Statue Mary the Mother of God – part of the monument at Father Julian Tenison Woods grave at Waverley Cemetery, NSW.

Do you have a favourite Christian feast? St Mary MacKillop claimed the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or Mother of God) as hers.[1]

This feast has its origins in Jerusalem before the end of the fourth century. The early Christians held Mary, the loving and courageous Jewish Mother of Jesus, as one of their own. They had prayed with Mary. Together they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The feast “The Passing of the Mother of God’’ commemorated her death.

Four centuries passed before the feast was adopted by Rome. Over a period of years theologians debated the questions: Was Jesus truly God and man? Was Mary conceived free from original sin? Theologians searched and prayed to come to a decision. Finally in 1854, Pope Pius XI defined the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary the Mother of God.

In 19th century Australia, it was a time of renewal of devotion to Mary the Mother of God. Mary was a sorrowing mother of a suffering Jesus. In a letter to her mother, Mary MacKillop wrote, “Unite all your sorrows to [Mary’s] and through her to the desires to the Sacred heart of her son.” [2]

It is clear that Mary MacKillop yearned to develop a loving relationship with Mary the Mother of God. She shared with Fr Julian Tenison Woods, “I feel myself so cold and listless beside those who really love her [Mary the Mother of God], and it humbles more than anything else to see how easily slight disappointments or annoyances move me to grief – whilst the thought of her sorrows, or the injury done by me to her love, takes so little effect on me.” [3]

Mary states a few weeks later, “I know she [Mary the Mother of God] loves us all far more than we deserve, but I really am sure that I do not strive to become more practical in my devotion to so tender and compassionate a Mother”. [4]

Mary adopted the Rosary as a favourite prayer and made it a practice of the Sisters. In later years, she wrote addressing Mary the Mother of God, “Ah, my Mother, think of the day when I knelt but a child to ask you to be my Mother, and I remember your gentle whisper when you said that you marked as your child since my birth”.[5] The source to this statement is not known.

Let us celebrate Mary MacKillop’s favourite feast with faith, love and hope.

Sr Margaret McKenna PhD


[1] Gardiner, The Virtues of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842-1909, p.108
[2] Mary to Mamma (Flora MacKillop), 14 September, 1869.
[3] Mary to Woods, 1 November, 1869
[4] Mary to Woods, 22 November, 1869
[5] Gardiner, Ibid p 30