Print this page

In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop in Ireland

July 17, 2017

In May of this year, 16 Sisters from the Ireland Region set out on pilgrimage to the places Mary MacKillop visited in Ireland.

We were well equipped with a comfortable bus, a knowledgeable bus driver, two nights’ accommodation booked in advance and sisterly companionship. Wherever we went, we were welcomed by Monks in the monasteries, Sisters in the convents, owners of cafes and restaurants and the Bishop and Priests at Limerick Cathedral. We were very well looked after, nutritious meals awaited us at our stopping places, the bus sheltered us from the summer showers of rain and we were totally relaxed without a worry in the world.

While we appreciated and enjoyed the many comforts, we were also deeply immersed in Mary’s journey to Rome and Ireland 154 years ago. Mary MacKillop arrived in Rome in May 1873, alone, without a word of Italian and with only the names of a few places of possible accommodation. Her mission was to seek approval from the Holy Father for the Rule of the Sisters of St Joseph. From Mary’s letters, we have some understanding of her time in Rome, her courage, determination, wisdom and patience; the exhaustion and illness she endured; the obstacles and setbacks she faced; the loneliness she felt and above all her unwavering trust in God. While awaiting the approval of the Rule from Rome, Mary decided to visit Ireland, again with only a few contact addresses.

Sitting in the bus, reading various sections of Mary’s letters we wondered how she moved from place to place around the country places of Ireland. We had checked the train routes of the late 1800s but after alighting at a train station, we queried how Mary continued her journey. Was the next section by horse and cart? Was it a long walk from the road up the hilly path to the monastery carrying her worn and battered tin trunk? Did she wonder as she knocked at the door whether she would receive hospitality or be turned away?

While Mary had a deep trust in God, she had no credit card, no mobile phone, no google maps and very little or no money at all in her purse. In addition, convents in Ireland at that time had been cautioned by the Bishop to be on their guard against people posing as Religious. When Mary arrived at the first two convents she was turned away as an imposter. We read in one of her letters that she eventually found a room for the night on the top floor of a ‘third rate’ hotel. Fortunately, the situation improved. Mary met kind people, received gracious hospitality and even the loan of a Mercy Sister’s religious habit while she washed her own.

On our pilgrimage, we prayed together each day, pondering in reverence and awe at Mary’s resilience, her acceptance of the situation and her steadfast trust in God. We also recalled the great trust in God that the 15 young Irish postulants had. They left home and country in 1874 to travel to Australia with Mary MacKillop and join the Sisters of St Joseph.

Our pilgrimage was a journey on ‘holy ground’, a journey recalling the blessings, insights and graces that God bestowed on Mary MacKillop, the many Sisters of St Joseph over the years and on ourselves. It was a pilgrimage with an invitation to trust in God as Mary did.

Pauline Morgan rsj and the Pilgrim Sisters