Australia finally has its first Saint!

On October 17, 2010 in Rome, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop was canonized. All of Australia is buzzing with excitement and pride, and even the usually cynical Australian secular media is proudly proclaiming that ‘our Mary’ at last is listed officially as a saint on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar – it is amazing what a unifying force national pride can be! Large gatherings of Australians in all of the major cities and small country towns where Saint Mary lived and taught (especially Penola, in South Australia where she founded her first school for poor children) celebrated the canonization, picnicking outdoors while watching the live-feed from Rome on big-screen TVs erected outside to cater for the crowds.

Saint Mary of the Cross was born in Melbourne in 1842 and at the age of 24, dedicated her life to God as the co-founder of a new religious order, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, whose purpose was to educate poor children. Living in poverty alongside those she served, Saint Mary of the Cross was famous for saying “never see a need without doing something about it”. She endured enormous challenges as she worked alongside Fr. Julian Tenison Woods to build her order of teaching nuns with an independent rule. The independence of the sisters was a matter which caused great consternation among the largely Irish clergy who ran the 19th century Australian church and wanted to control the sisters working in their dioceses. Saint Mary was even excommunicated briefly by the Bishop of Adelaide for refusing to allow the order’s rule to be changed to give the local clergy more authority over the order. Mary undertook a solo pilgrimage to Rome in 1873 in order to gain papal approval of her order’s rule. Pope Pius IX’s approval guaranteed the Josephites’ independence and freedom to set up schools, refuges for women, orphanages and hospices throughout Australia. After suffering a stroke in 1902, Saint Mary’s health declined until her death on August 8, 1909. She is buried in North Sydney where a shrine to her honour is visited by thousands of pilgrims daily.

It was marvellous to watch Saint Mary’s canonization live from Rome and to see the assembly peppered throughout with over 8,000 Australian pilgrims, while Aussies also played prominent roles in the liturgy as concelebrants, postulator, lector, servers, those processing with gifts and singing in the choir. The canonization rite was quite simple, the actual canonization occurring within the Introductory Rites following the Penitential Act and preceding the Gloria. Along with 5 other beati (Stanislaw Soltys – 1433-1489, Andre Bessette – 1845-1937, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola – 1845-1912, Guilia Salzano – 1846-1929, Battista da Varano – 1458-1524) Saint Mary MacKillop was canonized by the Holy Father who read the formula of canonization following the Litany of Saints, stating that the beati be declared definitively as saints and included in the book of saints, and that they are to be devoutly honoured among the saints. This was relatively new liturgical territory for many Australians, who previously have not had a particular reason to focus our attention so closely on this rite of the church. Witnessing one of our own finally canonized has a way of bringing new interest!

The booklet for the canonization is available on the Vatican website:


  1. The headline of this post, which is also the headline given in other media, is bothersome. I am certain that there have been, and are today, many saints in Australia. What is being reported here is on the first canonization of a saint from Australia. Especially as we ’round the bend to November 1, we should not forget “the holy men and women of every time and place”, surely including Australians, who are saints, even though not canonized.

    1. Wow – some people are negative! Can there be no ‘good news’ stories or headlines on this blog? Celebrating the canonization of the first Australian does not detract from the lives and work of all of the other unsung and uncanonized saints in Australia and elsewhere. Some things are simply good news!

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