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The Catholic Defender: Saint Mary MacKillop “Never see a need without doing something about it”


And why is she informally remembered as the 'patron saint of trouble makers'? She was the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph and a determined woman who was briefly excommunicated by the Catholic Church.


She is informally seen as a patron saint of sexual abuse victims for her role in exposing a pedophile priest. MacKillop was born in Australia to poor Scottish immigrants.


Mary MacKillop kept her faith in God and bravely challenged those who did not support her vision for a more caring world. Mary is an important Australian who spent her life helping people, especially children. She is Australia's first Saint.


Throughout her life, Mary MacKillop accomplished many extraordinary things. She showed courage, determination and overall, a tremendous amount of faith. These virtues in particular are what led her to being the first Australian saint, and a great religious role model.


Her vision was to provide education for underprivileged children. Many other women came to join her there, and Mary and Julian founded Australia's first religious order: the Sisters of St Joseph. Mary and the Sisters were committed to serving the poor – to going to where the need was and living amongst those in need.


Her motto of “Never see a need without doing something about it” continues to call us forth to action. At a time when real heroes are in short supply, Mary MacKillop is a true inspiration.


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. One even excommunicated her for a time.


Born in Melbourne in 1842, to parents who had emigrated from Scotland, Mary grew up in a family that faced constant financial struggles. As a young woman she 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 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.


1866 Mary and Lexie move to Penola in January to help Fr Julian establish a school based on 'purely Catholic principles'. St Joseph's School (The Stable School) opens on 19 March, St Joseph's Day. Mary wears a plain black dress to signify her dedication to do God's work.


As the congregation grew, so did Mary MacKillop’s problems. Her priest-friend proved unreliable in many ways and his responsibilities for direction of the Sisters were removed. Meanwhile, Mary had the support of some local bishops as she and her Sisters went about their work. But the bishop in South Australia, aging and relying on others for advice, briefly excommunicated Mary—charging her with disobedience—and dispensed 50 of her Sisters from their vows. In truth, the bishop’s quarrel was about power and who had authority over whom. He ultimately rescinded his order of 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.


Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) is renowned for her generous approach to all endeavours, a women of courage who worked tirelessly to ensure all children were educated , she especially looked out for the poor and those in need. A famous quote of Mary's is “Remember we are but travelers here” 1867.


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 is celebrated on August 8.


God of the Pilgrim, Mary MacKillop trusted your guidance in her journey of life and deepened her confidence in your will. May we renew our trust in your Providence to lead us to hope as we bring our prayer before you. May we grow in the fullness of your love and the depth of your mystery.


God of compassion, God of all people, we praise you for your servant, Mary MacKillop, who gave her life to serve you in the poor and oppressed. As she is honoured in our world, may we continue to learn to share her vision. God of the Dreaming, you show yourself to us in dreamers, seers, and prophets.

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