Australia’s first Catholic saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, has been lauded at home and abroad, with the suggestion that she should be considered a patron for the abused.
On Sunday, in front of a crowd of about 50,000 Catholics from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI canonised Mary MacKillop – the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart – and five others.
In his homily, Pope Benedict paid tribute to St Mary’s tireless work improving the lives of so many Australians, starting with the establishment of her first school in Penola, South Australia in 1866.
“For many years countless young people throughout Australia have been blessed with teachers who were inspired by the courageous and saintly example of zeal, perseverance and prayer of Mother Mary MacKillop,” the Pope said.
“She dedicated herself as a young woman to the education of the poor in the difficult and demanding terrain of rural Australia, inspiring other women to join her in the first women’s community of religious sisters of that country.
“She attended to the needs of each young person entrusted to her, without regard for station or wealth, providing both intellectual and spiritual formation.”
St Mary MacKillop, who was briefly excommunicated in 1871 reportedly for exposing a pedophile priest, should be considered a patron saint for the abused, according to an editorial in America, the United States’ national Catholic weekly.
The Catholic church has been rocked by the global sexual abuse crisis within its ranks that has seriously damaged its public standing.
“Perhaps abuse victims, and all who desire justice and reconciliation in the church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, will see in St Mary MacKillop a powerful intercessor,” the editorial in the online edition says.
“It may be providential that she walks back onto the world stage at this moment. “Like all saints, she is a model for all Catholics. But at this time, abuse victims and their families especially need all the help they can get from heaven as on earth.”
The canonisation of St Mary MacKillop, who was born in Melbourne in 1842 and died in Sydney 101 years ago, has been hailed as a day of rejoicing for all Australians, and a very special day for the Sisters of St Joseph.
A large contingent of Australians was in Rome for the ceremony, while at home thousands attended celebrations throughout the day.
The ceremony was broadcast live on television and the internet and many watched the service from her birthplace of Melbourne, the rural town of Penola in South Australia where her religious journey began, and at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney, where her tomb is housed.
Members of the official Australian delegation – including Cardinal George Pell, Sister Maria Casey, Sister Anne Derwin, Bishop Philip Wilson, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop and Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd – addressed the media following the canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square.
“This is a day of rejoicing and it’s a day first of all for the Josephites – we rejoice for them, we rejoice with them,” Cardinal Pell said.
“But it’s also significant for the rest of us, as Australians and as Catholic Australians.” Postulator Sister Maria Casey, who has worked hard for years to get Mary’s sainthood recognised, said it had been a very emotional day for her.
“I felt very moved when the Holy Father actually spoke the words of the canonisation and I was able to look up at Mary looking down on us and out onto the square and I thought, ‘Mary, we’ve acknowledged you at last’,” Sr Casey said.