The Story of Mary MacKillop - Religious Education Resources

The story of Mary MacKillop
Mary’s family
• Mary’s father (Alexander) came
to live in Australia (from
Scotland) on January 1838 at 26
years of age. The ship’s papers
called him a teacher.
• Two years later Mary’s mother
(Flora) came on a ship to live in
Australia. She met Alexander in
Australia and they were married
within 3 months.
• Mary MacKillop was born in
Melbourne (Victoria) on January
15th, 1842, in Brunswick.
• Within 3 years Mary’s father had
a home, a family and the respect
of many people. He was doing
really well for himself in his new
country, Australia.
Mary’s Dad had strong opinions about
justice and helping others. He joined
with 11 others to borrow money for
a man they believed needed financial
help. All too late they discovered
they had been tricked. The man
took their money, and the bank then
wanted all the money back that had
been loaned to Alexander and
his friends.
Mary’s father was forced to sell his
family home for a cheap price.
Mary was only 3 months old when her
family home was sold. For the rest of
her childhood, Mary’s family relied on
family and friends to provide them with a
place to live and her parents never owned
a family home again. Her childhood was
spent moving from one house to another,
and she lived in over 15 different
Mary’s father used to write a lot of
anonymous letters to the paper,
attacking people about things that
he thought they had done wrong.
One day his identity was discovered
and he lost his job. Mary suffered
a lot through what she later
described as people’s desire to be
seen to be right, rather than a
desire to do right.
After seeing the hurt that was
caused to other people, and the hurt
that was caused to her family when
people found out that her father
had been writing all those anonymous
letters to the paper, Mary chose to
never say anything bad about anyone
for the rest of her life. Even when
people did not treat Mary well, she
never said or wrote anything
negative about them.
Mary also suffered a lot of grief
in her childhood. When she was 5
her much loved grandfather,
Donald MacDonald, died tragically
in a storm when he slipped into
Darebin Creek (Melbourne) and
drowned. Only 6 months later her
brother Alexander (Alick) died
“from a fever that no one could
Thinking time…
1. Do you think Mary had a very happy
childhood? Why / why not?
2. Some people say that poor people
deserve to be poor, and therefore we
shouldn’t help them but they should
learn how to help themselves. Do you
think Mary MacKillop agreed with this
statement? Why / why not?
Quotes from Mary MacKillop
• In 1873, Mary wrote: 'My life as a
child was one of sorrow, my
home when I had it a most
unhappy one.’
• In 1900 Mary wrote: “Seek first
the poorest and most neglected
parts of God’s vineyard.”
Why might Mary MacKillop have
gone on to dedicate her life to
helping those who were poor?
Mary’s siblings
Alexander and Flora MacKillop had 8 children:
Mary, Maggie, John, Alick (who died from the
fever at 11 months of age), Annie, Alexandrina
(Lexie), Donald, and Peter. (Interestingly, none
of Alexander and Flora’s children ever had
children of their own, so there is no direct living
link with Mary’s family today.)
Today we know much about Mary’s life from not
only Mary’s letters, but from the writings of
Annie and Donald.
Characteristics of Mary as a
When Mary was 4 she
was walking with her
mother and her mother
complained of being
tired. Mary said,
“Lean on me”, so from
a very young age Mary
helped and supported
her mother wherever
At the age of 8 Mary was helping her
mother care for her younger brothers
and sisters.
At the age of 11 Mary sent a nurse away
who was supposed to be helping care for
her brothers and sisters. Flora came in
to find Mary expertly dressing the baby,
and Mary told her mother that the nurse
was not doing her job properly and the
children were not safe with her so she
sent her away.
As a child, Mary often stayed in
country places and she learnt to ride
horses very well. This skill stayed
with Mary for life.
At 8 years of age Mary wanted a new
doll for her birthday, but her family
could only afford new clothes for her
old doll. Years later Mary realised
that the ‘new clothes’ were made from
her sister’s old coat.
No matter how hard life seemed for
Mary’s family, her mother always
said that “God would provide” for
their family so they would always
find another way of earning money,
or another place to live. When
Mary was 14 years old she went to
work as a governess, looking after a
family’s children. When she was 15
she went to work at a stationery
warehouse to provide money for her
family. Here she learnt important
business skills.
Mary’s education
Mary attended school for a
short time, but when her
family could no longer afford
it her father taught Mary
and her brothers and sisters.
He also taught them about
their Catholic faith, and
through Alexander they
ended up receiving a very
high level of education.
Thinking time…
1. What do you think was really important
to Mary when she was a child? (This
tells us what Mary really valued, and
she kept these values as a adult.)
Mary’s great work begins
At the age of 18 Mary went
to work as a governess in
Penola, a small town in South
Australia. She worked on a
large property, and soon she
was also teaching other
children. She also taught
them about their Catholic
faith, and she met Fr Julian
Woods who was the local
parish priest in Penola.
Fr Julian Woods
Mary discovered that Fr Julian Woods
and herself were both really interested
in helping to provide poor children with
an education. Mary’s brother John
came and transformed an old stable
into a school house, and later Mary’s
sisters Annie and Lexie came to help
open a Catholic school in Penola and
work as teachers. This was Australia’s
first free Catholic school.
Click here to see a photo of the old stable school (and more).
Mary believed that her life
was meant to be lived
helping and educating
others, especially those
who could not afford to go
to school. Mary also
believed that this was what
God wanted her to do, and
in 1866 Mary began
wearing clothing to dress as
a religious woman, who
dedicated her life to God.
