Young Mary MacKillop.

No doubt 15 January 1842 was a day of celebration for Flora MacKillop (nee MacDonald) and Alexander MacKillop and their extended family on the birth of their first daughter in Merino Cottage, Fitzroy, Melbourne. Mary MacKillop’s parents were Highland Scots, Alexander MacKillop arriving in Sydney in January 1838 and Flora MacDonald in April 1840. Father Geoghegan blessed their marriage on 14 July 1840 and baptised the child Maria Ellen, [1] known as Mary Helen, on 28 February 1842.

A successful and happy future looked promising but within three months of Mary MacKillop’s birth, a downturn in Alexander’s financial affairs forced him to sell his house. [2] From then the family depended on their extended family. Eight children were born to Flora and Alexander, and Mary MacKillop would write, “My life as a child was one of sorrows, my home, when I had it, a most unhappy one.” [3]

Mary MacKillop was graced with a strong faith expressed in a spirituality of the day. She names her mother as the greatest influence in her life: “Yes, dearest Mama, you above all, then Papa, Uncle and Miss Kane each in a clearly separate way had your task in preparing me for much. …” [4] With Father Julian Tenison Woods her director, she co-founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

Throughout her writings, Mary MacKillop referred to God as a ‘good God’, a key to her relationship with God. With a ‘constant awareness’ of a ‘good God’, the events of her life provided opportunities for transformation and transcendence in her choice to ‘live for God alone’. She wrote, “Remember what poor Uncle Sandy said to Grandmamma a short time before his death when he reminded her that God would take care of all”. [5]

For Mary MacKillop, the Cross was her ‘rest and support’ and “every sorrow that He (God) sends is to convey some special blessing to our soul”. [6] Such was the grace of the excommunication that Mary MacKillop could write, “I was intensely happy and felt nearer to God than I had ever felt before”. [7]

Mary MacKillop wrote to Bishop Sheil, “… all my desires seemed to centre in a wish to devote myself to poor children and the afflicted poor in some very poor Order”. [8] During her life, schools, orphanages, refuges were established across the states of Australia and in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many have been inspired to follow her vision. She is indeed a gift to all.

As we remember Mary MacKillop’s birthday, we “proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in (her).”Sacrosanctum Concilium, No 111

 Pope Francis writes:

As we give thanks for the enduring fruitfulness of her (Mary MacKillop’s) zeal for the Gospel, let us pray that her creative response to the needs of the Church of her time will inspire the efforts of today’s parents, catechists and educators, as they strive to introduce young people to the beauty of friendship with Jesus and prepare them to be a leaven of the Gospel in today’s rapidly changing society. [9]

With Mary MacKillop as our inspiration,

Let us refuse nothing to God’s love.Mary MacKillop to the Sisters, 18.9.1906

Pauline Wicks rsj


[1] Gardiner, Paul. The Life of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop 1842-1909: The Official Biography Written by the Postulator of the Cause for Her Canonisation by Paul Gardiner sj and Presented to the Holy See by the Realtor. 2 vols. Melbourne, Australia: The Miegunyah Press, 2015, 533, No 5. Mary MacKillop’s, brother Donald writes later, “the child never seems to have been called by that form of her name.”
[2] Mary MacKillop to Flora MacKillop, 21 December 1868.
[3] Mary MacKillop to Monsignor Kirby, 22 May 1873.
[4] Mary MacKillop to Flora MacKillop, 10 March 1874. ‘Uncle’ was Uncle Donald MacKillop, Flora’s brother and Mary MacKillop’s best-loved uncle. Miss Kane conducted a private boarding school Mary MacKillop attended when she was about eight. Miss Kane prepared her for First Communion on 15 August 1850.
[5] Mary MacKillop to Flora MacKillop, 7 January 1868. Mary MacKillop wrote this letter to her mother on hearing of the death of John MacKillop in New Zealand. John died on 16 December 1867, aged twenty-two, Flora’s fifth child.
[6] Mary MacKillop to Flora MacKillop, 26 February 1872.
[7] Mary MacKillop to Father Woods, September 1871.
[8] Mary MacKillop to Bishop Sheil, 10 September 1871.
[9] Pope Francis, General Audience. Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. Witnesses: Saint Mary MacKillop. Saint Peter’s Square, Wednesday, 28 June 2023. Downloaded 5 November 2023.