Mary MacKillop, THE Australian Saint
Mary MacKillop is an extraordinary example for us of total gift of self, absolute confidence in God especially in times of trial, and of loving service to those in the most need.
The Bishop of Sydney, Fisher has asserted in his preaching on the 17th of october 2007 : If until now there is only one saint in Australia, it is in order that all those who genuinely wish to be so may become living saints today ; as God only gives achievable desires.
Born : on the 15th of January 1842 in Melbourne, Australia
Died : on the 8th of August 1909 in North Sydney, Australia
Patron : of Australia,
Feast day : 8th August
Sign :Gave all for the glory of God in the service of the poor.
In Religious art : She is represented as a Religious Sister in the brown habit of her congregation.
Mary MacKillop was born in 1842 in Fitzroy, Melbourne (her birthplace has become a centre for young drug addicts and their families). She was the eldest of 8 children in a family of Scottish Catholic merchants who fell into bankruptcy. Mary recieved a good education but in order to help her family she left school at the age of 14 to work in a shop and then as a teacher. Next she worked as a housekeeper for a family in Penola (Southern Australia) and there she found a spiritual director in the Priest, visionary and energetic Julian Woods (1832-1882). It was in discussion with him about the immense needs of the australian settlers that her vision of a religious congregation associating the mobility and simplicity of the Franciscans with the poverty, trust, work and fatherhood of St Joseph. On the 19th of March 1866, they formed the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and they were approved a little after by the Monsignor Sheil, Bishop of Adelaide. Mary recieved the name Mother Mary of the Cross. She spent the first four years alone after which she was joined by 140 women, and they opened schools all over Australia. The schools were free for all children from poor social circumstances. The sisters and their schools survived on the grace of donations. This process of founding established bigger networks of schools and Parishes in the world and is the first big work of evangelisation and catechesis of the Church in Australia for young people : so WYD is the next logical step !
On the 22nd of september 1871, following the gossip of parishioners and the accusations that mounted without proof to back them of disobedience from a young Priest, Mother Mary was abruptly excommunicated from the Church by Monsignor Sheil, without process. She and her Sisters had to leave their convent dressed as civilians that day , and the schools were closed for the duration of the court period. Imitating Christ welcoming without revolt, all the obstacles set up by the chiefs of the people, Mary was always truthful to the representatives of the Church who opposed her. She recieved help from a Jew named Emmanuel Solomon, an Anglican family, and was given guidance by two Jesuit Fathers of whom, Father Tappeiner was known for his goodness and prudence.
Five months afterwards, she was found to be innocent by a commission of Bishops from the Vatican, the excommunication was lifted by the Bishop just a few days before he died and she regained her role as Superior of her congregation. In 1873 Mother Mary visited Rome to recieve encouragement from Pope Pius IX in her mission. A number of authorities and locals however, thought that Mary and her sisters were too independent (sisters in the world) and living a life of poverty that was too radical because they begged. Mother Mary gained the support of Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney, who helped to obtain recognition by the Church from the Pope Leon XIII in 1883. In 1885 she was removed again from her position as Superior of her Sisters, this time for fourteen years. During this time she worked with love and energy using her special gift of encouragement in the numerous orphanages, schools, refuges for women out of prison, or the elderly under the care of her community in Australia and New Zealand. It was in New Zealand in 1902 that she suffered a heart attack and became handicapped. After her return to Australia she continued to support her sisters up until her death on the 8th of august 1909.
The holiness of her life was recognised very quickly and her body was transported in 1914 to the Church of the Sisters in Sydney. She was the first person in Australia to be beatified, by John-Paul II in 1994, and canonized, by Benedict XVI on the 17th of October, 2010.
(Letter to the Sisters for St Joseph ’s Day, 6 March 1900):
– O, dear Father St Joseph, watch over your poor children and keep one and all true – true unto death to the lovely humble spirit of your glorious Institute.
