St Mary most human: the full story of Mary MacKillop released

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Congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart Sr Mary Cavanagh RSJ and the editor of the new, official two volume biography of St Mary MacKillop, Fr Peter Joseph. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart Sr Mary Cavanagh RSJ and the editor of the new, official two volume biography of St Mary MacKillop, Fr Peter Joseph. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

She was as great as St Teresa of Avila and so down-to-earth that every Australian felt something on the day of her canonisation.

So heard the audience at the launch of The Life of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842-1909, the full and official biography of Australia’s first saint.

The work’s author and one-time postulator of Mary MacKillop’s cause, Fr Paul Gardiner SJ, was five years in the researching, and five years in the writing of the text, which was first printed and handed to the Sisters of St Joseph and to the bishops of Australia in 1989.

Fr Peter Joseph, parish priest of St Dominics in Flemington, spent many years preparing the text for this new and expanded publication, increasing its indices and adding explanatory notes with the hope that all Catholics would get the chance to read and enjoy it.

“When you read the life of our saint you will see her greatness for yourself,” Fr Joseph said.

“You will see that she is as great as St Teresa of Avila who refounded the Carmelites … as great as any of the other 19th century foundresses”.

The congregational leader of the order St Mary MacKillop founded – the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart – Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ said the now two-volume work had greatly influenced her own understanding and appreciation of the saint.

“I hope, if you get a chance to read this biography, that you too come to know Mary MacKillop as I have come to know Mary MacKillop, as a woman who lived faithfully the gospel in this land,” Sr Cavanagh said.

“You get a great sense of this purely human woman … One of the most outstanding things about her was her capacity to reverence the dignity of everyone she encountered … Mary really believed that every encounter was an opportunity to see the face of God.

“[She] brought the Gospel to life,” Sr Cavanagh said. “You know Pope Francis, aren’t we seeing a lot about how to live the Gospel from him. It’s not in what he is saying, is it? It’s in what he is doing, in the way he’s reaching out to people … And I think that is what people saw in Mary.

“She sought out the lost. She bandaged up the wounded. She brought healing to those who were sick and brought the light of Christ to the places of human misery, darkness and despair.”

She said many visitors to Mary’s tomb in North Sydney had told her of their affection for the saint, as someone who knew what it meant to be human, in struggling and sometimes questioning, and having to rely on the goodness of God in times of trial and grave illness.

Fr Gardiner, 91, was not able to be at the launch but sent a video message explaining the work’s gestation.

The Life of St Mary of the Cross publication was only made possible by a large number of volunteers and a few generous donors, none of whom wanted acknowledgement.

(Sizeable donations have meant that the book is being offered at half the cost of producing it).

“In the gospel the Lord commends such humility and flight from earthly honours. May God himself reward them,” Fr Joseph said.

The limited edition, two-volume work, The Life of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842 – 1909, is available from Mustard Seed Bookshop – 02 9646 9000

More photographs of the launch are available here.