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

Beatification Ceremony at Randwick Racecourse.

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.

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

Reflection on Mary MacKillop

It was my privilege to enjoy the love and friendship of Mother Mary of the Cross.

From the first day I met her as Superioress of Mount Street Convent [North Sydney], where I put in my Novitiate, until the day of her death, a period of about twenty years, during which I had many opportunities of knowing her worth.

Mother Mary was a noble woman, blessed with rare vision and holiness. Where the glory to God and duty to others were concerned she was full of moral courage, fearing no human opinion, always acting according to the dictates of conscience.

My first experience of Mother Mary’s charity was one day when going with her as companion to the city. We were waiting at the corner of the street near Mount St Post Office for a tram. A young woman came staggering along and at last reached and rested by the stone on the side of the footpath. Being young and inexperienced I naturally thought the woman was intoxicated but Mother’s quick eye detected something more serious. She said to me ‘Come along dear and see what is wrong with this poor woman.’ On getting up to her we found the woman was very ill.  Mother asked if she could do anything for her. The woman said if he could get to the chemist’s nearby as she knew what would relieve her. The three of us then went to the chemist’s where the patient was attended to and we waited until she felt better. This act of Charity on Mother’s part made a lasting impression on the rest of my life.” [1]

A certain sense of God’s wonderful love strengthens me. Mary MacKillop 1873

Over the past months we have experienced global turmoil and disasters. In Australia the plight of the nation and the planet have raised out awareness to the absolute need of being connected. We have witnessed amazing heroism, generosity and deep sharing in unbelievably big and small ways.

Mary MacKillop was a person who spent her life reaching out, giving and connecting. God’s presence was a dominant feature of her life. The witness we have experience in a nation’s response is Mary’s call to us in every-day life. God is with us in it all, good or challenging.

Courage, courage trust in God who helps you in all things. Mary MacKillop 1874
  • Let us ask ourselves whether Mary MacKillop’s inspirational response of reaching out, giving and connecting can become a natural call to all of us?
  • What aspects of Sr Helena’s story enabled you to experience the generous spirit of Mary MacKillop?
  • What gift can you express more fully?

Let us light a candle which reminds us that Christ is the light of the world.

Take time to reflect and recount the blessings of the past days.

Pray in gratitude.

There where you are you will find God. Mary MacKillop 1871

Michele Shipperley rsj

[1] Sister M Helena McCarthy, Tokaanu, NZ. 1 December 1925 p. 71. Excerpts taken from Memories of Mary by those who knew her, Sisters of St Joseph 1925-1926.

Opening of Mary MacKillop Museum in Adelaide

Honouring Saint Mary and Her Legacy: Adelaide’s Newest Museum

Grey skies and wild winds could not dampen the excitement and delight that were so evident amongst the 320 guests who gathered at Mary MacKillop College in Kensington on 1 December to witness the reopening of the adjoining Mary MacKillop Museum, which had been closed for redevelopment since late 2015. Originally commissioned as a Josephite Sesquicentenary project, the redevelopment and extension of the Museum took longer than was first anticipated. The delays and disappointments, however, paled into insignificance as the Sisters and all present at this memorable event celebrated the transformation that had taken place in recent months and which has produced a contemporary, inviting space that is interactive, reflective and inspirational.

During the opening ritual, the unveiling of the Commemorative Plaque was shared by Sister Monica Cavanagh, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and His Excellency, Governor Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia.

Sister Monica reminded guests that the Museum is situated “on the sacred ground where Mary MacKillop lived, walked, worked, prayed, laughed and anguished from 1872 to 1883.”  She expressed her hope that this will, once again, be a place of education and pilgrimage, where visitors will engage in, and be inspired by, the story that shaped Mary MacKillop into the courageous, ground-breaking woman Australians have come to know and love.

Governor Hieu Van Le, an ardent admirer of Mary MacKillop, spoke of her from his own perspective, naming why she inspires him, especially her resilience, and why she is so significant for Australians of all background:

Mary MacKillop is a woman for all Australians who, through her example, remains relevant to us today as a woman of foresight and faith.Governor Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia

Adelaide’s Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Greg O’Kelly, who blessed the Commemorative Plaque, linked a line from Psalm 127: ‘If our God does not build the house, then in vain do the builders labour…’ with a letter written by Mary 25 years after the Josephites’ humble beginnings in Penola. Then, she wrote to her Sisters: ‘Little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning…’ a theme which is threaded through the redeveloped Museum. In Bishop O’Kelly’s estimation, the new Mary MacKillop Museum ‘moves the heart and lifts the soul.’

