Australian nun hopes 2010 canonization inspires young to help poor

PERTH, Australia – A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart hopes the 2010 canonization of her order’s founder, Blessed Mary MacKillop, will encourage young people to act radically to help the poor.

St. Joseph Sister Pauline Morgan told The Record, Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, it was “quite remarkable” for Mother MacKillop, who set up her first school at age 24, to make significant change at such a young age in 19th-century Australia.

It was particularly extraordinary, Sister Pauline said, because Mother MacKillop – also called Blessed Mary of the Cross – had come from a poor family as the eldest of eight, whose father, in particular, ensured the family was well educated.

“She was a woman of courage – that’s the word I’d use – and a woman of action,” Sister Pauline said. “When she saw a need like the poor children not being educated, she worked to eventually set up schools … because if they didn’t get educated they wouldn’t be able to get on and get a start in life.

“Then when she saw elderly weren’t cared for on the streets, she set up a house called The Providence so they could he cared for,” Sister Pauline said, noting that Mother MacKillop also set up a house for unmarried mothers.

“Whenever there was a need she tried to do something about it,” she said.

On Dec. 19 Pope Benedict XVI formally signed a decree recognizing the miracle needed for Mother MacKillop’s canonization next year in Rome, although a date was not set.

Sister Pauline said she hoped the canonization would alert people to poverty, “putting it before our eyes so more people will respond in some way.”

“She is a role model for young people and for those who want to make a difference but are not sure how to do it. People of good will can tap into the good works of so many organizations around today,” she said.

Mother MacKillop will become Australia’s first saint. Born Jan. 15, 1842, in Fitzroy near Melbourne, she died in Sydney Aug. 8, 1909.

Although her sainthood cause was initiated in the 1920s, it faced some serious hurdles, not the least of which was her brief excommunication and the temporary disbanding of her religious order, which was committed to following poor farmworkers, miners and other laborers into remote areas of the country to educate their children. Local church officials disapproved of the sisters living in tiny, isolated communities – sometimes only two to a hut – frequently cut off from the sacraments in the remote Australian outback.

Within a few months of the sisters’ excommunication, the bishop who had initiated the act lifted his censure, and a church commission cleared the sisters of all wrongdoing.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.