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Australian History

January 15, 1842 – Birth of Mary MacKillop, nun and Australia’s first saint


Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop

Mary Helen MacKillop RSJ (15 January 1842 – 8 August 1909) was an Australian religious sister who has been declared a saint by the Catholic Church, as St Mary of the Cross.

Of Scottish descent, she was born in Melbourne but is best known for her activities in South Australia.

Together with the Reverend Julian Tenison-Woods, she founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites), a congregation of religious sisters that established a number of schools and welfare institutions throughout Australia and New Zealand, with an emphasis on education for the rural poor.

The process to have MacKillop declared a saint began in the 1920s, and she was beatified in January 1995 by Pope John Paul II. 

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at her tomb during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day 2008 and in December 2009 approved the Catholic Church’s recognition of a second miracle attributed to her intercession. 

She was canonised on 17 October 2010, during a public ceremony in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. 

She is the first Australian to be recognised by the Catholic Church as a saint. 

Mary MacKillop is the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

MacKillop died on 8 August 1909 at the Josephite convent in North Sydney. 

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, said: “I consider this day to have assisted at the deathbed of a saint.” 

She was laid to rest at the Gore Hill cemetery, a few kilometres up the Pacific Highway from North Sydney.

After MacKillop’s burial, people continually took earth from around her grave. As a result, her remains were exhumed and transferred on 27 January 1914 to a vault before the altar of the Virgin Mary in the newly built memorial chapel in Mount Street, North Sydney. 

The vault was a gift of Joanna Barr Smith, a lifelong friend and admiring Presbyterian.

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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