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Pope canonises Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint

By on Monday, 18 October 2010

Pope greets Sister Maria Casey, postulator of the Cause of Mary MacKillop, at the canonisation Mass in St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

Pope greets Sister Maria Casey, postulator of the Cause of Mary MacKillop, at the canonisation Mass in St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed six new saints, including an Australian nun and a Canadian brother, calling them “shining examples” of holiness and the power of prayer.

Thousands of pilgrims from Australia applauded and waved their national flags after the Pope pronounced the formula of canonisation in St Peter’s Square for Blessed Mother Mary MacKillop, who educated poor children in the Australian outback in the late 19th century. She became the country’s first saint.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) was a model of “zeal, perseverance and prayer” as she dedicated herself to the education of the poor in the difficult territory of rural Australia, inspiring other women to join her in the country’s first community of religious women.

He said: “She attended to the needs of each young person entrusted to her, without regard for station or wealth, providing both intellectual and spiritual formation.” Her feast day is celebrated on August 8.

Canadians cheered the canonisation of Blessed Andre Bessette (1845-1937) a doorman known for his devotional practices and his healing touch. He became known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal”.

The Pope said the new saint “showed boundless charity and did everything to soothe the despair of those who confided in him”. Although he had little instruction, he “understood what was essential to the faith” and had an intense prayer life, the Pope said.

“For him, everything spoke of God and his presence,” he said. Thanks to this simplicity, St Andre led many people to God, the Pope added.

St Andre “lived the beatitude of the pure of heart”, he said. “May the example of Brother Andre inspire Canadian Christian life!”

Relics of the six saints were brought to the altar during the two-hour liturgy. Tapestry portraits of the newly canonised hung from the facade of St Peter’s Basilica behind the papal altar, and many pilgrims carried their own personal pictures of the saints.

The others canonised were:

- St Camilla Battista Varano (1458-1524), the illegitimate daughter of an Italian nobleman, had to overcome her father’s initial objections to enter the convent of the Poor Clares. Known for her mystical experiences during prayer, she died in an outbreak of the plague.

- St Stanislaw Soltys (1433-1489), who devoted his life to caring for the poor in his native Krakow, Poland. Famed as a preacher and confessor, he was known as the “Apostle of the Eucharist” for his taking Communion to the sick and lonely.

- St Giulia Salzano (1846-1929) taught catechism to schoolchildren near Naples, Italy, and later founded the Catechetical Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to continue her work, which offered religious education to children of all ages, to their mothers and to regular labourers.

- St Juana Cipitria Barriola (1845-1912) was a champion of education for girls and young women in her native Spain. Known in some countries as Mother Candida Maria de Jesus, she founded the Daughters of Jesus with five other young women. She ran a special school on Sundays for girls who were employed as domestics, because Sunday was their only day off.

In his homily, the Pope said the new saints exemplified the effectiveness of prayer as an expression of faith.

“Sometimes we get tired of praying, we have the impression that prayer is not very useful in life, that it is not terribly effective. So we are tempted to dedicate ourselves to activity, to using all human means to achieve our aims, and without turning to God,” he said.

The canonisation brought about 8,000 Australian pilgrims to Rome, where Australian flags waved in abundance during the papal liturgy.

Peter Haynes, a 26-year-old Australian living in England, came to Rome for the Mass. He studied Mary MacKillop in primary school and was impressed by the fact that “she started from nothing and made something out of it. And her legacy continues today. That’s something.”

Mary MacKillop, the oldest of eight children of Scottish immigrants to Australia, began at the age of 24 to work with a priest to provide free education to the rural poor of the country. Three years later, there were 60 Sisters working in schools, orphanages and women’s shelters.

The nuns were also committed to following poor farmworkers, miners and other labourers into remote areas of the country to educate their children.

