(Mary Helen MacKillop) 
Virgin & Foundress - AD 1909

Born in 1842 in Melbourne, Australia, Mary Helen learnt to know and love God from a mother and father, Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald, whose ancestors had held fast to the Catholic faith in Scotland through centuries of persecution. When she came into the world, scarcely more than 50 years had elapsed since the first Europeans had settled in Australia.

After Mary there were three more daughters and four sons born to the family. Although Alexander was a good man and genuinely religious, he was not a successful money earner, and his firstborn found herself with the duty of supporting this family until she was 25.

From her earliest years Mary had a delicate sense of God's presence, and felt called to live a life of poverty consecrated to the service of his poor. But she had to wait. The family needed her, and at the age of 16 she went to work to earn money to support them. Two years later she went to teach as a governess in a little town in South Australia called Penola. There she found that the priest, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, was concerned that in the vast area under his care the children had no education, religious or secular.

In time Fr Woods' problem and the young woman's vocation found a single solution in the great religious and educational enterprise known as the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. "Our work was instituted by God", Mary said, "to destroy the secular spirit of education among our schools". The foundation is traced to the period when she returned to Penola in 1866 after some years teaching elsewhere, and became Sr Mary of the Cross.

After small beginnings in a school building that had been a stable, the Sisters of St Joseph moved to the capital city, Adelaide, where their numbers grew rapidly. Before long, their works of charity had spread to other parts of Australia and to New Zealand. Besides primary schools, they cared for anybody in need, orphans, old people, girls in danger, the friendless of all ages. No money was asked for any of these services. They depended on alms for everything.

In 1873 Sr Mary was sent to Rome to obtain the approval of the Holy See for the institute. She had several audiences with Pope Pius IX, who gave her great encouragement. She returned to Australia with a modified Rule, being assured by the officials of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide that after some years' trial it would be given final approval.

In 1875 Mary was elected Mother General. After many difficulties she had the joy of seeing the institute approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, by which time the mother-house was in Sydney.

She was Mary of the Cross, and her cross took many formsill health, frequent long journeys in primitive conveyances on land and sea in oppressive weather, the writing of thousands of letters, struggles to obtain the necessities of life, the hardships of real poverty.

But her most distressing crosses came from people, sometimes in high places. What she suffered is sometimes astonishing to read (as when she was falsely excommunicated), but more astonishing is the story of her charity and forbearance towards those who were unjust to her. She judged nobody, she blamed nobody, she was never heard to utter a word of criticism or bitterness, and her reverence for the sacred character of priests and Bishops was never diminished. She always tried to excuse those who had wronged her, called attention to their good qualities, and reminded the sisters of favours received from them in the past.

Her public achievement is a historical fact in Australia and New Zealand, but for those who knew her personally the most striking thing about her was her kindness. In everything she said or did she showed respect and love for those around her, making no distinction between the rich, the high-born, and the influential on the one hand and the lowly and the outcasts of society on the other. Her love did not depend on performance. Once a condemned murderer (a wild animal, people called him) poured abuse and blasphemy on anyone who tried to talk to him, until Mother Mary came into his cell, calmed him down, and helped him to die at peace with God and man.

Love was the soul of her virtues, always ready to make allowances and to endure whatever comes (1 Cor 13:7). Her faith enabled her to look beyond what she could see and hear and smell, and to respect all as children of God redeemed by the blood of Christ, one whom she had not seen but whom she loved (1 Pt 1:8). Her union with God was constant, fed by long hours of prayer and great devotion to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. From childhood she had looked on the Blessed Mother of God as her mother. She loved poverty with the quiet St Joseph, the patron of her institute, and honoured him as a model and helper at all times.

Mary MacKillop, lover of the crucified Christ, had never been without the Cross. Besides ill health she had to bear human opposition, calumny and rejection. With the passing of the years the human problems faded, but her physical sufferings grew worse, until in her last months they were constant and distressing. But she always said, "my only prayer is that his will may be done in the matter".

When God finally called her from this world on 8 August 1909, she had borne her cross with incredible patience and with the joyful love of the dear will of God which had marked her whole life. That love of God had filled her heart and overflowed to all those around her, but it was especially tender towards anybody in trouble. She had kept the great commandment, "Love God" and the second, "Love your neighbour" (Mt 23:37).

Her place of rest in the chapel of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, North Sydney, is a place of pilgrimage and devotion.

History of the cause

When Mother Mary of the Cross died on 8 August 1909, there was a remarkable display of veneration for her in Sydney. This was not merely because there were then nearly 1,000 Sisters of St Joseph, but because she was regarded as a saint.

People touched the body with rosaries and other objects of devotion, and after her burial they took earth from around her grave. This was surprising because this kind of thing is not customary at all in Australia. There is no tradition of saints in that country.

On 27 January 1914, Mother Mary's remains were transferred to the chapel of the Josephite mother-house in North Sydney. The conviction that she was a saint grew stronger with the years, but Australia had no experience of how to go about having someone canonized. Eventually in 1925 the Mother General of the congregation, Mother Laurence, was encouraged by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Cattaneo, to take the necessary initiative.

Archbishop Michael Kelly of Sydney set up the necessary tribunals. Between September 1926 and November 1928 an Informative Tribunal held 45 sessions during which a carefully itemized set of questions was put to a number of witnesses -sisters who had known Mary from the early days, and her own sister, Annie.