– Sisters, I dread the worldly spirit of seeking the better portions and forgetting the poor neglected ones, and so disappointing the sorrowing appeals to us for help which come from time to time from our dear suffering
– We must not be ungrateful and we must prove our gratitude by our deeds and by our cheerful labour, our willingness at all costs to overcome self, to go wherever obedience requires, seeking – if choice be given us – the most neglected places to which He calls us. Let us never forget that in the spirit of our Rule
it is to those we should desire to go. Let St Joseph’s true children remember their mission and seek first the poorest, most neglected parts of God’s vineyard.
(Letter to Mons Kirby in August 1873): « The Sisters must do all the good they can, and never see an evil without trying how they may remedy it’.”
(It is from this last sentence that comes the Josephite mandate: Never see a need without doing something about it).
(observations on the Rule 18th May 1873):
“It is also their duty… to do all the good they could….visiting the sick, the hospitals, gaols, receiving orphans and destitute poor.”
– (Letter to the Sisters 10th March 1907): “Ah, children of St Joseph’s noble and generous heart, we must be burning with zeal and courage in the service of our God. ..We must not forget with how much deep meaning he (St Joseph) has been given to us as our model in the discharge of our external duties towards the children of our schools, the poor over whom we have charge.…Let us ask him (St Joseph) to obtain for us a generous devoted love for his Jesus, a love that will make us, like him, faithful to His interests, a love that …will make us delight in serving Him in His poor, and in His neglected ones, that will teach us patience with their faults and how in loving charity to help them overcome these. »
( Letter on St Joseph )
[Originally, this work was a Meditation on St Joseph written by Mary MacKillop while she was in Queensland in 1870.
She repeated it as a Circular Letter to the Sisters on St Joseph’s Day, 19 March 1893. It is presented here in an adapted form, while it remains faithful to her thought, wording and expression]
Since it has pleased our good and gracious God to call us into the (Church as Christians), and place us under the direct protection of the glorious foster father of His divine Son, let us consider some of St Joseph’s most striking privileges. In every circumstance of his life we see his shining virtues, and there are some in particular upon which we may dwell with much profit.
St Joseph, our Protector
From our very infancy St Joseph has watched over us all with a father’s love; for, in that early time, Jesus pointed us out to him as his future children, as those whom, in the course of years, He would place under the care of His own dear foster father. We are indeed favoured, to have him as our Protector.
St Joseph has brought us through many storms and dangers, and by his constancy of heart he has guided us. He continues to be our father, and his love for us is greater than ever. Great and powerful as he is now in heaven, honoured and loved as he is there, he still pleads most powerfully for our wants, he helps us in all our temptations and sufferings.
We, in our turn, have him as our guide and example in pursuit of perfection; his humble and hidden life is our model. We need to make ourselves faithful children of so perfect a father, and we can only do this by faithfully imitating his rare and hidden virtues. With so powerful an advocate and father we are indeed well off, and now our only sorrow is that we cannot dwell upon all his virtues as our hearts would wish; we must select those in which we feel ourselves most called upon to imitate him.
St Joseph’s humility
First of all, as the sure foundation of his other virtues, we must admire his wondrous humility. Who, in the sight of heaven and of the holy souls on earth, capable of comprehending so great a mystery, was so highly honoured as St Joseph, the spouse of the Immaculate Mother of God, and for so many years the representative of the eternal Father to His divine Son on earth?
To no other soul (save his Immaculate Spouse) before or since, were such mighty graces given as to him. Yet, he whom both the Mother and the Son of God loved and obeyed was humble, simple and retiring as a small child. The more the eternal Father exalted him, the more the Immaculate Heart of his spouse esteemed him, and the more the divine Child loved to honour and obey him, so much more did the humble heart of our revered Patron sink back into the thought of this own nothingness and place himself in spirit beneath the mercy of his God whose wondrous will had submitted His own loved Son to the dominion of such as he felt himself to be.
