By Megan Sayer
We’ve been hearing so much lately about the canonization of Mary MacKillop, but not so much about her life and contribution to Australia’s history. Here are a few interesting facts about Our Mary.
She was a pioneer
At the age of 18 Mary moved to Penola, South Australia, to work as a governess. There was no school there, and the few schools that were around cost money. Mary co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph and, operating out of an old stable, started the first of many free schools in the area. Three years later she was in charge of 72 Sisters, operating 21 schools in remote areas.
Mary welcomed everyone who wanted to be taught, and insisted that the Indigenous children in her schools be taught in the same classrooms as the white children. This smacked up hard against the conventional attitude of the day, and caused Mary a lot of trouble in the community, but she refused to back down.
Later on, when she moved to Adelaide, she started homeless shelters, homes for unmarried mothers and refuges for women escaping domestic violence – the first of their kind in Australia.
She was once excommunicated
Word spread quickly about Mary’s schools, and requests came from all over asking for Sisters to come and teach. Mary’s bishop didn’t approve of this new form of religious order that didn’t keep nuns together in a convent, and took control. Mary fought against this, and was, for a time, kicked out of the church because of it.
She had a bad temper
Mary was a redhead with Scottish blood, and inherited the temperament of her controversial father. As a child she’d watched her father lose job after job because of arguments, and she and her mother had had to work hard to support their family. She saw how much suffering was caused by an angry person, and worked hard to control hers for the sake of those around her.
She wasn’t one for fuss, especially about herself
What would Mary think of the canonization? Chances are she’d be pleased with the publicity about the Sisters and their work, but uncomfortable with the idea of people making too much of HER. She’d probably want the money spent on the ceremony and celebrations to be given to the poor, and hope that others are inspired to get involved with making a difference in whatever way they can.
Author Pamela Freeman spent over six years researching Mary MacKillop’s early life for her historical novel, The Black Dress, and recently shared her findings in an interview with Sheridan Voysey from Sydney’s Hope FM. You can listen to the interview here