A Hill Too Far?

At a time when the treatment of animals used in sport is under the spotlight, and in this month when countless Australians are captivated by the ‘Race that stops the nation’, it seems appropriate to stop,  ponder and allow ourselves to be inspired by Mary MacKillop’s kindness and concern for both people and animals.

There must be gentleness towards the erring of others… Mary MacKillop 1871

“Another Sister and I were travelling with Mother Mary in Cobb and Co’s coach, which had its full complement of passengers,” one Sister recounted. “When we came to a very steep hill, Mother thought it was too much for the horses. She got out of the coach, and we did also, much against our will, as the hill was very long as well as steep, and, to make matters worse, Mother asked us to join her in saying some prayers for the driver of the coach. He was a most disagreeable man who was swearing at his horses most of the time.  Mother walked to the top of the hill in the best of spirits and provided the driver with some refreshments, as the days was very hot.”

On an ordinary, hot, Australian day, a grumpy man who swore at his horses must have been surprised to be the recipient of such a random act of kindness! “Amazing”, he probably thought, as he chewed on those unexpected refreshments. It raises the question: ‘Who deserves a good deed?’

In our imperfect lives, we all need someone to come along every so often to remind us of the love that underpins everything. Kindness sets up many ripples, and that’s why it is the greatest wisdom.

…Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you give will be the measure you get back.Luke 6:38

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 48-49)

© 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)

Image: Jiawei Shen, who has written:
I have used a pure realist style to portray a scene of Mary MacKillop travelling around Australia by Cobb and Co coach in the 1880s. I based my work on comments by Mary’s biographers about how she never stayed in the one place long, travelling vast distances between Josephite  establishments over rough roads in uncomfortable coaches.
Obtained from: Mary MacKillop: A Tribute © Honeysett Press,  NSW 1995, page 70






France Inspired by St Mary MacKillop

For the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October, the Catholic Diocese of Versailles, France prepared an online St Mary MacKillop reflection and biography about the life of Mary MacKillop.

Provided below is the Mary MacKillop biography that was prepared…

First canonised Australian saint, co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart for the Catholic education of poor children.

Born in Melbourne, the eldest of eight children from a poor family, Mary had to work to support them quite early (16 years old). At 18, she left for Penola in the South East district of the Australian state of South Australia to be a governess. In her free time, she cared for poor or disadvantaged children from the local area, especially those from Aboriginal families.

There she met local parish priest, Father Julian Woods whose Bishop had instructed his priests to open Catholic schools in their parishes. He was unable to hire Catholic teachers. Therefore, he decided to found a new Religious Congregation to do this work and he invited Mary to become its first member.  The project far exceeded their expectations.

In 1866, she became the first Sister of St. Joseph as Father Woods’ new Congregation was called.  In 1867 she moved to Adelaide, the principal city in South Australia, to take charge of a large school there. Many young women joined her and by December 1869, when she made her final vows, there were already 82 sisters managing 23 schools, an orphanage, a shelter for former prisoners, and a House of Providence for vulnerable or homeless women of all ages.

Between 1871 and 1889, the new institute continued to grow even though conflict over its mode of governance led to the excommunication of Mary for five months. Then, after the bishop had lifted his excommunication, she travelled to Rome to ask the pope to approve the statutes of this new Australian Religious Congregation. Even though Rome had accepted it with some modifications, the mode of governance, new for the time, continued to provoke turmoil and division among some bishops.

In 1888, Rome gave formal approval to the Congregation and bishops who wished to retain the older form of governance for their sisters were permitted to do so provided they changed these sisters’ mode of dress and the names of their Congregations.

In 1891, 25 years after the establishment of the Congregation, there were 300 sisters in 80 foundations in nine Australian and New Zealand dioceses.

Until the end of her life and as far as she was able, Mary devoted all her energy to visiting the institutions, accompanying Sisters to new foundations, and instructing them on the most subtle points of their rule and on her methods of education.

She died in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 8 August 1909 and became Australia’s first canonised saint on 17 October 2010.

