Our next saint in the making

The portrait of Eileen from which this week’s front cover is taken is thought to have been completed in 1920 for presentation to the seven founding members of Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor on 10 April that year.

The official process which could lead to Australia’s next saint has begun with the appointment of a postulator to oversee the cause for beatification of Sydney woman, Eileen O’Connor.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP announced the significant appointment of Australian priest, Fr Anthony Robbie, who is currently based in Rome as postulator, which is the person who guides the cause for beatification or canonisation through the judicial processes set out by the Church.

The major development comes after decades of speculation and petitioning by Catholics, particularly in Sydney, where she lived her short life and co-founded the order of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor.

Eileen died aged 28 in 1921 after a life of terrible illness.

Importantly, it also officially launches the cause for Australia’s next saint, after St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop, with documentation signed by Archbishop Fisher being recently sent to the Vatican, seeking a ‘nihil obstat’ or ‘no objection’ to Eileen’s cause.

The only other known cause for sainthood for an Australian currently being investigated at that level is for Melbourne-born doctor and religious sister, Mary Glowery JMJ, who was declared a Servant of God in 2013 in India, where she spent most of her life. Her cause is being run from India where her postulator was appointed.

“I am very pleased to announce this next step in the cause of Eileen O’Connor,” said Archbishop Fisher.

“Eileen was a young woman who received the love of God, multiplied it in her heart, and passed it on to others. It is my hope that the heroic and saintly example of Eileen O’Connor will inspire everyone to live faithful lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

The order co-founded by Eileen said they are “delighted” by the news.

“We welcome this joyful news with great gratitude to God – and we joyfully thank all the sisters, volunteers, benefactors and everyone who has walked with us in any capacity in our long journey,” said former congregational leader and Eileen O’Connor Centenary Project Leader, Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln.

“Our congregation has been praying for this marvellous news ever since Eileen died in 1921. Many people consider her to be a ‘saint-in-waiting’.”

Born in Melbourne in 1892, Eileen O’Connor was crippled by a fall that injured her spine when aged three. She was largely paralysed for several years and remained in constant pain, which was later attributed to Pott’s Disease – tuberculous osteomyelitis.

Her family moved to Sydney’s eastern suburb of Coogee when Eileen was aged 10, and it was from there along with a local priest they established in 1913 a ministry, Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor, to tend to the sick and poor.

In 1936, 15 years after Eileen’s death her coffin was removed from Randwick Cemetery to the chapel at Our Lady’s Home in Coogee, during which her body was found to be incorrupt. It has not been verified since.

The decision to appoint a postulator came after 18 months of research by Most Rev Tony Randazzo, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, who was tasked with investigating and assessing whether the cause should proceed.

“He [Archbishop Fisher] asked me to look at her life with a theological and canonical eye and to evaluate the historical evidence that we have, both in the archdiocese and beyond,” said Bishop Randazzo.

“Having spent many months doing that and praying about it I was able to recommend confidently to the Archbishop that he proceed with the case.”

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