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Faith and Miracles


“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”

According to the bible, when Jesus rocked up at a meeting of his disciples after he had been declared dead, Thomas could not believe his eyes.

John 20:24-29 (New International Version)

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

And that last sentence got me thinking. Especially with the recent canonisation of Mary MacKillop. Now I am not a Catholic, but I felt the need to say something about this woman and talk about faith and miracles.

For some reason, there seems to be a need in the Catholic Church to instill the need for faith into the congregations it preaches to. But then itself requires more than faith for them to make a person a saint.

Mary MacKillop was by all accounts an Aussie thru and thru. If she was a wrestler or a cyclist, she would give the finger to the authorities and she did. Mary was the eldest of eight children, all who had a strong connection to the Roman Catholic faith. Her own father was almost ordained as a priest but the flesh was weak as they say.

Her father, Alexander, had been educated in Rome for the Catholic priesthood but, at the age of 29, left just before his ordination. He decided to migrate to Australia and arrived in Sydney in 1838.[6] Her mother, Flora MacDonald, had left Scotland and arrived in Melbourne in 1840.[6] Alexander and Flora married in Melbourne on 14 July 1840 and had eight children: Mary (the eldest), Margaret (“Maggie”) (1843–1872), John (1845–1867), Annie (1848–1929), Alexandrina (“Lexie”) (1850–1882), Donald (1853–1925), Alick who died only 11 months old, and Peter (1857–1878).[6] Donald would later become a Jesuit priest and work among the aborigines in the Northern Territory, and Lexie would become a nun.


It is clear that faith was strong in the MacKillop household. But it was not the real reason she should be proclaimed a saint. It was her actions through her faith.

Founding of school and religious order

MacKillop stayed for two years with the Camerons of Penola before accepting a job teaching the Cameron children of Portland, Victoria. Later she taught at the Portland school and after opening her own boarding school, ‘Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies’, now Bayview College, in 1864,[8] was joined by the rest of her family. While teaching at Portland, Father Woods invited MacKillop and her sisters Annie and Lexie to come to Penola and open a Catholic school there.[6] In 1866, a school was opened in a stable and after renovations by their brother, the MacKillops started teaching more than fifty children. In the same year, at age 25, she adopted the religious name Sister Mary of the Cross.[9][10]

In 1867, MacKillop became the first sister and mother superior of the newly formed order of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart,[6]and moved to the new convent in Grote Street, Adelaide. There, they founded a new school at the request of Bishop Laurence Sheil.[7]Dedicated to the education of the children of the poor, it was the first religious order to be founded by an Australian. The rules written up by Father Woods and MacKillop for the sisters to live by were: an emphasis on poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings, and faith that God would provide and the sisters would go wherever they were needed.[6] The rules were approved by Bishop Sheil. By the end of 1867, ten other sisters had joined the Josephites.[6]

Mary attracted followers not because she could walk on water or heal the sick, but she devoted her life to others. We hear talk about greats of business who dedicate their lives to their tasks, but very rarely do we we acknowledge the dedication of a life solely to others. And for no financial reward. Mary seemed hell bent at a confrontation with the hierarchy of a religion which celebrated the wealth of the church and the church’s desire to demonstrate their faith with their gold. It seemed ex-communication would be the reward for this outspoken women who continued to give the finger to those who thought they stood between her and her God.

Another more sinister and recently alleged reason for the ex-communication was her campaign to remove a priest from a parish for alleged abuse of children. This woman had the balls. She dared to shake the way the church worked.