Beatrice Trépanier
Head of the Evangelization Department, Catholic diocese of Versailles, France

View the Mary MacKillop biography on the Catholic diocese of Versailles website

View the St Mary MacKillop reflection for Extraordinary Missionary Month here

A Mellow Heart

This month’s foray into the Little Brown Book Too draws us into an incident which shows how Mary’s warm heart and generous spirit helped her to have an impact on another person.

Forgive me everything I have done to pain or disappoint any of you. Mary MacKillop 1881

Sister Irene told of a time when Mary sent for her:

“Do you want me, Mother?” she asked.

“Yes,” was the answer. “I want to beg your pardon for the impatient way I spoke to you when you came to me this morning. I fear I have given you pain and I am sorry for having done so.”

She may have felt irritable and thought she had betrayed it in her words or manner, but I had no sense of this and told her so, for she had been most gentle and kind to me.

This little connection came from Mary’s readiness to trust in the goodness of another. It brings to mind Ronald Rolheiser’s wisdom that:‘Sanctity is about having a mellow heart and spirit.’ 

Most would agree that it was because Mary’s heart was mellow that: ‘she did not lose touch with the people’ (Paul Gardiner sj)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. Matthew 9:36

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 36-37)

© 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)

Image: © Veronika Dimac – InJoy International: Used with permission of the artist.

Mary MacKillop in Austria

Since 2007, the Apostolic Sisters of the Family of Mary have been organising a four day Youth Meeting and this year, they chose St Mary MacKillop as their Patron.

This event coincided with Mary MacKillop’s Feast Day being held from 8 – 11 August in Kundl, Austria. Thirteen years ago, young Catholics from the Austrian state of Tyrol, had the desire to gather together young faithful people at a youth festival. This was the start of an extraordinary journey with incredible graces, which the Lord poured into the hearts of so many of those who attended these meetings.  Throughout the years, the fruits have been visible. Some youth have joined the priesthood or religious life, while others found their future spouse and eventually were married. It’s truly amazing how young people continually open their hearts to God and find strength in a new or renewed friendship with Him and also amongst each other.

The theme of this year’s meeting was taken from the verse Jn: 12,28, “Father, Glorify Your Name.” Approximately 200 young people from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia accepted our invitation and traveled to the beautiful little town Kundl, which is surrounded by mountains, to celebrate their faith. Amongst other things, Holy Mass, Adoration, conferences, testimonies, workshops, confession, sports, and the rosary, worked together to create a very special and holy atmosphere. God also blessed us with beautiful summer weather and much joy during this time.

Father Maximilian Maria Schwarzbauer, priest and missionary of the Community “Work of Jesus the High Priest,” spoke in his conferences about the fatherly love of God. His joy was truly contagious. It was no surprise that the resounding round of applause at the end of the meeting seemed to have no end.

Religious sisters of the missionary community “Family of Mary”, helped throughout the meeting with music, workshops and personal talks with the youth. They used their talents and gifts to spread the Good News and helped the young people to deepen their personal relationship with God.

One thing was very obvious at our meeting – we love the saints! During the last of couple years, Sr. Elisa Foidl, wrote seven beautiful musicals, each depicting the life of a different saint, including, Saint Gabriele Possenti, Blessed Charles of Foucauld, and Saint Don Bosco. These musicals were performed by the youth and were attended by adults, other youth, family members and the faithful from local parishes, thus allowing hundreds of people to witness God’s great work in the lives of the saints. The musicals have continued to be a great success.

At the beginning of each New Year, the team organizing the event, randomly draws a patron saint whom they ask to be their patron and intercessor for their summer meeting. This year, as we came together and asked the Lord for our patron saint, we were truly amazed, when we picked Saint Mary MacKillop, as we discovered that her memorial coincided with the first day of our meeting, 8 August. We know this is no coincidence and are so very grateful to God for this sign of His grace and love.