In her vote of thanks, the Regional Leader for CentreWest, Sister Margaret Cleary, acknowledged and thanked the many people who had contributed in any way to the Museum’s redevelopment, which was steered by Sister Mary Ryan, and the multi-skilled members of the Task Force who had invested so much of their time, talents, passion and personal resources in this project over the last four years. The hard work and initiative of the Fund-raising Committee, headed by Sister Brigette Sipa, were also recognised, along with the researchers, writers and editors, the architects, designers and skilled people who had combined forces to create a beautiful, welcoming, educational and spiritual ambience for visitors.

This new Museum goes beyond telling a little of Mary’s story. We also encounter a band of her courageous early companions who enabled the Josephite story to develop in ways and places that Mary and Julian could never have imagined. We can follow their inspiring stories via the digital display kiosks dotted round the Museum’s galleries. Using SoundPens, we are also able to hear the voices of Mary, Julian, pioneering Sisters, and also people – Sisters and others with Josephite hearts – representing the countless others who have kept the Penola dream alive as they have worked, in myriad ways, to make their small part of the world a better, more just place.

Other highlights of the new Museum include display boards, historic photos and letters, relics, art works, artefacts and memorabilia from various aspects of the 153 year-old Josephite story. All are now evoking visitors’ memories and/curiosity!

The Sisters of Saint Joseph invite you to visit Mary MacKillop Museum Adelaide. On arrival, you will be welcomed as you embark on a journey of discovery and inspiration. This is no ordinary museum! There is something to touch the hearts of visitors of all ages, cultures and faith backgrounds!

Mary MacKillop Museum Adelaide, which includes a Gift Shop and a soon-to-be-opened Café, is open 6 days a week. It is closed on Mondays, and between Christmas and New Year, reopening on 2 January 2020.

Address: 19 Phillips Street, Kensington SA
Opening Hours: 10.00am. to 4.00pm. Closed Christmas (25 December 2019) to New Year (1 January 2020).
Enquiries: or (08) 8130 5910
Group bookings: or 08 8130 5900

View photos from the opening in the gallery below:

Mary MacKillop Precinct, Adelaide SA


Photos: Sarah-Jane and Eric van Staden: Inhouse Imaging Used with permission.

Thank You Sr Mary Ryan

Thank you!

The word thank you seems inadequate to show our deep appreciation to Mary Ryan rsj (South Australia) for her monthly reflections on Mary MacKillop for the ‘Inspiration from our Founders’ section in the Mary MacKillop eNews over the past ten years.

Sr Mary, your contributions have enabled many readers to enter more fully into an understanding of St Mary of the Cross and her strong faith in the power of God’s unbounding love for each of us.

Kath Hitchcock rsj
Congregational Communications Team

You’re invited to view all of Sr Mary’s reflections below:

‘Inspiration from Mary’ articles


God is in the Middle of Us

We often hear the question asked: “Where is God?”

Mary MacKillop had no doubt that God was with her, even in her darkest times. In this time leading up to Christmas, we will hear the Scriptural phrase ‘Emmanuel, God-with-us’ many times. We are invited to slow down, ‘smell the flowers’, ponder Mary’s words, and discover our God in the ‘bits and pieces of every day’.

There where you are, you will find God.Mary MacKillop 1871

Sometimes, like Mulga Bill on his bicycle, we find ourselves hurtling into the future, or rushing to our next activity. We struggle to be fully present to this moment—the one we are living now.

  • Have we paused lately to notice the small signs of changes in the seasons?
  • Do we sometimes stop to savour the smell of freshly mown grass? …or to enjoy what is right in front of our noses?

These little reflective breaks can help to keep us in the now. They put us in touch with our ‘good God’.

All the great spiritual writers invite us to try to live in the present. This moment, NOW, is the most important one we have. In fact, it is all we have. When Patrick Kavanagh tells us that “God is in the bits and pieces of every day”, we glimpse the nearness of our God in this precious moment, and in everyday happenings.

Mary MacKillop’s ‘good God’ is a faithful, gentle God who is at home with us. We don’t have to spend our lives seeking God elsewhere.

God gave me such a sense of His watchful presence.Mary MacKillop 1871

We light a candle to honour this present moment and to remind ourselves that the ground we are on is holy ground. Called, or uncalled, God is present. We sit in silence. Later on, we might take a long, slow, reflective walk.

And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’.Matthew 1:23

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 136-137)

© Sue and Leo Kane 2011

Used with the kind permission of the publishers, St Paul’s Publications

Available online and from some Mary MacKillop Centres.

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Photo: Advent candles by Sr Mary Ryan rsj. Used with permission.