In March 1929 a technical difficulty arose, and much time was taken up in discussing how to proceed. Eventually, in 1931 it was decided that the cause should be suspended until a better time. But 20 years later the man who was notary at the Tribunal had become the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. He had always held that the suspension of the cause was an injustice to a holy woman, and was determined to resume it. The difficulty vanished, and the inquiry proceeded with examining witnesses. By 15 November, with the 74th session, the Informative Process was deemed to be complete.

In April 1954 a decree was issued to the effect that Mary MacKillop's writings contained nothing incompatible with heroic sanctity. Two decrees de non cultu were issued, one in November 1951 and the other in 1990.

Though the Sydney Process seemed to be completed in 1951, the years 1959-61 saw 38 more sessions at which nine more witnesses were interrogated. This brought to 112 the total number of sessions held between 1926 and 1961. All the Acta were sent to Rome. In 1972 a volume of 600 pages was issued in Rome, Positio super Introductione Causae. The Decree on the Introduction of the Cause was proclaimed at the Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne in February 1973.

After more research in Roman archives and elsewhere, the Positio super Virtutibus was composed during the years 1984-1989 under the supervision of the Relator, Fr Peter Gumpel, S.J. On 15 November 1991 a special meeting of theological consultants under the presidency of Fr Antonio Petti, Promoter of the Faith, was unanimously favourable to the cause. Then on 5 May 1992, an Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Bishops, under the Ponens Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, was similarly favourable. The Decree De Virtute heroica was read in the presence of the Holy Father on 13 June 1992.

On 5 February 1993 there was a special meeting of the theological consultors to examine the evidence that there had been concerted prayer to Mary MacKillop on behalf of the patient, and that a relic of Mary had been applied to her. When this link had been established, the case was proposed, with Cardinal William Wakefield Baum as Ponens, at an ordinary meeting of Cardinals and Bishops on 4 May. It was accepted unanimously and a Decree on the miracle was read at a special papal audience on 6 July 1993.

The miracle

After the reading of the decree on Mary's heroic virtue in June 1992, the next step was the presentation of the Positio on a cure claimed to be effected through her intercession.

Twenty years previously a panel of doctors and others had looked at a number of such claims and selected the recovery in 1961 of an apparently dying woman. A Tribunal was set up in Sydney to examine the case, and the evidence of witnesses, together with hospital records, medical documents, x-rays and slides, was sent to Rome.

In 1992 the evidence was examined by medical and legal experts, and then by the Consulta Medica of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The verdict on 5 November 1992 was unanimous: that the diagnosis was correct, that the prognosis was totally negative, that the therapy was inadequate to produce a cure, that the recovery was full and permanent, and that there was no explanation in terms of medical science. The patient is strong and healthy now in 1995, 33 years after her illness.

Fr Paul Gardiner, S.J., 
Postulator of the cause

Taken from L'Osservatore Romano,  25 January 1995

Priest & Martyr - AD 1841 (April 28)

Proto-martyr of Oceania, born at Cuet, dep. of Ain, France, 1803, died at Futuna, Friendly Islands, Oceania, 28 April, 1841. Being of humble parentage, a zealous priest, M. Trompier, assisted his education. Ordained priest in 1827, he went as curate to Ambérieux and later as pastor to Crozet. His desire to serve in the foreign missions drew him, in 1831, into the newly-founded Society of Mary which, having been formally approved, 29 April, 1836, was entrusted with the evangelization of Occidental Oceania. Chanel, after taking the three religious vows at the hands of Father Colin, founder and first superior of the Marists, embarked that same year for his distant mission under the leadership of Bishop Bataillon, and was sent to the island called Horn, or Allofatu, by geographers, and Futuna by the natives. War between rival tribes and the practice of cannibalism had reduced its population to a few thousands when Chanel landed on its shores. The religion he found there was a worship of terror offered to evil deities. Chanel laboured faithfully amid the greatest hardships, learning the native language, attending the sick, baptizing the dying, and winning from all the name of "the man with the kind heart". Niuliki, the then ruler, showed first an amicable disposition towards the missionary and even declared him "taboo", or sacred and inviolable; but when he saw that his subjects were being drawn away from the idols into the white man's religion, he issued an edict against him to avert the movement towards Christianity. At that very time his son Meitala joined the

Musumusu, Niuliki's prime minister and an implacable enemy of Christianity, then concocted a plot with the petty chiefs against the Christians, which was carried out with great cruelty. At day-break, on 28 April, 1841, the conspirators assembled together and, after wounding many neophytes whom they had surprised sleeping, proceeded to Chanel's hut. One shattered his arm and wounded his left temple with a war-club. Another struck him to the ground with a bayonet. A third beat him severely with a club. The missionary was uttering the while words of gentle resignation: "Malie fuai" (it is: well for me). Musumusu himself, enraged at the tardiness of death, split open the martyr's skull with an adze. The remains of the martyred missionary, hurriedly buried, were later claimed by M. Lavaux, commander of the French naval station of Tahiti, and taken to France on a government transport, 1842. The cause of the beatification
of Father Chanel, introduced 1857, terminated by the Brief "Quemadmodum" of 16 Nov., 1889. The solemnities took place the following day in the basilica of St. Peter, Rome. "Oceanicæ protomartyr" is the official title given Blessed Chanel by the Congregation of Rites in the decree declaring: "tuto procedi posse ad solemnem Ven. servi Dei P. M. Chanel beatificationem".  

[Note: Peter Chanel, the proto-martyr of the Society of Mary, and of Oceania, was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.] 

Pierre Chanel im Heiligenlexikon (deutsch)