Paul Gardiner sj writes about Mary MacKillop’s experiences of being away from her family, friends and Sisters of Saint Joseph while on her overseas journey.

The physical elements in this poor health would have been reinforced by worries about her mission, the mixed success of her begging, the unpleasantness of cold refusals, uncertainty about Roman approval of the Institute, separation from those she loved, and concern about what was happening in Australia. Anxiety about travel arrangements, changing trains, long waits, the tedium of the travel itself, uncertainty about accommodation are things even a person in good health can find something of an ordeal.

Kindness and generosity touched Mary in a way she never forgot. She took care to keep in touch by letter with the various priests who had helped her during the ‘sweet string of Providential events’ in Scotland. On the other hand, she was sensitive to the coldness of some she approached for assistance. She did not take it as a personal affront but could not help reflecting that it was the rich, not the poor who refused her: ‘No welcome for the beggar from the rich ones from Edinburgh.’ She was more concerned about their deafness to the teachings of their religion than about being rejected. But it would be wrong to say that people with money never helped her. The McDougalls, Mrs Vaughan, Lady Gordon, and a number of people she met through them, became not only friends but also good benefactors.

Extract from ‘Mary MacKillop: An Extraordinary Australian’ by Paul Gardiner sj (1993) p. 144. E J Dwyer Pty Ltd Australia.

No words can tell how my heart bounds at the thought of getting home.Mary MacKillop 1874
Young Mary MacKillop

While Mary’s concerns did not revolve around social distancing or imposed isolation, she keenly felt the separation from the Australian scene and those she supported and loved.

Mary was only thirty-one when she undertook this enormous challenge and was recognised as the woman in the black dress. This journey was a major ordeal for Mary to cope with alone. The scenario Gardiner has painted for us is one of a strong and heroic woman in isolation.

  • The list of challenges Mary faced alone is a lengthy one.  During this time of social distancing, is there something in Mary’s story that rings true for you as a comfort?
  • Mary understood what poor health was like. In times of worry, anxiety and illness how did Mary seek support? What gives you strength?
  • Many of us cannot physically be with our loved ones. We are fortunate to have many forms of social media to assist us to make contact. Is there a person who comes to mind when you reflect on someone needy or with few friends?

Let us reflect on Mary MacKillop’s outstanding courage and heroism as we pray that we may model the tenacity and faithfulness that Mary lived so strongly.

Michele Shipperley rsj


Photo of Vatican titled ‘Architecture City Travel’ by Paula11767 obtained from Pixabay. Used with permission.