So Small a Beginning: Part 2

Sr Marie Foale speaks about the beginnings of the Institute of St Joseph for the Catholic education of poor children.

She believes that as a young Josephite growing up, she had a sense that one day Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods had made a spontaneous decision to found an order.

You’re invited to watch the second part of Sr Marie’s conference speech, ‘So Small a Beginning’ below…

Part 2

Click here to view Part 1: Introduction

Reflection on Mary MacKillop

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.

What does Mary MacKillop Have to Say to us These Days?

The over-arching news these days concerns the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on each of us.

Panic abounds as a result of a plethora of notices from government, local agencies and many others. Frequently, there has been pandemonium in shopping centres where an atmosphere of virulent fear results in panic buying and hoarding. Often panic leads to a focus on someone or something inane.  In this pandemic the panic lead to shortages of goods, most surprisingly toilet paper. Who would have thought that the search for this particular, usually insignificant, item would have called forth the best and worst in so many people! In addition to dealing with shortages, there has come into being serious limits to our right to move freely, to go about normal business. In varying degrees, we are forced to live in isolation which engenders fear as well as pain. Conversely, isolation can breed its own joys and creativity.

Easter week reminded us powerfully of pain, isolation and fear all embodied in the women who went to the tomb. The Angel told them “do not be afraid!” Their pain gave way to hope and, later, joy in knowing that Jesus had risen, was alive and had visited them.

Map of Mary MacKillop’s travels

I was drawn to read again the excerpts from Mary MacKillop’s diary from August to mid-October 1873. Mary had been in Rome to endeavour to have the Constitutions approved. The revised Constitutions were eventually completed with the assistance of several priests and sent to Pope Pius IX for approval. It was expected that the process would take quite some time. The heat of Rome had been burdensome for Mary who attributed much of her frequent illness to it. Her fledgling congregation was uppermost in her mind together with a deep desire to obtain materials for the schools, learn about the methodology in Germany and, perhaps, find some young women to join her. On advice, she decided to leave Rome, visit some schools and make her way to London depending on friends and the Providence of God to provide the means to do so.

On August 1 she set out on a journey that was truly formidable in that era. She left Rome by train and visited the Holy House at Loreto spending two days there. She then travelled to Bologna where she arrived at midnight, stayed in the station waiting room and left at 3.00am for Verona arriving there at 9.00am. She spent that day also in the waiting room and left at 3.30pm for Trieste where she arrived at 6.00am next day.

The Convent, where she hoped to spend the day, could not accommodate her necessitating her to go elsewhere. Compounding her dilemma was the fact that she did not have sufficient money to complete the journey.  That afternoon a kind lady took her to Rev Baron von Obercamp from whom she borrowed the money to continue her journey. She left Munich at 6.30pm to catch the train to Coblentz where she arrived at 9.00am next morning. She remained at Coblentz for a week “with the kind sisters” visiting schools, noting teaching methods and obtaining school materials from suppliers. Satisfied with her experience there, Mary set out to make her way to Dover to connect with friends in London. As was customary when crossing borders there were custom checks. At the Belgian border, the train stopped at Verviers where she had her bags examined. Being alone and unfamiliar with the station, she took the wrong train and found herself in Brussels. Mary wrote, “after a weary journey got at last to Ostend about 9.00pm. Had to stay the night in the Hotel.”  Next morning, she caught a steamer to Dover and then the train to London to join friends – friends who spoke her language and cared for her, thus somewhat alleviating her feelings of isolation…

Please continue reading below:

Read the whole article here (PDF)

Map of Mary MacKillop’s Journey from in 1873 (PDF)
Maria Casey rsj

So Small a Beginning: Part 1

Sr Marie Foale speaks about the beginnings of the Institute of St Joseph for the Catholic education of poor children.

She believes that as a young Josephite growing up, she had a sense that one day Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods had made a spontaneous decision to found an order.

You’re invited to watch the first part of Sr Marie’s conference speech, ‘So Small a Beginning’ below…

Part 1

Reflection on Mary MacKillop

Sister Margaret Mary Sexton reflects on the humility and graciousness of Mother Mary MacKillop from Grey Lynn Aotearoa New Zealand in 1925.

“Mother Mary had sufficiently staffed the school at Port Charmers so she returned to Arrowtown as ‘Little Sister’ and as both sisters were engaged in the school, the ‘Little Sister’ willingly and cheerfully undertook the cooking and general housework.  It was her delight to have a comfortable lunch ready when they came in from school.  But in order to have the meals up to her standard she sometimes had to ask the lady next door for advice and assistance – especially when the flounder she was cooking fell to pieces.  Her distress was so great that the lady came in and gave her a lesson in ‘frying flounder’ with the result that it was beautifully cooked.  Mother was as proud of her success as if she were cooking for the Queen instead of for two humble little professed novices.

