Mary MacKillop Place

Mary Mackillop Place

Mary Mackillop place, Sydney, AustraliaMary Mackillop Place is a site dedicated to the life of Mary Mackillop.

The Life of Mary Mackillop

The eldest of eight children, Mary was born Maria Ellen MacKillop on the 15th January 1842 in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Her parents were Scottish immigrants who had arrived to the Australian Colonies in the late 1830's. Mary's early life was fraught with many challenges following her father’s misfortunes and subsequently loss of the family fortune. As a result her family had to rely heavily on the help of relatives. By the age of fourteen Mary left home to find work to help support the family. It was during this time that Mary decided that she wanted to devote the rest of her life to helping the poor and underprivileged, by becoming a nun. With great enthusiasm Mary went to work as a governess, in the small town of Penola in South Australia. In 1861 she met a Catholic priest, Father Julian Woods and together they opened Australia's first free Catholic school. Mary's desire to become a nun had grown stronger, yet she was still to find an order that suited her.

Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Mary MacKillop's writing desk, Sydney, AustraliaIn 1866 Mary MacKillop, with the assistance of Father Julian Tenison Woods, founded her own order, the 'Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph'. The name St Joseph was chosen by Father Woods in honour of the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The location of the first congregation was in a derelict horse stable on the outskirts of Penola. Mary negotiated with the local farmer to lease the stable for a small fee and with the assistance of her brother (who was a handy man) renovated the structure. They were to become the first Order in Australia founded specifically to teach Australia's poor. At this time, Australia was in the grips of the gold rush fever, with many men leaving their families in search of fortunes on the gold fields. Women were left for long periods of time to care for their children without any income or financial assistance. So many families were left in poverty. To make matters worse Australia was also experiencing very harsh weather conditions such as droughts which placed further financial pressures on farmers. Education became out of reach for many families especially those living in remote areas of the country. The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph's goal was to establish Catholic schools for children (especially in remote areas) and provide education for all, regardless of race, gender or social standing. Mary's road was not always a smooth one as she struggled to gain a voice in a male dominated vocation.

The Trouble With Mary

Mary MacKillop's tomb, Sydney, AustraliaFollowing the founding of the 'Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph', Mary took a vow of poverty, which meant that she and her followers would have to beg for money and refused State funding. This was something the Catholic church leaders in Australia were opposed to. However dispite great pressure from the church , Mary refused to change her ways.In 1867 Mary moved to Adelaide where she opened another school. It wouldn't be long before another 17 schools were opened. By this time the church had become increasingly unhappy with her self sufficiency and independence.

In September 1871 Mary was excommunicated from the Church by Bishop Sheil for alleged insubordination, however he later lifted the excommunication in 1873, shortly before his death.Over time Mary gained the respect and admiration from Bishops, the Catholic Church and the Pope for her work with the poor.

In 1883 Reverend Dean John Kenny gave Mary and the Sisters of St Joseph, Alma Cottage, located on Mount Street in North Sydney. Reverend Kenny was a friend of Mary MacKillop's father. The Cottage became the second Mother House of the Order at the General Chapter of the Sisters in 1889. Mary Mackillop died in the cottage from a stroke on the 8th of August, 1909. At the time of her death there were hundreds of St Joseph schools throughout Australia.

Beautification of Mary Mackillop

In January 1995 Pope John Paul II made a Papal visit to Australia. The main reason for his journey was for the Beatification of Mary Mackillop following the recognition of her first miracle. The Catholic church believed her intercession saved a woman dying of cancer. Beatification is the third of four stages in the journey to sainthood. Candidates advance from the title "Servant of God" to "Venerable," then "Blessed," before a candidate finally obtains the title of "Saint." On the 19th January at Randwick in Sydney over 250,000 people gathered to see Pope John Paull II perform the Beatification ceremony. The Pope spoke of the Beatification "I am truly glad that the first Beatification of an Australian citizen, an Australian woman, can take place right here, in Mary MacKillop's own beloved land". The Pontiff also went on to say " Mary MacKillop embodies all that is best in your nation and in its people". A traditional Aboriginal 'Smoking Ceremony' was performed by the Elders to symbolise cleansing and forgiveness. It was the first time a traditional Aboriginal Ceremony had ever been incorporated into a Papal Ceremony. Following the beatification Mary received the title Blessed. The mortal remains of Blessed Mary MacKillop were enshrined in the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel. The Chapel has become a place of pilgrimage, prayer and reflection.

The Miracles of the Blessed Mary MacKillop

To obtain the title of "Saint" the Catholic Church must recognise two miracles attributed to the Blessed Mary Mackillop. Mary's first miracle was recognised by the church in 1995 when a woman was cured of leukemia in 1961. The woman would go on to have six children and remain completely free of cancer. There has been many reported miracles attributed to Mary since her Beatification but so far none have been recognised by the church or the Vatican. It is the job of Adelaide Jesuit, Father Paul Gardiner (who is the Postulator for Mary MacKillop’s canonisation) to gather evidence that a miracle has taken place. In some cases it means he has to gather evidence from doctors who are often reluctant to claim recovery is due to a miracle rather than medical procedures.

The Road to Sainthood

In the late 70's a sixteen year old boy broke his back during a football game, losing all movement of his arms and legs. Specialists informed his family that he would be a paraplegic. The boy's local priest asked his congregation to pray to Mary Mackillop, for his recovery. The Sisters of St Joseph sent the boy a photograph of Mary which was pinned to a band around his wrist. Slowly movement came back to his fingers then his legs. Eighteen months later the boy had made a full recovery.

In 2003 a young boy reportedly recovered from a brain tumour following family prayers offered to Mary Mackillop.

In December of the same year three year old Sophie Delezio, was involved in a terrible accident when a car smashed into her preschool. Sophie received third-degree burns to more than 85 per cent of her body, losing her feet, fingers and an ear in the accident. Her chances of survival were extremely slim. Every time Sophie went into theatre for life threatening surgery her mother prayed to Mary Mackillop. Her survival has been claimed a miracle. Prior to the accident Sophie's mother had often prayed in the Chapel.

A recent note to this story On the 5th of May, 2006, Sophie Delezio was involved in yet another life threatening accident. Sophie was hit by a car as she was being wheeled across a pedestrian crossing in a stroller. The car was travelling at about 60km an hour when the accident occurred. Sophie was airlifted by helicopter from the scene and placed on life support. A candlelight vigil outside the hospital and prays from people across Australia began almost immediately following the news of the accident. To the surprise of medical staff and the nation the little girl, though sustaining serious injuries, had once again survived a life threatening accident.Only time will tell if little Sophie's series of miracles or one of the many other miracles reported, will eventually be recognised by the Vatican. For updates on the canonisation of Mary MacKillop you can visit the Sisters of St Joseph website.

Mary Mackillop Place

Location: 7 Mount Street, North Sydney
Ph: 8912 4878
Hours: daily 10am - 4pm
(closed Christmas Day, New Years Day, Good Friday)


GlobeVista wishes to thank Scott Jessup and Christine Richards for their kind assistance and permission in allowing us to film at 'Mary Mackillop Place'. For more information about the Blessed Mary MacKillop please visit the Mary MacKillop Place website.

For more information about Mary MacKillop's life and miracles we recommend reading; 'Mary MacKillop Unveiled' by Lesley O' Brien.