A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Mary MacKillop – a true Australian

Fr T Corcoran sm

by Fr T Corcoran sm

For the pilgrims from the Antipodes in the Eternal City for the canonization of their own Mary MacKillop, the final act of their three days of celebration was the Thanksgiving Mass in St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, October 19, 2010.

The vast nave of the basilica, enshrining the bones of the Apostle to the Gentiles, was filled with people from many nations, particularly from Australia, New Zealand, Peru, East Timor and Scotland, a concrete expression of the fulfilment of St Paul’s own dream of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. At the commencement of the Mass, as the choir of the Australian Catholic University lead the great hymn Christ be our light, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell and the archbishops and bishops of Australia entered St. Paul’s in procession. They were preceded by the large number of Josephite sisters, wearing their signature bright blue scarves, their faces beaming gloriously!

St Mary Mackillop

St Mary Mackillop

Here were the daughters of Saint Mary of the Cross celebrating the many years of prayer and preparation, the fulfilment of their dreams - the head of the universal Church, Pope Benedict XVI, enrolling their foundress, the Australian, Mary MacKillop, Mary of the Cross, into the list of Saints, those whose lives have been judged to reflect the face of Christ in a heroic way. These women were carrying in their hearts the joy of their many sisters back home. They represented a community of Josephites continuing their service to the Church and to people of many lands of many backgrounds, in many circumstances, especially to the poor and marginalized. In these women too we saw represented the generations of sisters who have gone before them marked with the sign of faith: the courageous pioneers of the bush, of the city slums, the dedicated carers in schools and hospitals, the sustainers of priests and people in times of flood and drought, the companions in birth and in dying.

At the presence of this couple of hundred ‘Joeys’ we were reminded of the thousands of women religious of our southern lands, in the past and the present: those of the early years of our nations, whose dedicated service nurtured the early Church in its children, improved the educational and social lot of generations of young Catholics, especially girls; they stood also for the religious women of today who continue that work of service in many fields, in missions, education, health care, social work, in so many ways carrying on the work of Christ’s loving. In his inspiring homily at the Mass, Cardinal Pell said, “We thank God today for the contribution of all the women religious to the Catholic story ‘Down-under’, not merely the hundreds of young Australian and Irish women who joined the sisters of St. Joseph, but all the religious who have laboured for our benefit, served with ‘generosity and humility, gentleness and patience’ to bring goodness and Godliness into the empty spaces of our vast continent.”
While the St Paul’s Mass was a truly Aussie affair, the Canonization the day before, in the vast arena of St Peter’s Piazza, was a celebration of the universal Church before pilgrims gathers from the four corners of the earth, but especially from the homelands of the six new saints, Italy, Canada, Poland, and Spain. We Australians, gathered with the Pope in front of the TV cameras of the world, were extremely proud that out of our homeland, our wide brown land, out of the suburbs of Melbourne and the bush of South Australia, out of our particular culture, saints can be formed through the power of the Spirit, who broods over our Great South Land.

Throughout the celebrations we were reminded that Mary Mac Killop is truly one of us. In the words of Cardinal Pell: “We are grateful that she was not eccentric, not religiously exotic. We warm to her advice, are encouraged by her perseverance in sickness and adversity. Her faith and moral goodness are heroic, but not in a way which is off-putting or surreal. She does not deter us from struggling to follow her.”

Throughout those three autumn days in Rome, we were always aware that back down south they were being closely followed on television and internet by our families and friends, who might have been keeping an eye out to see if they could find us in the crowd! We certainly felt at one with the folks back home. We knew that Australia, as a whole, was caught up in the celebrations, the canonization (however it may have been understood) had become an important national occasion. I give the final word to Cardinal Pell: “In yesterday's Papal ceremony the universal Church put its seal on the outstanding Catholic contributor in Australian history. By its approval, majority Australia now acknowledges that Godliness, Christian virtue and Catholic service have a well deserved place in the pantheon of Australian achievements.”

Fr Tony Corcoran, an Australian is Secretary General of the Society of Mary in Rome.

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