The world we live in is changing daily as we see COVID-19 spreading its destruction across all nations.  This new climate calls for social distancing and vigilance regarding cleanliness.  Mary MacKillop was a neighbourly person; she demonstrated her willingness to learn and to be humble.  This cameo gives a down to earth image of a woman yearning to please and to set up a loving home.

Extract from Memories of Mary by those who knew her, p 81.

As this insidious virus causes us to hibernate, each of us can still be a neighbour, a caring presence, a person who thinks of others and ensures that others can also enjoy a peaceful existence.  Mary Mackillop is an example of connecting and reaching out.

  • What impressed you about Mary’s attitude and actions in this scenario?
  • During this time of hardship, is there a neighbour who needs a hand, a meal, some shopping done?
  • As we keep our distance from the social world, what creative energy can we use to assist family and friends to remain connected and relieved in times of loneliness and depression?
  • What resources can each of us call upon as a source of good for ourselves and others?
  • Let us pray for a neighbourly spirit and a desire to cultivate a generous and humble service of each other as we recall the example of the flounder cooking lesson for the “Little Sister”.

Michele Shipperley rsj

Reflection on Mary MacKillop

From St Martha’s Home Leichhardt NSW, on 19 November 1925, Sister Mary Patricia Campbell reflects on Mary MacKillop’s care and love of her Sisters.

“A Sister was dying at Port Augusta. She was putting out a crude kerosene lamp in the church after evening devotions. The lamp burst and, in a moment, the poor Sister was in flames. She lingered for three or four days in great agony and each day kept asking for Mother Mary. The boat from Adelaide only went once a week, and at that time the nearest station to Port Augusta was Mount Remarkable. Mother Mary’s kind heart yearned to be with her dying child and in her distress, she said, ‘I shall go to Mount Remarkable and surely some kind people will drive me the rest of the journey.’ On arrival at the terminus she made fruitless efforts to get driven on; several farmers were in with their wheat, but all shook their sage heads at the prospect of driving to Port Augusta. They adjourned to the hotel and were having refreshments when Mother Mary walked in and said: ‘Gentlemen, my sister who is dying at Port Augusta, is constantly asking for me. If one of you will lend me a horse, I will ride there. Chivalry was not quite dead in those Celtic hearts. Two or three jumped up, got a pair of spanking horses and a buggy and drove her on that afternoon where she was in time to console the last moments of the dying Sister….” [1]

In today’s complicated world we are called to step up and show our true selves in utter honesty. There is criticism of those who place before us what is really happening in our world. We can take the daring of Greta Thunberg who openly shames the political world with her truths about our care of the earth; we admire the courage of the women of the Me-Too Movement as they fight sexual abuse and harassment.

Alternatively, we endure the half-truths, denials and inaction from politicians and leaders through inertia, fear or disinterest. Mary MacKillop demonstrated her commitment to those in her care through courage, fearlessness and reliance on providence.

  • What impression do you envisage the farmers gained from this encounter with Mary Mackillop?
  • Ponder the inspiration that the early sisters imbibed from Mary’s selfless and loving care of them.
  • What new insights have you gained into Mary’s life and faith from this cameo of the journey to Port Augusta?

Let us pray in the stillness for courage and strength to stand in our own truth, embolden by the example of Mary MacKillop and enlivened by the call of Jesus.

Let us thank God for all our blessings.

Michele Shipperley rsj


[1] Sr Patricia sailed from Galway, Ireland on the SS Osyth with Mary MacKillop a little before Christmas in 1874. Extract taken from Memories of Mary by those who knew her, Sisters of St Joseph 1925 – 1926

The Beatification of Mary MacKillop – A Celebration for all Australians

Srs Clare Koch and Margaret McKenna reflect back on the time since the Beatification of Mary MacKillop.

“Beatification” painting by Therese Quinn rsj and Dorothy Woodward rsj

Mary MacKillop received the title ‘Venerable’ from the Catholic Church on 13 June 1992. This was a recognition of an Australian who had practised the Christian virtues in a heroic manner. If a specialist panel of medical experts verified that there was no medical explanation for what was claimed to be a miraculous cure through her intercession with God, Sr Mary of the Cross MacKillop, the cofounder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, would be given the title ‘Blessed’ at a public church ceremony – a Beatification. Such an event, unique for Australia, would lay significant foundations for who we are as a people. We were being faced with someone of our own who was being named and honoured as a future Saint. The Sisters of St Joseph decided that this was a celebration to be shared with all Australians irrespective of class or religious belief.

The Josephite leadership, although uncertain that a ceremony of Beatification would eventuate, decided to prepare. Two Josephites were appointed to a Mary MacKillop Secretariat whose task was to present Mary MacKillop as an Australian, relevant to all walks of life and layers of society. By February 1993, the project was underway. The strategy was to seek the involvement and expertise of the public, through specialised committees, involving representatives across the spectrum of society, the political, secular and religious sectors.

