By Terrie Yule
August the 8th marks the Feast Day of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in the 150th year of the arrival of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart to NSW. For many of us who were taught by the ‘brown joeys’ as they were affectionally known or have the good fortune to work in school communities that were established by women of this Australian born order – it’s a bit of a big deal. The sharing of their charism and ensuring its enduring nature is squarely in the hands of those who work and minister in school and parish communities founded by the good Sisters. Catholic Education in this country owes a great debt of gratitude to Mary MacKillop and the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph, Fr Julian Tenison Woods. Their back story is worth retelling.
With the infectious enthusiasm of Fr Woods and Mary’s deep desire to serve God in the poor, together they created a partnership that would flourish long enough to see an Australian order of nuns who would be different to some of the European nuns that existed overseas. In March 1866 the first of hundreds of schools founded by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart was opened in Penola, South Australia, led by Mary with 33 students. The initial plan was relatively simple: they would establish schools wherever there was a need. The only flaw in the plan was that the need was extraordinarily great – in the bush areas as well as the city areas.
As the beneficiaries of those who went before us, we are the keepers of our history, and we owe the trailblazers, the founding men and women, who gave their all to establish centres of Christian faith and education. Their legacies permit us to continue to minister and teach in the faith, seen through the lens of the charism of those whose vision and energy gave rise to the Order. They created school, they created communities – but they did more than that – they created families.
At St Luke’s we shared in a whole school Mass on the Feast of Mary MacKillop. Our students engaged in activities to promote and share Mary’s stories with our community. The parents and carers are invited on a guided tour of Mary MacKillop Place Museum later this month as a way of connecting with each other and our Patronal Saint. Members of our Mini-Vinnie’s joined with 10 of our staff to mark National Homelessness Week with a Winter Stay Out evening highlighting the plight of homelessness and our call to honour the Josephite charism of justice, dignity, liberation and love. With our students, our parents, our staff and representatives of the local St Vincent de Paul Conference, we will continue to challenge each other and engage together in ways that will call us to live out our promise to do more and to be more, as the face of Christ for others. ‘Mother’ Mary MacKillop was a spirited, no nonsense, common sense, grass roots woman who read the signs of the times and reached out to where the need was. In our own way, in a community that is all about family and faith, inspired by the Spirit, we are encouraging our children to set the world on fire, starting in our own part of town.
Terrie Yule is the Family Faith Educator at St Luke’s Catholic Primary School Revesby