BY MICK MacANDREW
I chose to get ordained a priest on a very significant date for our Australian Church, at least for me. It was 15th January, the birth date of Mary MacKillop.
I have been inspired by the life and work of this great Australian woman since before I reached my teens. Somewhere, way back in our family, there is a story of one of our relatives joining the Sisters of St Joseph while Mary was still living.
Many, many Catholics in Australia can recount moments of inspiration from Mary’s story, meetings and encounters with sisters of the Josephite Order and now, both the comfort and challenge of her being made a Saint for all.
What annoys me, though, is the way in which Mary has been hijacked to be some sort of patron saint for women, almost to the point that she is now the one to carry a banner – for women, in a “war between the sexes,” both inside and outside the Church.
During the lead-up to the canonisation, the media saturated our minds with details of the opposition to her from men – bishops, priests and others who saw her as meddling in matters she could not have any expertise in.
There was an almost total denial of the support given her by many bishops, priests and other men as she set about securing a sound future for a Catholic schools system in this country, as well as the very necessary social welfare and health institutes she established.
Her contacts with men and women in her daily affairs would have both upheld the worth of and added to the strength of marriage and family life.
One of those supporting bishops was no less than Cardinal Moran of Sydney, who wrote many reports to Rome defending Mary against the accusations of other bishops.
Another was Bishop Cani of Rockhampton, in Queensland. Yet, their names were not mentioned as much or if ever, in reports about Mary’s dealings to pioneer an Australian way for a religious order and also to provide an education for those for whom lack of means would often rule against such.
That Mary MacKillop has been ‘deconstructed’ by some in this country to be some sort of post-modernist, patron saint for feminist causes and of dividing the Church into male and female ghettos, has done her almost as much harm and limited her power for inspiration now, as did the unjust accusations levied against her when she was alive.
Mary was canonised not because of her victories against her detractors but because of her holiness in dealing with them as well as all the other situations and circumstances which she saw as preventing many in this nation from experiencing that relationship with Christ and his resurrection which was the new life needed for a new and infant nation.
For me, St Mary of The Cross MacKillop is a saint for all, women, men, youth, children. Her holiness – belief in and reliance on God, acting with courage and determination, but with the power and beauty of the feminine mind and perception, can be an inspiration for both female and male disciples of Christ.
Father Mick MacAndrew is parish priest of Bombala-Delegate, in the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn.
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