No wonder St Joseph’s humility endeared him to the heart of his Immaculate Spouse. No wonder that Jesus, the meek and humble of heart, loved him for it. St Joseph’s was a quiet humility, grounded on submission to the adorable will of God. It was a humility which enabled him not to question the mighty designs of God in his favour, humility of heart, not of words.
St Joseph accepted exalted honour
His humility of heart did not hinder him in obedience to the voice of God from putting himself forward as an aspirant to the honour of union with Mary. Had his not been true humility of heart which thought not of man’s opinion, but sought only to please heaven, he would not, nay, could not have claimed the hand of that beauteous Virgin whom, even the young and old regarded with a singular veneration for which they could not account.
May we not well believe that many thought him, the hard-working carpenter, anything but humble in thus putting himself forward for an honour which the youngest and richest among the children of Israel alike coveted?
May we not also easily imagine what it cost his humble heart to do this. But blessed be God, his truly humble heart obeyed the inspiration, he wanted no reasoning, no cogent motives to induce him to do this. He paused not one moment to think how men would regard this act. Humbly hidden in the will of God, the noble heart of St Joseph did not know the difference between the esteem or the censure of creatures.
St Joseph, worthy of being chosen
Thus has he made his heart worthy of being chosen by the eternal Father as the guardian of the Immaculate Mother of His divine Son. We cannot pause to dwell on the several actions of this life in which this most beautiful virtue most appeared. Indeed, save what we may conjecture, so much care had he taken to hide his humility that little, very little is related of one who held so high a position in the Holy Family as did our glorious Patron.
For his humility above all other virtues is he dear to the Sacred Heart of his foster Son, and in this virtue we must faithfully imitate him before we can hope to become dear to the same loving Heart.
Joseph, our model in God
Dead to the world and its hollow way of thinking, dead to its esteem, praise or censure must we become, alive only to the longing desires of God, performing all our actions, joining in the crowd, or shrinking from it, receiving the blind praise of creatures or their severest criticism, all alike, all in God and for God. We hide our poor weak wills completely in the Heart of Jesus, as that of our glorious father ever was.
In imitation then, of our great Patron, let our words be few, let us avoid excusing ourselves from any office on the plea of our unworthiness, let us carefully avoid talking of ourselves either in terms of praise or censure.
St Joseph’s humility, silent
His humility was of the silent kind; he did not heed the esteem of men. For us, any other more plausible kind of humility, though highly commendable, in some rare cases will be fraught with danger, simply because it is not of the kind taught by our holy Patron and model. His is that humility which, not consisting in words, hides itself, seen in the human heart by God alone, because it is silent.
St Joseph’s poverty
Not in humility alone, however, do we admire our glorious father. What does he teach us in his poverty? Or can it be that he, in the exercise of his duties as a poor artisan did not know what real poverty was? Never was there one so poor in spirit or desire as St Joseph, never one in whom the virtue of poverty shone with more splendour in the sight of heaven.
He had his trade, he was not a spendthrift. He earned enough to keep the family above want, and yet he often suffered. What was far harder for him, he saw his most pure spouse and her divine Son suffer all the privations of the most rigorous poverty in the stable of Bethlehem and during the sojourn in Egypt.
St Joseph, poor in spirit
It is the poverty of his noble heart, so poor, so stripped of everything, so detached, that we must now admire, and in which we must strive to imitate him. It is not because he was a humble carpenter, and had to earn his bread by such hard labour, it is not because he could not find another birthplace for the divine Child than the stable, nor yet because he had to toil for the Child and His mother in the land of the stranger; it is not in these things that we can most see the poverty of our glorious father.
St Joseph’s complete abnegation
It is in the complete abnegation of his heart, in its total forgetfulness of self, in its death to all human desires, in its impossibility of unduly esteeming himself, that we see St Joseph’s poverty of spirit. Let us watch carefully over the desires and motions of our hearts, for often we may appear in the eyes of creatures to be poor in spirit, whilst the pure searching eye of God finds not the shadow even of that virtue in our hearts. Like St Joseph’s, let us see whether our hearts are truly empty, stripped of all things, detached from all, even the smallest things, and like his, centred in God alone.