Local Church officials, however, disapproved of the Sisters living in tiny, isolated communities – sometimes only two to a hut – frequently cut off from the sacraments in the remote Australian outback. She was even briefly excommunicated by the local bishops, who disbanded her order, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. But within a few months, the bishop lifted his censure, and a Church commission cleared the Sisters of all wrongdoing.

In 1901 she suffered a stroke during a trip to New Zealand, and her health declined until her death in 1909.

Canadians in the square spoke warmly of St Bessette. Some of the pilgrims even had personal connections to him.

Diane Guillemette of Montreal said that when her mother was 16 years old “she had a problem with her ear and she went to Brother Andre and he healed her”. She called the new saint “an example of patience, humility and love of work.”

One of 12 children, St Andre suffered from a chronic stomach ailment that kept him out of school. His father and mother died when he was young.

When he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870, his childhood parish priest, Fr Andre Provencal, sent a letter to the novice master saying: “I am sending a saint to your congregation.”

St Andre served as the doorman of Notre Dame College, the community’s school in Montreal, for 40 years. His devotion to St Joseph and his reputation for healing attracted thousands of people, and he began to be known as a miracle worker. When he died at the age of 91, a million people came to pay homage to him, and many remain dedicated to his memory today. His feast day is January 6.

  • Jamie Macnab

    Truly uplifting accounts of extraordinary people. We must pray for more like them in the difficult times ahead.

  • Maglinders

    Why do you write 'St MacKillopp' & 'St Bessette'? Surely it's St Mary & St Andre? Saints' surnames are normally added only when necessary for disambiguation. Or should we brace ourselves for mention of SS Vianney and Bosco? Are SS Cosmas and Damian to be known as SS Anon and Nameless?

  • The Catholic Herald

    Thank you for pointing this out. We have now corrected the article.

  • Jan

    Wasn't the Blessed Mother Mary MacKillop excommunicated once for reporting a pedeophile Priest?

  • Brian Owino kamau

    May the Light of Holiness Shine upon the mother Church. And Her faithful servants, especially the Holy father
    Whom Christ has entrusted The work of taking care of the sheep. Thanks Holy Father for your Letters To us the Seminarians. may The Lord always keep the church United and Faithful to Her Mission.And to You The Pontiff, You are always on Our Prayers.

  • Thomas M.P.

    I was myself an atheist for about 30 years. I was born and brought up a catholic. But as time passed I gradually became an atheist due to the onslaught of non-believers and rationalists. But during the recent years I reverted to Catholicism and I am now fully convinced about my beliefs. The life and example of saints do inspire us. If you have atheist tendencies, meditate on God and read the lives of the saints. Even when we forget and reject God, He never forgets or rejects us. In today's world, saints are more relevant than yesteryears.

  • Lnewington

    Jan, it goes a little deeper than that. The young congregation had it so hard. I've been reading letters written at that time, on file at the University of South Australia, documented in 'Letters in 19th century Australia Catholic Church' There's one written by Mary's mother to the Bishop and another interesting one by a Sister Angela to Mary. Of course there is a recognised version of her life available but these few inserts gives one an extra insight which one, I doubt has been included in the book for obvious reasons if you take the time to look them up.

    I'll keep my eye open for a reply in case you can't find the site

    You may need to include the Historian Brian Condon's name..

  • Kennyinliverpool

    This is a cheap PR stunt – women who outs child abusing priest humbly submitted to a cover up… which is meant to make us think that abusing the most vulnerable is okay in our religious leaders.

  • Sr. Barbara Smithhisler

    May these new saints be an encouragement to us because anyone can pray since there is not a Person

    on earth that God does not listen to if they are sincere.

  • Lnewington

    In the historical files at the University of Adelaide, there's a letter to Mary from one of her vulnerable young religious sisters, where fr Horan osf, told a sister that this particular sister was ill and he sent her to bed. He then followed her into the dormitory, sat down beside her and threw his arms across her and when she protested, he laid his head upon her wanting to “feel her pulse” the mind boggles and there's no mention of that anywhere.

    No one was off limits even in those days