Illustration by Jane Maisey rsj.
Flesh and blood MacKillop is a woman of strength and humour who had her share of personal heartbreak. The real, very human MacKillop lies somewhere between feminist icon and humble saint. No one is the loser if you recognise her sanctity and holiness, but you don’t lift her out of the realm of human beings, as a woman struggling in tough times. [1]

Many of the stories relayed to us by the sisters who personally knew Mary MacKillop give insights into her works of mercy, her massive kindness, her amazing compassion, her commitment and love of God.

Mary also demonstrates her humanity and sense of humour on various occasions which are doubly endearing for her followers. No doubt these occasions of merriment enabled the sisters to quell their doubts about a life of absolute seriousness, and a realisation that laughter, joy and happiness are essential for a balanced spirituality.

In 1926, Sr M Helena recalled two incidents that showed the hilarity experienced by the sisters.  A young boy complained to his teacher that others were saying a particular girl was his sweetheart. The young teacher, with a sense of humour, asked the complainant if a sweetheart was a heart stuffed with sugar. His equally comical reply was that it was “a thing you take out for a walk on Sundays”.

The following account is another recollection of Sr M Helena’s:

“When Dr Reilly was making a month’s retreat with the Jesuit Fathers at Ridge St, he said daily Mass at Mt Street Convent. Several of our sisters were present at his consecration at Port Augusta – in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Later he performed the ceremony of professing two sisters.

“When all was over, he left his new purple robe in the vestry while he breakfasted with the attendant priests. The Sacristan, a sprightly young novice, on seeing the beautiful robe, put it on, parading the verandah of the Novitiate with another novice as trainbearer. Thinking she had worn the robe long enough she returned to the sacristy, when behold who should walk in after her but Father Michael Kelly, Superior of the Jesuit Fathers, and Mother Mary.

“The good father was very ill but, when he saw the picture, he took a fit of laughing in which dear Mother joined heartily, and indeed they were both the better for the joke, which was told to the clerics inside, one of whom, Father Cove SM, came and knelt for the novice’s blessing. His Lordship, too, thoroughly enjoyed the fun. In after years when these old friends met the incident of the purple robe was never forgotten.” [2]

While our family and friends endure the many hardships that the pandemic demands of us, it is often difficult to reach out to others because our predicament is so oppressive or fearful. Take the chance to find relief in a happy voice or a conversation, however revealing and painful.

When we have the energy to be proactive, what a surprise a cheery voice can bring. Mary MacKillop shows us in the cameo above that a little humour is necessary in our everyday undertakings to enable us to share in the unbelievable love that our creative God shares with us.

As Sr Therese Carroll put it, “We want our saints to be inspiring but to understand the pathways we walk. [Mary] is a model of human possibility and she worked with what she had available to her and made things happen in a practical, humanly sensitive way.” [3]


  • Does Mary MacKillop’s sense of humour in her everyday life surprise you?
  • What brings you joy in your life?
  • Can you recall a time or times in your life when humour lifted your spirits?

Pray with Mary.

Find happiness in making others happy.Mary MacKillop 1899

Michele Shipperley rsj

[1] Fr Tony Kelly in “Two Sides of Mary” by Linda Morris in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2009.
[2] Memories of Mary 2009, Collection by the Canonisation Committee, 2009.
[3] Therese Carroll rsj in “Two Sides of Mary” by Linda Morris in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2009.