With Saint Mary MacKillop’s homeland being Australia, which is more than 20 hours by plane from our homeland of Austria, it is amazing how this saint has found a place in our hearts. Our two countries not only share similar names, Australia/Austria, but above all, a love and veneration of this truly amazing saint.

We send a big hello to all of you in Australia and unite ourselves with you in prayer, through the intercession of Saint Mary MacKillop.

Barbara Thielen
Member of the organisational team “Liebesiegt”


Photos provided by Sr. Elisa Maria and Sr. Mary Nichole, Apostolic Sisters of the Family of Mary. Used with permission.

Australian National Pilgrimage

Each year since 1994, the Sisters of Saint Joseph have offered the people of Australia the opportunity to go on pilgrimage, “Walking in the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop”.

Portland a place of decision

Several weeks ago I received a phone call from a person who was interested in participating in the national pilgrimage entitled “In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop”. One of the questions asked was about the itinerary and what a typical day during the time of pilgrimage would consist of.

As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that in the enquirer’s mind the words pilgrimage and tour were synonymous. This however, is not the case. There is significant difference between the two words. To a degree the day-to-day routine does look as though people are tourists enjoying a trip. There is the getting on and off the coach; meeting new people; journeying with an interesting combination of personalities; receiving information about significant sites; opportunities to purchase mementoes of places visited. This is however, where the similarities end.

So what then is a pilgrimage? It is a journey to a sacred place which takes the pilgrim out of her or his usual day-to-day routine into a sacred time and space. Some would say that the time of pilgrimage is a liminal time, “an in between time”, a graced time allowing for the possibility of transformation in a pilgrim’s life.

As Macrina Wiederkehr writes in her book Behold Your Life:

Pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. A pilgrimage is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place.
Penola a place of Ministry

Each year the Sisters of Saint Joseph offer people the opportunity to journey in the footstep of St Mary MacKillop, by visiting places of significance in her journey of listening and responding to her God. This journey is an invitation to see, listen and reflect on Mary’s relationship with God and her ability to trust implicitly in God to provide in all things. The journey will be filled with challenges, joys, disappointments, frustrations, unexpected delights…. God is there gently calling the pilgrim by name to enter more deeply into relationship with

Mary as guide and inspiration.  Pilgrims are invited to reflect on where they see God in their journey; to what is God calling her or him and how they respond in trust to God as did Mary.

Returning from the time of pilgrimage the pilgrim is changed. She or he is open to responding more deeply to the word of which each is a part; more aware of the presence of God with and in them and in all creation.

Franklin Street Chapel, Adelaide

Our pilgrimage for 2019 commences in Melbourne on 22 October and concludes in Sydney on 2 November. If you would like to join us please email us for further information and/or to request an Application Form.

Information is also available on the Mary MacKillop Place website.

Annie Bond rsj

I Have No Hands Now But Yours

In this month’s reflection from the Little Brown Book Too, authors Sue and Leo Kane invite us to reflect on Saint Mary MacKillop’s deep love for those who lived in poverty.

Mary saw herself as blessed by the poor!  Just as the Sisters named in this reflection were inspired by Mary’s love in action, we too are  invited – and challenged – to live in Mary’s spirit today.

‘Seek first the poorest and most neglected of God’s vineyard…’   Mary MacKillop 1900

Mary certainly did this in her own life.  ‘Our dear Foundress had an unparalleled love for God’s poor. I don’t think I’ve met any person with such great love for the poor,’ recalled Sister Cataldus*.

Sister Denis** fills out the picture: ‘One day. I happened to be her companion in Kent Street, Sydney. It seemed to me as if a great many poor people came to us in different parts of the street as we passed along.  Many of them said, “God bless you.” 

Mother said to me:  “I love to get the blessing of these poor people.”

Mary understood that, deep down, we all have to face our own poverty.  She had a real affinity with the poor, so much so that she saw herself as receiving from them.  And, like Jesus, she set out to show them their own worth, while also assisting in practical ways.

