessing to the poor and needy, to the suffering areas of the environment, to our First Nation peoples.
May we continue to be inspired and motivated to respond to the vision of our Founders.
This we ask through the cosmic Christ and the life-giving Spirit.

Therese Wilson rsj


[1] Margaret Press rsj, Introduction of the Canonisation Edition of Julian Tenison Woods: A Life by Mother Mary of the Cross MacKillop