Life through Lockdown in Melbourne

Sr Rita Malavisi on filming “MacKa Moments”

I was two months away from completing the Institute of Religious Formation Program in Chicago (a live experience) when the global COVID pandemic hit, and Australia closed its borders. The inevitable decision to return to Melbourne ensued, having had only one day to pack.

Having Melbourne classified as the city in the world to be in the longest lockdown, wasn’t a category that I wanted Melbourne to be in. Defining Melbourne as “the most liveable city” was a title I could cope with.

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The Friendship of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods

Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop mural located at Mary MacKillop Memorial School, Penola SA.

Each year we recall Julian Tenison Woods on the 7 October anniversary of his death and laud his talents and deep spirituality. While Mary and the early sisters didn’t readily express their attachment to Julian’s eco-spirituality in writing, I am certain that his vision brushed off on them and that they shared his wonder at God’s creation.

We read that, “Mary took a broad view of his activities, not restricting her interests to his spiritual ministry. Her selection of quotations from his writings reveals not only his fine literary style and the variety of his interests, but also her own eye for colourful detail and the natural works of creation.” [1]  Mary, like Julian, enjoyed the outdoors and was a fine horse rider.

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Let’s Take A Stand For the Church Today – It’s What Mary MacKillop Would Do

Surging wonder and gratitude were unexpected feelings for me when I saw the picture of Mary MacKillop hanging on the walls of St Peter’s Basilica on the day of the canonisation, 17 October 2010. World recognition of the workings of God through this woman was an awe-inspiring thing indeed.

In her Ministerial Statement made to the New South Wales Parliament that day, the then Premier, Kristina Keneally, pointed out that while Mary MacKillop’s canonisation was significant for the universal church, it spoke to Australians in particular:

“She will be forever a reminder that our nation is at its greatest when we care for all in our communities, especially the most vulnerable. She will always be known as a great pioneer of egalitarianism, mateship and compassion that we now call a fair go. Her life is inspiring to any Australian.”

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Mary MacKillop’s Humanity and Humour

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.

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Supporting One Another

Stained glass window designed by Terry Eichler. Located at All Saints Catholic Church, Portland VIC.

We are all in the gift of much older work. We are looking often by others’ eyes and we are only preparing ourselves to do something larger. [1]

Visiting the beautiful country of Scotland gave me a marvellous insight into the character and background of Mary MacKillop’s parents, Alexander and Flora MacKillop. It also provided an understanding of the harsh history of the country and the determined resilience of the Scottish Highlanders.

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Saint Mary MacKillop Feast Day 2021

Greetings on this feast of Mary MacKillop as parts of Australia and our world are in lockdown which means that celebrations for this feast need to be held in homes.

Mary’s mother Flora and her siblings had to enter a period of quarantine when they arrived in Australia in 1839. I imagine that Flora shared this experience with her young family, both the gifts and challenges. One gift was that it was while in quarantine that she met her future husband Alexander who was assisting the newly arrived immigrants from Scotland. So let us ask Mary MacKillop to show us the gifts that have come through the experience of lockdown while sharing with her the struggles that we face.

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Mary MacKillop, an Example of Compassion

Photo by Andrew Moca.

More than ever the poor of this world, as well as the rich and famous, suffer from a hunger of some kind.  

The words and actions of Jesus, often accompanied by miraculous results, are signposts for our Christian lives. 

The recent biblical reading of the story of the raising of the daughter of Jairus opens up a deeply human Jesus who tells the family to give her something to eat. (Luke 8: 55)

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To Love Like Mary MacKillop, Love the Poor

Photo by Denniz Futalan

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.

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