Saint Mary MacKillop

Saint Mary MacKillop is the patron saint for – abuse victims and their families and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

I am so honored to re-introduce this beautiful Australian saint – Saint Mary Mackillop also known as Mary of the Cross.

The courage and love she had for all is so apparent through her strength, courage and acts of charity she displayed to the poor.

This amazing Saint was ex-communicated for urging the church to take action against a sex offender within the church.  As a result of this she was ex-communicated. Initially, it was thought that this was due to a punishment as a result of a conflict between her, a priest and the bishop, who cited insubordination as the official reason. At the time this was perceived as an extraordinary move against the foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

However, the truth is that Saint Mary Mackillop was ex-communicated out of ‘revenge’ in the words of one priest who was familiar with her life for her part and her orders part, in uncovering a case of sex abuse by a Father Keating in a nearby parish.

MacKillop and the Josephite sisters reported the abuse to the vicar-general [the bishop’s second-in-command] and disciplinary action was taken against Keating, humiliating him and angering a Father Charles Horan, who was close to Bishop Sheil. Horan is believed to have harbored a grudge against MacKillop and the whistle blowers in her order, and used his influence over the bishop to manipulate him into throwing the nun out of the church. Bishop Sheil did however revoke the punishment on his death bed some five months later, according to official accounts.

But one only imagine how much strength of character and absolute conviction in doing what was right, it would of taken for Saint Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart to stand out against the Priest, in defense of those abused. To have the voices of those abused heard and the offenders held accountable.  What courage and strength that would of taken.

I am proud and honored she is our Australian Saint – thankyou Saint Mary MacKillop for doing what was right especially in the face of adversity. Thankyou.

Saint Mary MacKillop’s Story

Mary was an Australian woman, of Scottish descent, born in Melbourne in 1842. Mary grew up in a family that faced constant financial struggles. As a young woman she became concerned that so many children in rural Australia could not afford to be educated. Mary knew that education was a key to freedom and that it was unfair that so many children should be denied access to education.

Mary was drawn to religious life but could not find an existing order of Sisters that met her needs. In 1860, she met Father Julian Woods, who became her spiritual director. Together with her friend, Fr Julian Tennis on Woods, she developed a plan for starting up schools for children caught in the poverty trap. Her dream was to tap their human potential and draw them closer to Jesus Christ.

Saint Mary MacKillop statue

She gathered other like-minded girls and young women and put her plan into action. Together they founded a new community of women—the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Josephite Sisters. Its members were to staff schools especially for poor children, as well as orphanages, and do other works of charity.

These women became the community of religious sisters known as the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Their work had marvelous results. But it also aroused opposition. Mary was persecuted and criticised. Sometimes by malicious gossip in the press. Sometimes by her own friends. Sometimes by people in high places. Her priest-friend proved unreliable in many ways and his responsibilities for direction of the Sisters were removed. At one point, the bishop in South Australia, aging and relying on others for advice, wrongfully excommunicated her—charging her with disobedience—and dispensed 50 of her Sisters from their vows. Mary, and her companions were shattered. But they patiently endured the ordeal and after six months the bishop realized his mistake and withdrew the excommunication.

Mary insisted that her congregation should be governed by an elected mother general answerable to Rome, not to the local bishop. There also were disputes about whether or not the congregation could own property. In the end, Rome proved to be Mary’s best source of support. After a long wait official approval of the congregation—and how it was to be governed—came from Pope Leo XIII.

Despite her struggles with Church authorities, Mary MacKillop and her Sisters were able to offer social services that few, if any, government agencies in Australia could. They served Protestants and Catholics alike. They worked among the aborigines. They taught in schools and orphanages and served unmarried mothers.

Money, actually the lack of it, was a constant worry. But the Sisters who begged from door to door, were bolstered by faith and by the conviction that their struggles were opportunities to grow closer to God.

By the time Mary was approaching the end of her life, the congregation was thriving. She died in 1909 at the age of 67. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1995. In 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI canonized her, she became Australia’s first saint. Her Liturgical Feast Day is August 8.

If Saint Mary MacKillop were alive today, she would be a household name. It’s not that she sought the limelight. On the contrary, she simply wanted to serve the poor wherever she found them in her native Australia. But along the way, she managed to arouse the ire of some rather powerful churchmen. As mentioned, one even excommunicated her for a time. (see story below by ABC at to her excommunication).

We honour Saint Mary MacKillop as a courageous and compassionate Australian woman who stood out against Priests and reported their alleged abuse towards children to the authority – Sadly, Priests whose primary objective was to cause harm to the most vulnerable and innocent in our society – at great cost to herself she did not falter. Not only did Saint Mary Mackillop protect the impoverished and most vulnerable but had the fortitude to follow her dream to spread the Good News to the children of Australia.

ABC’s Story 

Mary MacKillop, the nun who will soon be Australia’s first Catholic saint, was excommunicated by the church because she discovered children were being abused by a priest and went public, the ABC’s Compass program can reveal.


In 1871, after only four years as a nun, she was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and turned out onto the street with no money and nowhere to go.

MacKillop’s cause for sainthood began in 1925 and has had the tireless backing of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the order she founded.

On October 17, MacKillop’s canonisation by Pope Benedict XVI will be a momentous occasion for Australia’s 5 million Roman Catholics.

But these new revelations show there were some in the church who set out to destroy the order that put her on the path to sainthood.

While serving with the Sisters of St Joseph, MacKillop and her fellow nuns heard disturbing stories about a priest, Father Keating from the Kapunda parish north of Adelaide, who was allegedly abusing children.

They told their director, a priest called Father Woods, who then went to the Vicar General.

The Vicar General subsequently sent Father Keating back to his home country of Ireland, where he continued to serve as a priest.

Father Paul Gardiner, who has pushed for MacKillop’s canonisation for 25 years, says Father Keating’s fellow Kapunda priest Father Horan swore revenge on the nun for uncovering the abuse.

“The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children,” he said.

“The nuns told him and he told the Vicar General who was in charge at the time and he took severe action.

“And Father Horan, one of these priests, was so angry with this that he swore vengeance – and there’s evidence for this – against Woods by getting at the Josephites and destroying them.”

Father Horan was by now working for Adelaide’s Bishop Shiel and urged him to break the sisters up by changing their rules.

When MacKillop refused to comply, she was banished from the church at the age of 29.

“Mary was not excommunicated, in fact or in law. She submitted to a farcical ceremony where the Bishop had … lost it,” Father Gardiner said.

“He was a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests. This sounds terrible but it’s true.”

Five months later Bishop Shiel was gravely ill and dying. From his deathbed he instructed that MacKillop be absolved and restored.

A statement from the Sisters of St Joseph says the events of September 1871 have “been comprehensively documented”.

“There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters”, the statement said.

“The reasons for Mary’s excommunication have been written about and commented on in the public domain since that time. This is consistent with the information contained in the Compass program.”

In 2009, 100 years after MacKillop’s death, Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson publicly apologised to the Sisters of St Joseph for Mary’s wrongful excommunication.

“On behalf of myself and the archdiocese I apologies to the sisters, especially to the sisters for what happened to them in the context of the excommunication when their lives and their community life was interrupted and they were virtually thrown out on the streets and that this was a terrible thing,” he said.

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