In the tough environment of colonial Australia, Mary and her Sisters brought help to many in great need.  Some even lived in tents on the goldfields among the miners.  They valued and loved the poor.

We reflect today about what that means for us, especially in the affluent culture in which we now live.

*Sr Cataldus: Julia Breen 1881-1940       ** Sr Denis: Catherine Malone 1881-1956

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME, because he has appointed ME to bring good news to the poor…” (Luke 4:18)

The above reflection is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too,  pages 34-35

© Sue and Leo Kane 2011

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

Available on line and from Mary MacKillop Centres —

Click here for locations and contact details 

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Art: © Hongbin Zhao

The artist has written:

Mary MacKillop’s commitment to the service of those in need knew no boundaries.  She was willing to go anywhere she could be of help.  She and her Sisters also happily endured the living conditions of the people they helped and the children they taught. I have depicted Mary in the goldfileds with a group of children, bringing them hope and support in a difficult situation. 

From:  Mary MacKillop: A Tribute: © Honeysett Press,  NSW 1995, page 79






Saint Mary MacKillop Feast Day 2019

Greetings on the feast of Saint Mary MacKillop.

As we celebrate Mary MacKillop’s feast day, let us celebrate how she was a woman who raised the powers of love in her time and continues to inspire us to do the same in our day.  Love was at the heart of all that Mary did. She recognised that the source of her love had its origin in God. She knew deeply within her that:

God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
1 John 4:16

From this spiritual source she drew the energy to be a heartbeat of God’s love in the world especially for those most disadvantaged in our society.

Mary loved all with an undivided heart. As Pope John Paul II said during his 1995 visit to Australia for her beatification:

Mother Mary’s life speaks eloquently because it was firmly anchored in something for which every human heart longs: inner peace, that peace that comes from knowing that one is loved by God and from the desire to respond to God’s love. [1]Pope John Paul II – 20.1.1995

Hers was a spirituality of the heart, holding in balance a contemplative stance with a concern for justice. Mary entered the mystery of God’s love and allowed herself to be transformed by it in order to assist the voiceless to find their voice. Mary was indeed a woman who remained grounded in the reality of life, and through all her experiences learnt to ‘act justly, love tenderly and to walk humbly with God’ (Micah 6:8). She rolled up her sleeves, got her hands dirty and responded to the cries of those who struggled in life.

An example of how Mary MacKillop raised the power of love occurred when Mary and Sister Helena McCarthy were on their way to the city. Sister Helena shared this story. “We were waiting at the corner of the Street near Mount Street Post Office for a tram. A young woman came staggering along and at last reached and rested by the stone wall on the side of the footpath. 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 she could get to the chemist’s nearby, 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”. [2]

On this feast day let us, like Mary MacKillop, be women and men who raise the powers of love. Recently I was having a cup of coffee with one of our sisters and I asked her what she had been doing. She replied that she had just come from a meeting of ‘Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children’. Their work is based around the safety and protection for innocent children living in the experience of detention centres. On another day, I visited the office of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Congregational Administration Centre to find the staff knitting over lunch. They told me that they were joining others around our country who belong to the organisation ‘Wrap with Love’. Joining in movements such as these is one way of continuing to give expression to Mary MacKillop’s vision for living the Gospel.

On this feast day may you be inspired like Saint Mary MacKillop to make a difference in someone’s life by raising the powers of love through an act of everyday kindness.

May your day be filled with the joy and love that filled the heart of Saint Mary MacKillop.

Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj
Congregational Leader

[1] Pope John Paul II, 20 January 1995 at Beatification ceremony Randwick
[2] Sister Helena McCarthy – Memories of Mary by those who knew her p 71, 2010

Excursion to Mary MacKillop Place

Boundless, a young adults group from the Northern Suburbs of Sydney, recently visited Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney to learn more about Saint Mary MacKillop.

With Saint Mary MacKillop’s Feast Day approaching on 8 August, I thought it was a great opportunity to organise and invite members of my young adults group ‘Boundless’ to an excursion to Mary MacKillop Place.

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