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Mary Helen MacKillop

(1842—1909) Roman Catholic nun


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Julian Edmund Tenison-Woods (1832—1889) Roman Catholic priest and scientist

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(1842–1909),

foundress, Australia's first saint. Born of Scottish parents, the eldest of eight children, she worked as a teacher at Penola in South Australia where she met Julian Tenison Woods, a priest who became the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. This congregation, approved in 1868, was to provide education to poor children and orphanages.

There was trouble with the local bishops, who accused her of insubordination. They even excommunicated her and dispensed about 50 nuns from their vows: in effect they were disbanded in the diocese. By now there were 24 schools and nearly 130 nuns in Australia. The Bishop of Adelaide, who was a near alcoholic, revoked the penalties against her and her nuns just before his death. With his blessing, she went to Rome, where Pius IX received her kindly. He recognized her extraordinary ability and generosity of spirit, which extended also to prostitutes and unmarried mothers. It is noteworthy that the papal hierarchy supported Mary against the local bishops, who were too concerned with the recognition of their own authority, and her subsequent cures and canonization vindicated the Pope's actions.

Mary MacKillop is now recognized as a pioneer in education which she brought to all classes, faiths, and ethnicities, including Aboriginals. As the first ever Australian saint, she is particularly venerated in her home country. At her death, her order had 106 convents and 750 nuns. There are now around 850 sisters living in seven countries from Australia to Brazil. She was canonized in 2010. Feast: 12 August.

B.L.S. (Concise edn.) 372–5; A. Wilson (ed.), Mary Mackillop: a Tribute (1995); P. Gardiner S.J., An Extraordinary Australian: Mary Mackillop: The Authorised Biography (1993).

Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History — Christianity.


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