St Joseph’s confidence in God
Again we see in our holy Patron a perfect mirror of confidence in God and submission to His adorable will. How wonderful was his unbounded confidence in God! How perfect was his heart and will in submission to the mysterious designs of God! His noble heart never faltered, never was deterred by the most trying obstacles, from proceeding at once to the accomplishments of divine commands.
It was enough that a certain path or line of duty was pointed out to him, and if difficulties seemed to beset his path, if want and privation of the most trying kind threatened all he held most dear, nothing daunted, humbly, firmly relying upon Providence, he courageously and without a moment’s delay, embraced the will of God. In his humble heart, he rejoiced as he saw each of these difficulties silently dwindling into nothing, and leaving behind them lasting memorials of the mysterious ways of God.
Let us be untiring in our humble efforts to obtain grace to imitate St Joseph in those two shining virtues, unbounded confidence in God and submission to His holy will. Let no obstacle deter us from proceeding with courage in the path marked out for us. It may sometimes be very dark and full of many windings, but a beautiful bright light shines at the end of the path, a few more windings will bring us to it. It is the light of unbounded confidence in God our loving Father, accompanied as it always is with sweet humble submission to our eternal Father’s adorable will.
Let us come then, to our most holy Patron, St Joseph and implore him to obtain for us grace to become yet perfect imitators of him in this, which during his life, made him so dear to the Blessed Trinity.
St Joseph, guardian of Jesus and Mary
Let us now consider St Joseph as loving guardian of Mary and protector of her divine Child. While doing this, we do not forget with how much deep meaning he has been given to us as our model in the discharge of our external duties in our ministry towards others. The tender solicitude of our holy Patron for the comfort and welfare of Mary and Jesus was a matter of joy and admiration for the whole heavenly court. In his conduct the angels admired the wisdom of the heavenly Father who had selected and prepared St Joseph’s noble heart for the office he so worthily filled. As the protector of her Child, St Joseph was all that Mary could have desired, and what was he not to the Child himself!
We know what a good and tender earthly father is to a devoted child, how all the warm, ardent affections of such a child centre in the love of such a father; we know how he delights in being with him, near him, how, when he feels his infant steps tottering, he looks to his father for help; and we know how, in his turn, the good father raises him in his arms and nestles the child to himself.
Any picture we can draw of an earthly father’s or child’s love falls short of giving a just expression to the wonderful love which St Joseph felt for the divine Child, so mysteriously confided to his care by the eternal Father.
Imagine the Holy Family
Let us imagine we see St Joseph at the close of a day’s severe toil, during which he was cheered by the voice of Jesus, to which he turns to that beloved One, and with deep emotion receives Him in his arms. Observe the joy of Jesus, as, feeling Himself in the arms He loves so well, He lays His head upon his bosom. How honoured was St Joseph, how deep his love for Mary and Jesus! There was nothing that his devoted heart refused, or could refuse either of them. And there was nothing that either of them could refuse him who so faithfully guarded them.
What confidence then should we not have in the unfailing intercession of him whom our good and merciful God has given us as a father and protector. Let us ask St Joseph for such love that will enable us to live in perfect charity and love, aiding and mutually encouraging one another in the thorny yet strangely sweet path marked out for each of us to follow.
This love of Jesus whom our glorious Patron so loved, will render us incapable of harbouring one thought contrary to that loving charity which they have set us such examples. Let us become worthy of St Joseph, who, for so many years and under so many trying circumstances, was always faithful to his noble offices of watchful guardian and spouse of Mary and tender devoted earthy father of Jesus, Son of the eternal Father.
(An Adapted Version – Sr Kath Burford rsj)