Sr Annette with the self-guided pilgrimage booklet ‘Mary MacKillop’s Rome’.

Mary MacKillop left Rome in 1874 and I returned there 150 years later in 2024. I had only visited Rome once in 2010 for Mary’s Canonisation and was unable at that time to make the pilgrimage of her travels in Rome. I had Mary and her journey in my consciousness as I navigated modern day Rome.

So many times during my 15-day visit, I drew comparisons between Mary’s Rome and my Rome experience. So many things would have looked pretty much the same and so many other things, no doubt, unrecognisable to Mary. I was sitting on a train from Florence that was doing 250km an hour remembering that it took Mary 45 days by boat and then train to even get to Rome. I had gone and come back home in less than that time frame!

On arriving in Rome, I had a data pack on my phone to use Google Maps to get me to the Metro, to get to the monastery which I had pre-booked online and had used WhatsApp to communicate about my arrival time! And if all that had failed, I had a credit card and Uber account to get wherever I wanted to go. And of course, the greatest asset when not being able to speak other languages – Google translate on my phone! Seemingly all too easy in contrast to Mary’s journey.

In the midst of all that though, when Google Maps did some weird things and took me well off course, in the heat of the afternoon, dragging a suitcase over cobble stones, I thought of Mary as the solo traveller, arriving in Rome and relying heavily on Providence! I had many conversations with Mary as I contemplated my level of trust in Providence and of the gains and losses of all our modern means of communication. Was I really better off? There is much to contemplate.

In my conversations with Mary, we did reflect on my purpose for being in Rome which was to participate in the Second Talitha Kum General Assembly. Mary’s purpose in going to Rome was to negotiate getting our (Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart) Rule approved and this was driven by her great desire for her Sisters to participate as fully and freely as possible in God’s mission. She was happy to know that two of her Sisters (Margaret Ng and myself) were in Rome to further address the scourge of modern slavery. Mary didn’t come home with a final approved rule and neither did Margaret and I come home with an Assembly Declaration that was perfect, but one that globally, thousands of religious and their collaborators, will live into in the coming five years.

While walking the same streets and praying in the same churches and shrines that Mary prayed, I asked her to accompany us today. The challenges are as great as her day, she understands and has our back and prays with us always.

Annette Arnold rsj

Mary MacKillop’s Rome is a self-guided booklet which takes the pilgrim to the places that were significant to Mary during her time in Rome. It is available for purchase here.

Our gratitude to Madonna Noonan, Executive Assistant to Ambassador Chiara Porro, who facilitated our being able to meet with the Ambassador
Four of the Oceania Delegates - Isabel Salter (SA), Annette, Marguerite Buckly (Vic) and Maureen Delaney (WA)