St Mary of the Cross MacKillop would tell young Australians to face today’s difficulties with courage, Josephite congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ said on the saint’s feast, held on 8 August.
Thousands gathered at the former Sydney home and resting place of Australia’s first and only canonised saint, bringing their sick, their children, and flowers for the tomb of the trailblazing religious woman on which are engraved her words, “Remember we are but travellers here”.
Sr Monica said the feast day of the Sisters of St Joseph’s co-founder is always a beautiful occasion and a time to reflect.
“Today I think she would want to tell people to trust in God, especially when things are tough, to hang in there,” Sr Monica said.
“She knew how to face with courage the difficult times in her life and she remained faithful in that, very steadfast, but it didn’t mean she didn’t find it hard.
“Sometimes she wrote about how difficult it was. There’s a lovely story of her in her diary when she was in Scotland. She wrote, ‘I was so tired tonight I cried myself to sleep.’
“So I think she would encourage young people in particular to find the small opportunities of life and to discover the potential in what life gives you.
“Even though things might be quite difficult she would have confidence in them to make a difference in the world.”
At the sacred North Sydney site, a cool and drizzly morning gave way to sunshine just in time for the first of two large outdoor Masses.
The chapel was full for an early morning Mass as well, with some people making a pilgrimage for the day from places such as Mudgee, Canberra and Melbourne, after which a constant stream of people arrived to kneel by the saint’s tomb for some quiet moments of prayer.
Nadia Khadi, a parishioner at St Maroun’s Maronite Catholic Cathedral Redfern, came with a busload of friends from her parish and others with a special place for St Mary in their hearts.
Nadia and her friends try to visit St Mary’s chapel every month.
“We come to be blessed, and to pray for sick people. Some people in our group are Muslim—Mary is everyone’s mother,” she said.
“Our prayers are always answered, one hundred percent, we have to always have faith and trust. And it’s very beautiful here.”
The co-founder of her congregation, with Fr Julian Tenison-Woods, was dedicated to educating underprivileged children, and also opened orphanages and women’s refuges. She was canonised in 2010.
Jane Woolford, CEO of Mary MacKillop Today said the organisation continues St Mary’s legacy in many ways including providing literacy resources and teacher training for schools in Timor-Leste, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university scholarships in Australia.
“Where Mary and the sisters literally built schools by going out and teaching children, we’re taking the next step with new ways of ensuring there is quality education for all,” she said.