Born: Jan. 15th, 1842
Died: Aug. 8th, 1909
FEast: Aug. 8th
Australia, survivors of sexual assault, whistleblowers
Mary was born in what is now Victoria, Australia in 1842. Her parents had both been immigrants from Scotland, and they met and married while in Australia. Mary was the eldest of 8 siblings, and though the family struggled somewhat financially due to her father's ventures as both a farmer and gold prospector, she was provided the best education possible. She became a clerk as a teenager at a stationery store in Melbourne to provide for her family, until she was able to accept a better position as a governess with an aunt and uncle.
While there, Mary was tasked with educating the children, and she always made sure to include the farm-working children as well. It was here she met the parish priest Fr. Woods who became her friend and, later, co-founder.
After staying on for two years, Mary accepted a real teaching position, and not long after, opened her own school.
In 1866, Mary and her siblings joined Fr. Woods in founding a Catholic school in Penola. They all began to work and teach there, and it was also during this time that Mary formally decided she would enter religious life. She, a sister, and several other women with similar intentions moved to a house in Adelaide and called themselves the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. They founded another new school there, and this one was dedicated specifically to educate the children living in poverty.
Mary and Fr. Woods more firmly established her new Order at this time - the women wore all brown and would have an emphasis on owning nothing and going where they were needed. Mary's next target was to develop a school in South Australia specifically for rural children, and by 1871, that dream had come true with over 130 of her Sisters in 40 schools. They had traveled to expand the Order to other parts of the country, and were growing rapidly. She also spent this time working with children who were neglected or in danger, the elderly, the imprisoned, and the sick.
Around this time, Mary and her Sisters were entangled in a power struggle full of scandal having to do with the local priests and clergy. Fr. Woods was involved in skirmishes about his views on education, and, even more drastically, Mary called out a local priest who was sent back to Ireland because of alcohol - and likely sexual - abuse. That priest's friend then convinced the Bishop to sign an act that would have left the nuns homeless. When Mary would not comply, he excommunicated her for disobeying him.
The Bishop realized he had done wrong, and forgave her while on his deathbed. The Order had not been disbanded in the meantime, but they had been forbidden to do much of anything and so many of the schools they had worked so hard for were closed.
Mary's next mission, then, was to get formal approval for her Order from the Pope. She was granted it, and returned to Australia with many people interested in helping her expand the Order even more.
Mary was declared official leader of the group, and remained steadfast in her decisions that continued to make her unpopular with other religious life. She firmly wished that the Order live among regular society and vote to choose their leaders, rather than having them appointed by the bishop. These kinds of things led to her being removed from her position by a new bishop, until she was re-instated by his successor.
As Mary MacKillop began to age, she developed many health problems, and even had to use a wheelchair when she became paralyzed on one side after a stroke. She continued her work until the day she died, though, providing more and better social services in Australia than any other organization in her time to people of any faith.
Her Order has been thriving since then, and she was canonized in 2010 as the first Australian saint.
You were not afraid to call out leaders of the Church when they were not acting as servant-leaders should. Keep OUR EYES ALWAYS ON Jesus, as yours were, to know when something is wrong even when acted out by someone in a religious position, And help us in our bravery to call it out.
Using real photos of Mary as only one of many references, I wanted to convey in this icon her sense of dignity, determination, and unwavering strength in the pursuit of what was necessary and right. She has Eucalyptus and gum tree leaves in her hair, which are native to Australia, and her tattoo is the symbol of her order.