Deputy Principal - Mission & Faith

Mary MacKillop

Monday 8 August 2016 was the Feast Day of Saint Mary of the Cross, Australia’s first and only saint!  It is opportune to reflect on her life and connection with the College.

Mary Helen MacKillop was born on 15 January 1842 in what is now the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Victoria  to Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald.

Mary started work at the age of 14 as a clerk in a stationery store in Melbourne.  To provide for her needy family, in 1860 she took a job as governessat the estate of her aunt and uncle, Alexander and Margaret Cameron in Penola, South Australia where she was to look after their children and teach them.  Already set on helping the poor whenever possible, she included the other farm children on the Cameron estate as well. This brought her into contact with Fr Woods, who had been the parish priest in the south east since his ordination to the priesthood in 1857.

Mary stayed for two years with the Camerons before accepting a job teaching the children of Portland, Victoria in 1862. Later she opening her own boarding school, Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies in 1864, was joined by the rest of her family.

Fr Woods had been very concerned about the lack of education and particularly Catholic education in South Australia. In 1866, he invited Mary and her sisters Annie and Lexie to come to Penola and to open a Catholic school.  Woods was appointed director of education and became the founder, along with Mary, of a school they opened in a stable there.  At this time Mary made a declaration of her dedication to God and began wearing black.

On 21 November 1866, the feast day of the Presentation of Mary, several other women joined Mary and her sisters. Mary adopted the religious name of Sister Mary of the Cross and she began wearing simple religious habits. The small group began to call themselves the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heat.  There they founded a new school at the request of the bishop.  Dedicated to the education of the children of the poor, it was the first religious institute to be founded by an Australian.

The "Rule of Life" developed by Fr Woods and Mary for the community emphasised poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings, faith that God would provide and willingness to go where needed.  The "Rule of Life" was approved by Bishop Sheil. By the end of 1867, ten other women had joined the Josephites, who adopted a plain brown religious habit. Due to the colour of their attire and their name, the Josephite sisters became colloquially known as the "Brown Joeys".

 In an attempt to provide education to all the poor, particularly in rural areas, a school was opened at Yankalilla, South Australia in October 1867. By the end of 1869, more than 70 members of the Sisters of St Joseph were educating children at 21 schools in Adelaide and the country. Mary and her Josephites were also involved with an orphanage; neglected children; girls in danger; the aged poor; a reformatory; and a home for the aged and incurably ill.  Generally, the Josephite sisters were prepared to follow farmers, railway workers and miners into the isolated outback and live as they lived.

Mary travelled to Rome in 1873 to seek papal approval for the religious congregation and was encouraged in her work by Pope Pius IX.

By 1877, it operated more than 40 schools in and around Adelaide, with many others in Queensland and New South Wales.

Pope Leo XIII gave official approval to the Josephites as a congregation in 1885, with its headquarters in Sydney.  He gave the final approval to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 1888.

Mary died on 8 August 1909 in the Josephite convent in North Sydney.  The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, stated that: "I consider this day to have assisted at the deathbed of a Saint."  She was laid to rest at the Gore Hill cemetery, a few kilometres up the Pacific Highway from North Sydney.

After Mary’s burial, people continually took earth from around her grave. As a result, her remains were exhumed and transferred on 27 January 1914 to a vault before the altar of the Virgin Mary in the newly built memorial chapel in Mount Street, Sydney.

Her canonisation was announced on 19 February 2010 and subsequently took place on 17 October 2010.  This made her the first Australian to be recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church.  An estimated 8,000 Australians were present in Vatican City to witness the ceremony.

On their arrival in Sunbury in 1927 the Salesians found the Josephites already present in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel through Sister Francis De Sales Mahoney.  She was one of the first three nuns to establish St Joseph’s Convent School (now Our Lady of Mount Carmel School) at Sunbury in 1916. Sister Francis was a music teacher at the school on her arrival and then took over the running of the convent. Sr Francis Mahoney taught many generations of Sunbury families and like many of the Josephite nuns, left behind her a loving and lasting impression. 

Today, Salesian College Sunbury is linked to this legacy of Mary MacKillop through MacKillop House and Mahoney House.

Mary MacKillop Prayer
Father, ever generous God,
You inspired Saint Mary MacKillop
to live her life faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and to be constant in bringing hope and encouragement
to those who were disheartened, lonely or needy.
With confidence in your generous providence
and joining with Saint Mary MacKillop
we ask that you bless Salesian College Sunbury.
We ask that our faith and hope be fired afresh by
the Holy Spirit
so that we too, like Mary MacKillop, may love with
courage, trust and openness.
Ever generous God hear our prayer.
We ask this through Jesus Christ.  Amen