In 1867 Mary became the first Sister
of St Joseph, and all those who
wanted to spend their lives as a Sister
of St Joseph had to agree to live
wherever they were needed, with a
special emphasis on helping the poor
and relying on God to help their work.
By the end of 1867 ten other women
had joined Mary to become Sisters of
St Joseph.
Mary and the Sisters of St Joseph set up
an orphanage for children who had lost
their families. When a little boy at the
orphanage lay dying he asked to see
Mary, and when she heard she set out in
the midst of a terrible storm. When she
arrived he said, “I knew you would come”
and she stayed with him until he died.
Later she walked in a violent storm to the
cemetery and recited the rosary at his
Thinking time…
1. Why do you think that Mary would want
to spend her life helping others?
2. Why do you think that Mary had a
special interest in helping children
whose families could not afford to
provide them with an education?
The Sisters of St Joseph
• Over the coming years, Mary’s work
continued throughout much of
Australia. By 1870 there were 21
Catholic schools that had been opened
in South Australia and were run by
the Sisters of St Joseph.
• By 1871 over 120 women had become
Sisters of St Joseph.
In 1870 Mary went to Brisbane to
establish more communities. A year later
Mary returned to Adelaide, and
discovered there had been complaints
made to the Bishop about her. The
Bishop arrived at the Convent at 8am
one morning with 4 priests. Mary knelt
for a blessing but the Bishop refused.
Then the Bishop told Mary she was no
longer allowed to be part of the Catholic
Church because he believed she had
been disobedient.
Thinking time…
1. How do you think Mary felt at this
2. How do you think the other Sisters of
St Joseph would have felt about Mary
not being allowed to be part of the
Church anymore?
Quotes from Mary MacKillop
From a letter
Mary wrote to
Fr Julian
Woods in
“When I was ordered to kneel before the
Bishop I felt lonely and bewildered. It was
an intense relief when the Bishop ordered
me to kneel down. I do not know how long
I knelt there facing the Bishop and four
priests with all my Sisters standing around.
I knew they were there but saw no one and
I think I was trying to pray. I shall never
forget the sensation of the calm, beautiful
presence of God”.
Thinking time…
1. What does this letter tell us about
Mary MacKillop?
2. Why might Mary have never written or
spoken any cross words about the
Bishop (or anyone else)?
Mary travels to Rome
Five months later, the Bishop of
Adelaide was dying and just before his
death he realised he had made a
mistake and allowed Mary to be part of
the Church again.
The following year Mary travelled to
Rome to the Vatican, and met with
Pope Pius IX, to seek approval for the
way the Sisters of St Joseph worked.
In 2009, 100 years after Mary
MacKillop's death, the Archbishop of
Adelaide apologised to the Sisters of St
Joseph for Mary's wrongful
excommunication. He apologised for
“what happened to them in the context
of the excommunication when their lives
and their community life was interrupted
and they were virtually thrown out on
the streets and that this was a terrible
thing," he said.
Mary’s work continues
Mary travelled throughout Europe and came
back to Australia with some young women from
Ireland who also wished to become Sisters of
St Joseph.
Mary travelled to the following places
establishing more communities and schools run
by the Sisters of St Joseph:
New Zealand, Western Australia, Victoria,
Tasmania and New South Wales.
By 1891 there were 300 Sisters of St Joseph
working throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Life in Colonial Australia
Mary was very aware of the challenges that the
Sisters of St Joseph experienced, living and
working in the time of colonial Australia. The
Sisters lived in groups of two or three so they had
company and support, because they were living long
distances from other Sisters of St Joseph. To
support them Mary used to write regular letters
of encouragement, as she knew they would
experience loneliness in the isolation of country
Australia. The Sisters also had to rely on the
goodness of others, and when they ran out of food
they would need to ask others to provide for
Land was donated to Mary MacKillop and
the Sisters of St Joseph at North
Sydney. Mary MacKillop spent the last
part of her life living here, and today
people can visit to see where Mary
MacKillop lived and learn about her work.
Alma Cottage where Mary lived in
North Sydney
Mary suffered a lot of pain in the last years
of her life and needed a wheelchair to get
around. (Inside Alma Cottage today.)
The Chapel at North Sydney also reminds
people of Mary’s great love of the
Eucharist. She drew strength and courage
from participating in Eucharist, and offered
herself to God for the service of others.
Mary MacKillop died in Alma Cottage on
August 8th, 1909. Her last words to the
Sisters of St Joseph were, “Go on”.
tomb in the
Chapel at
Every day many people come to pray in the
chapel at North Sydney where Mary
MacKillop is buried.
The Sisters
of St Joseph
work today.
Thinking time…
1. What kind of statements do you think
Mary MacKillop would have written to
other Sisters of St Joseph?
2. From all Mary learnt to value in life,
what kind of statements do you think
she may have written in her letters to
family and friends?
Quotes from Mary MacKillop
“Judge not, murmur not, but oh, love one
another” 25.9.1873
“I trust in the goodness of God” 3.3.1873
“We have so much for which to be
thankful” 16.5.1873
“Help one another, and forgive and
forget anything painful in the past” 9.8.1881
Quotes from Mary MacKillop
“Remember that we must always expect,
from time to time, to receive ‘crosses’
and know that we also give them” 14.4.1882
“God’s ways and ours are so very
different”. 15.11.1875
“We can do nothing without God” 11.11.1880
“God loves those best who help the weak
become whole” 2.9.1906
Quotes from Mary MacKillop
“Never see a need without doing something
about it”. 1871
This was Mary’s motto that she lived by.
What work would Mary MacKillop commit
herself to now if she lived in Australia today?