In early 1870, members of the Josephites heard of allegations that Father Keating, of Kapunda parish to Adelaide‘s north, had been sexually abusing children.[14] The Josephites informed Father Woods, who in turn informed the vicar general Father John Smyth, who ultimately sent Keating back to Ireland.[14] The reason for Keating’s dismissal was publicly thought to be alcohol abuse.[15] Keating’s former Kapunda colleague Father Charles Horan was angered by Keating’s removal, and there is evidence to suggest he sought vengeance against Woods by attacking the Josephites.[14] Horan became acting vicar general after the death of Smyth in June 1870, and from this position sought to influence Bishop Sheil.[15] Horan met with Sheil on 21 September 1871 and convinced him that the Josephites’ rules should be changed; the following day, when MacKillop apparently did not accede to the request, Sheil excommunicated her, publicly citing insubordination as the reason.[16][14] Whilst the Josephites were not disbanded, most of their schools were closed in the wake of this action.[16] The ABC claimed in September 2010 that MacKillop had been “banished after uncovering sex abuse”, and cited Father Paul Gardiner, chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre in evidence of this. Gardiner described this suggestion as false, saying “Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of Saint Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods, but Mary was in Queensland and no one was worried about her”.[17]

Shortly before his death, Sheil instructed Fr Hughes, on 23 February 1872, to lift the censure on MacKillop. He met her on his way toWillunga and absolved her in the Morphett Vale church.[11][16][18] Later, an Episcopal Commission completely exonerated her.

Even when excommunicated, Mary MacKillop had not lost her faith. She still continued her work.

At the time of her death in 1909, the order that had begun with her and her sister in South Australia had chapters in Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand.

Today there are around 850 sisters living and working throughout Australia (South AustraliaQueenslandNew South WalesVictoria and Western Australia) and New Zealand, as well as Ireland and Peru.

Now you would think that in and of itself would be enough to earn this woman some kudos. But the wheels in a large religion seem to barely move at times.

Canonisation process

Australian $1 Mary Mackillopcommemorative coinissued in 2008

In 1925, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of St Joseph, Mother Laurence, began the process to have MacKillop declared a saint and Michael Kelly, Archbishop of Sydney, established a tribunal to carry the process forward. After several years of hearings, close examination of MacKillop’s writings and a 23 year delay, the initial phase of investigations was completed in 1973. After further investigations, MacKillop’s ‘heroic virtue‘ was declared in 1992. The process for determining this declaration is internal to the church, and conducted by those in senior positions.

That same year, it was considered that MacKillop’s intercession to God had been responsible for the recovery of an apparently dying woman in 1961; the patient was still alive and healthy in 1995. The decree on the miracle was read in 1993 and MacKillop was beatified on 19 January 1995 by Pope John Paul II.[9] For the occasion of the beatification, acclaimed Croatian-Australian artist Charles Billich was commissioned to paint the official commemorative portrait of Mary MacKillop.[20]

On 19 December 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued papal decree recognising a second miracle, the complete and permanent cure of an Australian woman of lung and secondary brain cancer.[21] Her forthcoming canonisation was announced on 19 February 2010, and is due to occur on 17 October 2010.[3] This will make her the first Australian saint.[4]

Events to mark the Canonisation of Mary Mackillop will take place around Australia on 17 October 2010, including a major public celebration in her birthplace, Melbourne. A morning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne will be followed by a parade from her birthplace to theRoyal Exhibition Building, where a festival of celebration will take place and, from 7pm Australian EST, including a live telecast from Rome of the Canonisation by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica.[22]

In the week leading up to her canonisation, the Australian Federal government announced that it is protecting the use of Mackillop’s name for commercial purposes. This will be enacted through amendments of the Corporations Regulations Act, and will block companies from calling themselves names that include “Mary MacKillop” or “Saint MacKillop”; and other terms such as “Our Mary” might be blocked, depending on circumstances and the rest of the name.[23] According to a statement from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office, the only other individual Australian’s name with similar protection is Australian cricket legend, Sir Donald Bradman.[24]

And there I lay the book ends for my posts today. Coincidentally I also started the day talking about the dollar and Don Bradman. Well. if you believe in coincidences 🙂 (see

But before I end my scrawlings and my exorbitant cutting and pasting from wikipedia, I want to return to the start of this one.

Miracles did not drive this woman. Her faith did. Even though I am skeptical about miracles, I am awed by her faith. For that reason alone I say congratulations,

Saint Mary MacKillop.

A. Ghebranious  2010   All Rights Reserved

  1. we gon’ party tonight

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