17 Oct 2010

Mary MacKillop officially declared a saint

10:22 pm on 17 October 2010

The canonisation ceremony to recognise Mary MacKillop as Australia's first saint has taken place in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI has conferred sainthood on the Melbourne-born nun at St Peter's Basilica.

Some 8000 pilgrims attended the mass where Pope Benedict XVI named her Saint Mary of the Cross.

The ABC reports it is the culmination of 85 years of work for the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the order of nuns Mary MacKillop co-founded. They have been campaigning for this since 1925.

Mary MacKillop was canonised at a ceremony along with five other men and women from Canada, Poland, Spain and Italy.

She was born in Melbourne in 1842 and set up her first Catholic school in Penola, South Australia, in 1866.

The ABC reports she was a rebel - demanding the right to self-govern her order away from the control of senior clergy.

She was elected as the first superior general of the Sisters of St Joseph in 1875 and was re-elected in 1881.

"The concept of a woman being in charge of a whole community, a whole congregation of women, and being free to move them from one place to the other was unheard of and certainly unheard of in Australia," said Sister Maria Casey.

Tension over child abuse

Constant arguments with the bishops eventually led to excommunication from the church for five months in 1871.

The ABC reports that at least part of the tension between Mary MacKillop and the bishops stemmed from the sister's decision to report a priest who had been sexually abusing children at their schools.

Sister Casey says Mary MacKillop took a stance against child abuse. "Mary would have ... fought against it," she said.

By 1891, the order had 300 sisters working in nine dioceses in Australia and New Zealand.

Mary MacKillop died on August 8, 1909, at Mount Street in North Sydney. She is buried at Gore Hill Cemetery.

The ABC reports the Pope's decision to grant Mary MacKillop the divine title came only after it was proven by church experts that she had been responsible for two miracles.

Festivities in Australia

Thousands of Australians flocked to Mary MacKillop festivities prior to her canonisation on Sunday.

The ABC reported about 2,000 people holding gold balloons and waving flags have sung hymns, prayed and took communion at the site of her tomb.

The nuns of St Joseph's expected up to 10,000 people to pour through the site of the tomb.

Speaking at mass on Sunday morning, Father Graeme Malone pointed to the faithful example Mary MacKillop sets for all Australians.

In Melbourne, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, co-founded by Mary MacKillop, led a colourful procession through the streets to celebrate the canonisation.

The sisters were met with applause as they made their way from Mary MacKillop's birth place in Fitzroy to the Exhibition Gardens wearing the orders bright blue scarves.