The spirit of Mary MacKillop burns strongly in Timor-Leste

Learning literacy by parent/grandparent.

If one was to try to summarise the spirit of Mary MacKillop, we could possibly say that it is a spirit that is compassionate, one that uses education to “heal, include, untether, set right and serve”, one that loves not only those being ministered to, but also those who work beside us, and one that automatically acts on seen needs. This spirit is alive and pumping in Mary MacKillop Today (MMT), especially in the Timor-Leste region.

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Returning to Rome, 150 Years Later

Sr Annette with the self-guided pilgrimage booklet ‘Mary MacKillop’s Rome’.

Mary MacKillop left Rome in 1874 and I returned there 150 years later in 2024. I had only visited Rome once in 2010 for Mary’s Canonisation and was unable at that time to make the pilgrimage of her travels in Rome. I had Mary and her journey in my consciousness as I navigated modern day Rome.

So many times during my 15-day visit, I drew comparisons between Mary’s Rome and my Rome experience. So many things would have looked pretty much the same and so many other things, no doubt, unrecognisable to Mary. I was sitting on a train from Florence that was doing 250km an hour remembering that it took Mary 45 days by boat and then train to even get to Rome. I had gone and come back home in less than that time frame!

On arriving in Rome, I had a data pack on my phone to use Google Maps to get me to the Metro, to get to the monastery which I had pre-booked online and had used WhatsApp to communicate about my arrival time! And if all that had failed, I had a credit card and Uber account to get wherever I wanted to go. And of course, the greatest asset when not being able to speak other languages – Google translate on my phone! Seemingly all too easy in contrast to Mary’s journey.

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At home among the poor

The Vision artwork by Jan Williamson.

On 31 May 1867, Father Julian Tenison Woods sent to Mary MacKillop the first Rule of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. This became the founding document, encapsulating the vision for the order and providing the Sisters with important guidelines for their ministry.

It had arrived! Here was the fruit of their discussions. Sister Mary MacKillop opened it carefully, her heart filling with joy as she read Father Julian Tenison Woods’ words in his letter of 31 May 1867:

Dear Sister Mary

I enclose the Rule. You must without delay copy it out into a small neat book, smaller than this note paper, and written only on one side and enclose it back to me.

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Mary goes to Ireland

To celebrate 150 years since Mary MacKillop embarked on her first overseas journey (March 1873 – December 1874), the Sisters of Saint Joseph share reflections and details from Mary’s travels to and from Europe – sourced from Mary’s letters and Congregational Archives. This is the final journey in the series.

Mary MacKillop went to Rome in 1873 to have the Rule approved – a task that took the best part of two years. Towards the end of those two years, Mary visited England, Scotland and Ireland hoping to find some women to come to Australia to join the fledgling Institute.

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Mary MacKillop received revised Constitutions in Rome – 150th Anniversary

Mary MacKillop 1869.

We commemorate the 150th anniversary of when Mary MacKillop received the revised Constitutions of the Institute (Sisters of Saint Joseph) in Rome on 21 April 1874.

In October 1867, Fr Julian Tenison Woods drafted the original Rules of the Institute of St Joseph, with the subtitle, for the Catholic Education of Poor Children. This was approved By Bishop L B Sheil, Bishop of Adelaide on 17 December 1868.

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Mary MacKillop, Patron of our Diocese of Port Pirie

Sr Laurencia’s grave by Joan McDonald.

In the Diocese of Port Pirie in South Australia, there’s a beautiful well-kept graveyard, some seven kilometres out of Port Augusta, with the stunning Flinders Ranges as its backdrop. In good times the roses bloom and the kangaroos keep the lawn mowed and the grave-sites company. But on the area’s outer edge are the older graves of early pioneers – no roses or lawn here, just a few Blackbutt Eucalyptus, Weeping Myall and Saltbush surviving in red, sandy Earth.

On one side is a huddle of three graves, the centre on being that of Sister Laurencia Honner who died as a result of a fire on 11 May 1878, aged eighteen years. The local newspaper described her funeral at the time, the long line of buggies snaking out of town to Stirling North. Notably there is no mention of the grieving Sisters of Saint Joseph, her companions in this isolated, treeless town. Nor do they note the presence of Mary MacKillop who had made the arduous journey of some 350 kilometres by Cobb and Co and then buggy to Port Augusta to be with Laurencia before she died. If we were ever unsure about where Mary MacKillop walked, we can be sure her footprints are here at the grave of Laurencia.

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Baptism of Mary MacKillop

St. Francis Church and School [ca. 1875] by Liardet, W.F.E. / State Library Victoria.
In 1839, Rev P. Geoghegan arrived in the colony of Victoria as its first priest. In less than ten weeks, he had erected a wooden church where “friends used to meet Sunday after Sunday to exchange the news of the old world, or to help on some work in aid of faith or Fatherland.” [1]

Mary MacKillop’s parents, Flora McDonald and Alexander MacKillop, were married in 1839 and settled in Marino Cottage, Brunswick Street, Newtown, now called Fitzroy. The MacKillops, McDonalds and Camerons were among many Scottish pioneers of strong faith who worshipped at St Francis’ Church. It was to there as the centre of Catholic community life, that Flora and Alexander took their first child Mary to be baptised on 28 February 1842, as Maria Ellen, or Mary Helen.

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130th Anniversary of Mary MacKillop’s first visit to Aotearoa New Zealand

Mary MacKillop (second row) with Sisters of Saint Joseph and Postulants in Temuka, South Canterbury on 10 January 1895. SOSJ ANZ Archives.

Mary MacKillop’s first visit in Aotearoa New Zealand began from her arrival on 25 January 1894 and concluded on 8 March 1895.

The itinerary of Mary’s visit, ascertained from correspondence compiled by Sister Anne Marie Power, shows that some places were visited more than once.

Twenty-eight years on from the founding of the Congregation in 1866, Mary visited the Sisters in Aotearoa New Zealand. This was a visitation of the Sisters, many of whom had been sent from Adelaide and Sydney by Mary at the request of the bishops in New Zealand for teaching staff. The Sisters were in regular communication with Mary by letters and they were encouraged to write often. It must have brought great joy to see her again in person.

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