Mary MacKillop, a strong woman of deep compassion, had a real love for the poor. Her love of God led her to reach out to the most deprived and despised in the colony in her time. Joan Healy rsj wonderfully describes this phenomenon:
God’s Spirit wove the threads of her circumstances into a spiritual fabric resilient enough for her tumultuous times and ours. It is spirituality tough and tender, simple and practical, grounded and mystical. It led Mary to seek and serve God at the margins of Australian society, where poor people struggled in the remote outback and sordid slums of the rapidly growing cities.1
Mary’s greatest concern was for the marginalized in society. Her deep care led her and the early sisters to set up places for older women, especially those who were frail. She demonstrated support for young women recently released from prison by giving them shelter and set up an orphanage for the neglected children.
“Society” people, such as Joanna Baar Smith and Emmanuel Solomon, befriended Mary and provided monetary assistance and support for the sisters. While not sharing the same faith, they shared friendship and a deep respect for each other. This same admiration was held by Max Harris, an Anglican, years later. He recognized the importance and value of Mary’s work with poverty in the community as being the ethos of the Order. Max described this ministry as,
A groundbreaking path of educating girls, the poor who were denied the privilege of education, and on to the culturally displaced young Aboriginals and even society’s marginalised women whom she embraced with inclusion in her purpose.2
Mary’s generosity of spirit and her profound reverence for all people led her to, “Make no reserves with God. Reject no one. You never know what grace can do.” (Mary MacKillop 1871) Examples of her compassion have been recorded by the early sisters. We hear of the woman whom Mary and the sisters came across on the street. She was staggering as though drunk. Mary’s insight saw a deeper problem—she helped the lady to the pharmacy for assistance and then accompanied her until she was able to go on her way.
Another story is captured by Monica Cavanagh rsj, who recounts Mary’s encounter with an elderly gentleman. “An old eccentric gentleman whose hair and beard needed brushing came to the sisters in Sydney. Mary MacKillop asked one of the sisters to attend to this gentleman, but she found the task too repugnant. In the end Mary herself combed his hair and beard and took him elsewhere for further attention.”3
Mary MacKillop believed that the Sacred Heart was a heart of unbounded love calling all of us, then and today, to follow Christ’s example of being with and supporting the needy and neglected. Sometimes these people are very close to us. At other times we avoid situations where the rejected and dejected are right there in front of us, seeking at least a smile or a kind word. Mary asks us:
- Let us reflect on the needy people we meet in our day to day lives.
- Let us ask ourselves how we can make a difference with a compassionate heart to a needy person in a small way or in a bigger outreach.
Let us Pray.
Michele Shipperley rsj
1. Joan Healy rsj – Mary, a Pioneer of Passionate Australian Spirituality, 2010.
2. Samela Harris – The Love Story of Mary and Max, 2010
3. Mary MacKillop – A Window of Hope, 2010.