During the next two years the life and person of Mary MacKillop was presented through books, radio and television interviews, other articles in print media, drama, cinema, art and musical compositions. Musicians were invited to compose hymns, honouring Mary MacKillop, suitable for church ceremonies. An ‘Historical Toile’ – ‘The MacKillop Toile’ – was produced to join the two Australian toiles, ‘The Philip Toile’ and the

’Macquarie Toile’. This Australian cotton product illustrated with scenes from Mary MacKillop’s life was presented as furnishing for the home. Art is considered a universal language so a ‘Mary MacKillop Art Award’ was organised with the support and help of a committee of experts. A selection of the paintings was on exhibition in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Early in 1994 information from Rome indicated that Mary MacKillop was likely to be beatified and that the ceremony was to be in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. ‘Why not in Australia?’ Cardinal Clancy was approached and agreed to request that Sydney be the venue for the ceremony. Some weeks later an official announcement stated that Pope John Paul II would be visiting Australia towards the end of 1994. It was decided that the date of the ceremony of Beatification was to be celebrated on 19 January 1995.

Beatification Ceremony at Randwick Racecourse

This was welcome news but added a new dimension to the agenda of the Mary MacKillop Secretariat. The focus had widened from preparing for the beatification of Mary MacKillop to preparing also for a Papal Visit to Australia. The actual ceremony of Beatification became the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Josephite Secretariat joined in the organisation of allied public events such as the official welcome to the Pope, the ceremony of Morning Prayer and other celebrations. A primary issue was to find suitable venues capable of hosting large crowds. After discussion and enquiries, the Sydney Domain was hired for the official welcome to the Pope, and the racing fraternity agreed to the Randwick Racecourse being the venue for the Church ceremony of Beatification. An evening of entertainment was organised to accompany the welcome to the Pope and care was taken to maximise participation in the church ceremony of Beatification.

At this ceremony Pope John Paul II assured the congregation that ‘…the holiness demanded by the Gospel is as Australian as (Mary MacKillop) is Australian’. Truly a reason to celebrate!

Contributed by the Mary MacKillop Secretariat
Srs Clare Koch and Margaret McKenna

History in the Making: Mary MacKillop Place

An 1880’s map of St Leonards by Higginbotham and Robinson identifies the future site for the first novitiate in Sydney (the original was in Adelaide, South Australia) for the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Alma Lane, North Sydney.

Holtemann photograph dated between 1870-1875

St Leonards, later known as North Sydney, has a complex and rich history in the founding of the early Catholic community, which underpins the story of the arrival of the Sisters of Saint Joseph to Mount Street in 1884.

The Sisters of Mercy, Loreto Sisters and the Marist Brothers, Jesuits and The Grail all served the community’s educational and social needs at the time of the arrival of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

On 19 March 1884 the formal opening of the novitiate for the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Sydney was celebrated.

The establishment of the new novitiate in the unassuming two storey stone cottage, originally built in 1855, was due to the generosity of Dean John Kenny a seminary companion of Alexander MacKillop, Mary MacKillop’s father. The two men met during their stay in Rome.

Dean John Kenny’s parish work (1867-78) included St Leonards where he was responsible for the building of the first stone Catholic church, St Mary’s Church, Ridge Street, North Sydney, which was opened in 1868.

Alma Cottage current image

The history of Mary MacKillop Place begins with the purchase of this cottage (now known as Alma Cottage) by Dean Kenny from John Whitton, a Chief Civil Engineer, in August 1867. John Whitton oversaw the massive expansion of the railways across the state from 1856 to 1890. Records indicate that Dean Kenny resided in this cottage from the mid-1870s onwards.

It was during this time that the Marist Brothers opened in 1888 St Mary’s School (next to St Mary’s Church), which would be later staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the early 1900s. The Sisters produced a network of practice schools for young novices including the Ridge Street School which became known as the ‘Practice and Demonstration’ School.

After Dean Kenny’s death his legacy of bequeathed property to the Sisters of Saint Joseph secured the Mount Street location as a significant site for pilgrims to this day.

The Land and Property Management Authority produced an informative booklet in 2010, the year of Mary MacKillop’s Canonisation, entitled ‘Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) Records of a Saint.’ This booklet details the ‘Old System deeds’ and shows how the Order gradually acquired land over time, including the purchase of land from the trustees of Reverend John Kenny who in 1887 sold Number 2 Alma Terrace for 1,000 pounds.

Final Resting Place, Mary MacKillop

In April 1890 the Congregation purchased Number 1 Alma Terrace. The original deeds include those personally signed by Mary MacKillop and were held in trust for a ‘Convent or Residence for the Sisters of the Religious Community of Women known as the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart at Mount Street North Sydney.’

Continue reading the article below:

History in the Making – Mary MacKillop Place (PDF)

Edwina Huntley
Museum Curator
Mary MacKillop Place