16 Oct 2010

Australia's first saint to be canonised this weekend

6:48 am on 16 October 2010

This weekend Mary MacKillop will officially become Australia's first Catholic saint.

Some 8000 pilgrims are expected to attend the mass at St Peter's Basilica in Rome where Pope Benedict XVI will name 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 will be canonised at a ceremony on Sunday 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.