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Thousands drawn to “very human” holiness of St Mary MacKillop

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Crowds at Mary MacKillop Place
Crowds attend one of the Masses held at Mary MacKillop Place on 8 August 2019. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Every August 8 you’ll find Eddy Borovnjak at the North Sydney chapel where Australia’s first saint is buried.

The Rydalmere parishioner comes each year on the feast of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop to thank her for helping free him of a painful chronic condition three and a half years ago.

Among the stories of spiritual and physical healing through the intercession of the saint, Eddy’s reveals the way she is so very known and loved, including non-Catholics, and one reason why up to 4000 people flock to her tomb on this one day alone each year.

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Eddy Borovnjak. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

“I had fibromyalgia and it nearly killed me,” said Mr Borovnjak, who says a chance conversation with a Muslim taxi driver changed his life.

“He told me you’ve got to go to this church in North Sydney. I didn’t know anything about this place or St Mary MacKillop,” he said. Later, remembering the man’s words, he went and prayed by the tomb of the Josephite foundress.

“While praying I heard the words, ‘Everything’s going to be ok, don’t worry about a single thing’. I went home and the next day when I woke up the pain was gone. The doctors said there was no medical explanation as there is no cure of fibromyalgia.”

As Eddy queued patiently for a moment of personal prayer at the saint’s tomb after Mass, others had gathered for lunch or looked around the museum to learn more about the woman who devoted her life to serving poor children and vulnerable women.

Born in Melbourne in 1842 Mary MacKillop grew to become a teacher, founder of schools and a religious order.

Pilgrims leave flowers for their saint in thanks for prayers answered through her intercession. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

With Fr Julian Tenison-Woods she co-founded the Congregation of Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart at Penola in 1866 in South Australia and her legacy continues today in education, welfare and social justice throughout the country and overseas.

“All these people come here with great faith and somehow there’s something about Mary that they can connect with in their own life,” says congregational leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Monica Cavanagh rsj.

Congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, Sr Monica Cavanagh. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“Sometimes they come here because they’re sick, sometimes they come in gratitude, some just to get a bit of encouragement.

“Mary was very human in lots of ways , and she had her holiness but hers was a very practical faith.”

As the Church and the world at large face multiple threats, including the progress of an abortion bill through NSW Parliament House not much more than a stone’s throw away, the push for euthanasia, the sexual abuse crisis, wars, violence and famines, Sr Monica believes the words of the saint to ‘Let no obstacles deter you from acting with courage’ are particularly apt.

“She did have her worries but she knew that trust in God was what was really mattered,” she said. “The other thing that is significant for me is that Mary had a deep sense that she was the beloved by God and that’s what enabled her love to flow out to others.”

Gaudencio and Leila Dos Santos. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

Gaudencio and Leila Dos Santos make the pilgrimage to the memorial chapel from their home in Liverpool on the eighth of every month almost without fail. Today they brought a bouquet of pink lilies to add to the flowers heaped alongside the saint’s marble tomb.

“When I arrived in Australia 19 years ago I heard about St Mary MacKillop and her support of our struggle for independence in Timor where we are from,” said Mrs Dos Santos.

“Every month we come to visit here and make some petitions and it always happens. Maybe my prayer is answered in a different way from how I expect but when you have faith and believe, something will happen, and then you look back and see how things have worked out.”

Dansy Kozah. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

Dansy Kozah, who belongs to the Maronite parish of St Mary’s at Redfern, said that her family has a strong devotion to St Mary.

“I visit every around three months,” Mrs Kozah said. “Personally, I am trying to fall pregnant, so today I came asking for this grace.”

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