As the Sisters of St Joseph expanded throughout Australia and beyond, Mary's endurance, coupled with her compassion and leadership, touched many people's lives leaving a legacy that endures today

Out and about on mission

The work of the Institute continued to grow with foundations in New Zealand, Western Australia and Victoria in the 1880’s.Mary spent time in New Zealand and Victoria assisting these new foundations in their work. Many stories exist of her visits to these places.

One particular story remembered was her visit to Arrowtown in New Zealand. Here she lived with two younger Sisters. While they taught in the school, Mother Mary undertook the cleaning and general housework. On one occasion she was cooking flounder which was falling to pieces so she asked the lady next door for some advice and assistance. She told these two young Sisters that she would rather see Sisters living in small communities in far away places, bright and cheerful rather than strictly observing the rule of silence.

A time for Gratitude

By 1891 there were three hundred Sisters of St Joseph working in nine dioceses in Australia and New Zealand. On the feast of St Joseph, Mary wrote to the Sisters:

Twenty-five years ago we kept up St Joseph’s day as the special feast of our proposed Institute and little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning. … Our poor Father Woods was happy that day, and so was I, but we said little beyond wondering whom God would call to assist us – and how he would make his way clear.

A LETTER FROM MARY MACKILLOP TO THE SISTERS, 4 March 1891

A LETTER FROM MARY MACKILLOP TO THE SISTERS

4 March 1891

May Jesus and Mary be praised.

My own dear Sisters,

Through the kindness of a friend I am able to write to you all for our glorious Patron's feast - the 25th anniversary of the Institute. May it be a happy one to each and all of you, my dearest Sisters, To me it is both matter for joy and sadness. Joy and gratitude to our good God for all He has done for His work - but sad, too, when I think of the dear Father who was with me 25 years ago, but whom our good God has taken from us; who loved the work and did so much for it and whom every true child of St Joseph must lovingly associate with the Feast of this year. In the first place, my loved ones, pray for his dear soul and offer your Holy Communions first for him on that day. Get Holy Mass for the same intention where you can. If, as I trust is the case, our dear departed Father does not need our prayers, he can make use of them all in favour of those who remember him on earth.

25 years ago, we first kept up St Joseph's Day as the special Feast of our proposed Institute and little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning.
Called to Leadership once more

While visiting the Sisters in New Zealand in 1898 she received the news of Mother Bernard’s unexpected death. This meant that Mary as the assistant Mother General would be responsible for holding a Chapter to elect a new Mother General.

For the first time in seventeen years, the Sisters at the Chapter were given the right to elect the Superior General. Mother Mary was again elected in this role. She continued her visitation of the communities scattered throughout Australia

Mary continued her visitation of the communities in Australia and New Zealand encouraging them in their

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films
Nurturing the life of sisiters

The rapid growth in the numbers of Sisters entering the Congregation gave concern to Mary MacKillop. She was concerned about the spiritual and professional training as teachers of many of the Sisters. Mary wrote to Monsignor Kirby in 1874:

The Sisters must be trained spiritually and in the worldly knowledge necessary to enable them to take the stand the Church.

Two Novitiates, one in Adelaide and one in Sydney were established and Novice Directors appointed. Initially Mary adopted the pupil-teacher system normally used in the State schools of her time. In 1900 a Free School was established at Mount Street North Sydney to provide a practice school for teacher trainees. In 1907 the Teacher’s Training College at Mount Street North Sydney was registered with the Victorian Board of Registration. All the Sisters who became teachers passed through this Training School. Almost 100 years later it was to become part of Australian Catholic University.

Connecting Again

Two special moments for Mary MacKillop that brought much joy to her in her latter years were the return of the Sisters to ‘good old Queensland’ in 1900 and the amalgamation of the Sisters of Wilcannia with the Institute. In Queensland Bishop Duhig invited a group of Sisters to Clermont to start a new foundation there. She wrote to the Sisters in 1900:

Now for some good news. Early in April we are sending a Foundation to Clermont in the Rockhampton Diocese.

In 1902 we find her writing again to the Sisters:

Our dear Sisters of Wilcannia are now amalgamated with us.

These Sisters had originally been seperated while part of the Bathurst diocese.

Keeping abreast with the times

Mary MacKillop kept abreast with the political and social realities of the times. The 1902 electoral laws gave women throughout Australia the right to enrol, vote and stand as candidates in federal elections, a right which women exercised in the 1903 Federal election. She wrote to the Sisters on 16 July, 1903:

It is the duty on us all to vote - for this reason - all must have their names on the Electoral Rolls where they are placed. See to this at once. Get advice from some leading man in whom you have confidence or from the Priest, but keep your voting secret. Find out who are the members proposed for election and vote for those who are

Mary kept abreast with the politics of the times; when women were given the vote she encouraged the Sisters to exercise that right

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films
On mission even in her frailty

Mary’s health continued to deteriorate. In 1901 she was advised to travel to the thermal baths in Rotorua in New Zealand. While there she suffered a stroke which left her permanently disabled. On her return to Australia after having the opportunity to recuperate to the best of her ability, Mary kept in touch with the Sisters through her letters and daily contact with those who lived with her at North Sydney. On occasion she visited the orphanages and schools to see the children.

