The Queensland Sisters of Saint Joseph were honoured to have Bishop E. J. Cuskelly as chaplain.

Frank Fletcher MSC in one of his memorial lectures likens Cuskelly’s spirituality to the description by E.E. Cummings:

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud, and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that is keeping the stars apart. I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). E. E. Cummings

Bishop Cuskelly shared his spirituality with Mary MacKillop’s and fostered her saintliness in his preaching and in his writings.[1]

Mary MacKillop is the saint of reconciliation whom we all need.  She excused and she forgave. Of a priest who had been the main cause of her excommunication and had told lies about her. She wrote: 

I forgive all who had any part in these matters, and so do we all. Letter Book, MacKillop to the Sisters, Dec 1880
Painting of Mary MacKillop by Therese Quinn rsj

To some of the Sisters who had spoken untruths about her, she wrote: “I excuse and with all a mother’s heart I forgive.  And I freely forgive and wish to forget, so I do entreat you my dearly loved ones, to forgive from your heart any sister that has pained you.” [2]

Cuskelly recounts a story from Mary’s teaching days at Portland where a school headmaster, Mr Cusack, came to the school. When the Inspector arrived to examine the classes, Mr Cusack poached the children from Mary’s and Annie’s classes and took credit for the well taught pupils while they were given the poorer students.  By cheating, he prompted his class by giving answers behind the Inspector’s back.  Mary’s father spoke loudly and strongly about these actions. Annie lost her job and Mary was blamed for what went wrong. All this took its toll on Mary. She was deeply hurt, was distrusted by some and it caused upset to the MacKillop family.  Eventually Cusack lost his job and attributed blame to Mary. Again Mary was reconciliatory.

Mary Cresp’s sequel to this story demonstrates the depths of Mary’s forgiving heart and saintly life. When we read that Mary recognized an old acquaintance at Circular Quay, we are immediately engaged. However, when we discover that this dirty, alcoholic tramp was the schoolmaster whose cheating had led to Mary’s disgrace at Portland, the Gospel begins to unfold. For this man Mary sold her watch so that she could get him a suit of clothes and care. [3]

Let us reflect:

  • Mary MacKillop models a forgiving heart. Consider times you have been wrongly blamed, deeply embarrassed or hurt, or even lost friends or family because of a situation.
  • What small gesture could heal a long time hurt?
  • Often we suffer because of pride and an expectation on the ‘other’ to make the first move.  In what small way can we emulate Mary?

Michele Shipperley rsj


[1] Mary MacKillop – A Spiritual Model for All
[2] Ibid.
[3] Mary Cresp, Reflections on Beatification, 25 Jan 1995