BY GABRIELLE McMULLEN
On Australia Day last week, the two postulators in the cause of canonisation of Australia's first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, received the Medal of the Order of Australia for their role in her canonisation.
Sister Maria Casey rsj and Father Paul Gardiner SJ were both humble in their response, with Father Gardiner attempting to deflect the honour to Saint Mary with his comment: “Mary MacKillop should have been awarded a medal or something. I've just happened to be a cog in a machine.”
Towards the end of last year the Sisters of St Joseph also recognised those who had lent their support to the canonisation and the events surrounding it. They held a gathering in North Sydney which I was privileged to attend. Australian Catholic University had been a strong supporter and I was invited in relation to my previous role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor [Academic].
The evening commenced with Mass in the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, where St Mary of the Cross is buried. We were welcomed by Sister Maria Casey rsj, postulator for the cause of Mary MacKillop. Cardinal George Pell was principal celebrant and Archbishop Phillip Wilson, Emeritus Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and several priests, including the earlier postulator, Father Paul Gardiner SJ, were concelebrants.
It was fitting to gather in thanksgiving for the canonisation of this "women of faith living by the power of the cross", and the blessings that she has brought to her homeland. We prayed in the Collect of the Mass "to embrace what she pioneered, that like her we may show to the world new ways of living the Gospel that respect and defend the human dignity of all in our land".
Following the Eucharist we gathered in the dining room at Anderledy Lodge within Mary's Place for dinner. During the course of the evening both Cardinal Pell and Sister Anne Derwin rsj, Congregational Leader of the Josephites, acknowledged particular individuals, committees and groups who had paved the way for the historic celebration in Rome and associated events around Australia in Octobepersonr 2010. Key partnerships were recognised and the careful stewardship of resources.
Particular tributes were paid to the two postulators who, in turn, had so faithfully advanced Mary MacKillop's cause, Father Gardiner and Sister Maria (and it was pleasing to see their recognition also through recent Australia Day awards).
Father Gardiner reminded us of the key role played by Sir Norman Cardinal Gilroy in promoting Mary MacKillop's cause and of Pope John Paul II's personal support in smoothing the way for her canonisation. Bishop Robinson's presence was also of special significance as he had chaired the commission which confirmed one of the miracles attributed to her intercession and formally recognised by the Church as advancing her cause.
The evening was a joyful occasion, recounting the canonisation journey and renewing friendships underpinned by a shared devotion to St Mary MacKillop.
As Sister Anne said at the time of the canonisation: “Mary MacKillop in her Sainthood continues to do what she did in her lifetime – lead people to God”. She is a saint to whom we can relate – like many of our own pioneering families, hers knew hardship and struggle. Her father had studied for the priesthood for several years so he likely played a particular role in the development of her knowledge of and love for her faith.
The support that she had to give her family from her early years would have developed in her resourcefulness, commitment and many practical skills. Otherwise her background was ordinary while her achievements were extraordinary.
With her commitment to education, social justice and the founding and nurturing of a religious order dedicated to serving the unique Australian apostolate of her times, her life glorified the Lord to an outstanding degree as recognised by her canonisation in 2010.
Her spirit lives on in the congregation that she founded – each of us will have a personal experience of that charism from knowing Sisters of St Joseph, through experiencing Josephite education, welfare or another ministry, or from reading about Mary MacKillop's life or the ministry of other sisters, like Sister Irene McCormack RSJ in Peru.
As was our entreaty in the Solemn Blessing concluding the recent Mass of thanksgiving for her canonisation:
Through the example of Mary MacKillop, may we learn to recognise God's will and trust in God's providence;
May her life of service awaken in us a deep respect for the poor and a passion for justice;
May we share in her courage, see with her vision, and love with her heart.
Professor Gabrielle McMullen is Emeritus Professor, Australian Catholic University.
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