At the General Chapter of 1905, she was re-elected as the Congregational Leader despite her failing health. Slowly the administrative work of the Congregation was given to Sister La Merci her assistant as Mary’s health continued to deteriorate.

With all the trials of her life behind she entered her eternal reward on 8 August, 1909.

Mary’s health continued to deteriorate, her physical body was giving her great difficulty but her spirit remained intact

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films
Forever a Communicator

Mary MacKillop was a wonderful communicator. Many of her letters have been preserved in the archives at North Sydney. Many of these letters are referred to in biography’s of her life. Her letters tell of her daily activities, her encouragement and support of her Sisters, her struggles and her deep faith and courage. In the final years of her life when she was no longer able to write Mary used a type-writer which forms part of the museum at North Sydney. On 12 January, 1909 she typed a letter with the following post-script:

Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them cheerfully, remembering whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another, and let charity guide you in all your life

On 19 March she sent her final communication: God bless you all.

In the final years of her life when she was no longer able to write Mary used a typewriter to communicate with the Sisters

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films
A LETTER FROM MARY MACKILLOP TO THE SISTERS, 12 January 1909

A LETTER FROM MARY MACKILLOP TO THE SISTERS

12 January 1909

May Jesus and Mary be praised.

My own dear Sisters,

Just a line to wish you all a very happy Feast of St Joseph. I am much better than I hoped to be. I was able to remain in the Oratory for Mass and Benediction. I can just write, ‘God bless you all.’

.... .... .... ....

I had written this, as you see, on St Joseph's Day, but was not able to finish, so I shall add a few lines today to thank you for your letters, offerings and good wishes, which is all I can manage.

That God may ever bless you and make you more and more His own is the fervent wish of

Your fond Mother in J.M.J.

Mary of the Cross
Witness even in Death

Many accolades came to the Sisters at the time of her death and Cardinal Moran on his last visit to see her remarked: ‘Today I believe that I have assisted at the death bed of a saint’.

At the time of her death 750 women had entered the Institute. There were 106 houses in which the Sisters lived, including 12 Institutions, which sheltered over 1000 people who were poor and in need. There were 117 schools attended by 12, 409 pupils. The seed sown back in Penola in 1866 had indeed flourished into a tree of abundance.

Cardinal Moran on his last visit to see Mary remarked: ‘Today I believe that I have assisted at the death bed of a saint’

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films

Video Excerpt taken from the film ‘Mary’ Courtesy of Ronin Films
A LETTER FROM SISTER LA MERCI TO THE SISTERS, 8 August 1909

A LETTER FROM SISTER LA MERCI TO THE SISTERS

8 August 1909

May Jesus and Mary be praised.

My dear Sisters,

This news will not be a surprise to you as we were all in expectation of the end for some days. It came calmly and peacefully about half-past nine this morning. The change appeared about four o'clock. Father Keating S.J. was here at five and remained at dear Mother's side till after six when Father McGrath came to say the community Mass. Of course we were all around her praying all the time. She seemed to be a little easier for a while, but at the hour mentioned she gently passed away, so quietly that we were hardly aware of it, although all were watching.

His Grace the Archbishop came as soon as he heard of her weak state, but was not in time to see her before she died. He spoke to us very consolingly and kindly. Many messages of greatest sympathy are coming in all the morning. I could not count all the Masses and prayers that have been offered for her today. She had every possible spiritual and temporal consolation.

We do not know when the Requiem is to take place, but I shall tell you all later; it will not be for a few days.

I cannot say more now, but believe me to remain, with best love

Yours ever in J.M.J.

Sister La Merci
Respecting the Dignity of all

Mary brought the message of human dignity to all whom she encountered. Stories abound of her compassionate embrace of all. Among these were Fagan the convicted murderer who on seeing the tears running down Mary’s face knelt down and prayed with her and Phillip the young orphan boy at Kincumber who asked Mary to come and be with him as he lay dying. The homeless man to whom she gave away her midday meal and her dying Sister to whom she rode on horseback after a kerosene lamp exploded were others who shared in her kindness. She sat in the gutter with a woman who others thought was drunk and discovered that she was ill and she educated Nancy a young aboriginal girl in Penola giving her a pathway to the future.

Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of St Joseph offered a basic elementary education to the children of the working class and the poor especially those living in the poorer sections of towns and in the rural settlements scattered across the newly emerging Australian colonies. For all this she is honoured in the Australian nation and church.

Love was at the heart of all she did. Her deep faith in God lead her to be a source of God’s love to all whom she encountered.