by Alan McElwain
Preparation for a saint Down-Under
IT IS pretty much accepted that Pope John Paul will visit Australia during the last week of November and the first of December, 1986.
That, interestingly enough, is the same period during which the late Pope Paul VI visited Sydney in 1970.
In May last year, the Australian bishops, meeting in Sydney, sent off an invitation to Pope John Paul to visit the Commonwealth. They haven't had a reply yet.
So at this stage what his itinerary will be over the fortnight he is (presumably) in Australia can only be guessed at.
He has already seen parts of Australia; as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla he was here in 1973, specifically to attend the I n ternatio nal Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne.
Speculation is on the boil about the prospective visit and it isn't confined to the Pope alone. His trip is expected to put the seal on Australia's first saint, Mother Mary MacKillop.
She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, familiarly dubbed the Brown Josephites, and even more familiarly, the Brown Joeys.
Along the way, she provoked considerable ecclesiastical turmoil and proved that, for saints, life wasn't meant to be easy.
She was, in fact, excommunicated by the Church that is now so anxious to lay upon her its choicest honour; the woman the Pope is expected to beatify while he is in Australia.
Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne, of Scottish immigrant parents, on January 15, 1842.
The eldest of eight children, she learned at an early age to accept responsibility. She learned, too, to make the most of educational opportunities.
She became a teacher and was in a little backwater town called Penola, in South Australia, when she met a noted English visionary priest, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, then deeply involved in Catholic educational challenges.
In 1866, he and Mary MacKillop founded the teaching Order of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Entirely Australian, it was dedicated to the education of the Catholic poor.
Between them, Mary and Fr Tenison Woods created what was described as a South Australian educational revolution. It acted as an example and an inspiration to Catholicism throughout Australia.
Mary MacKillop was now launched upon the work for which God was preparing her. But she was to know opposition and misunderstanding, distrust and prejudice, slander and disloyalty. It seemed no accident that she was called Mary of the Cross.
Most of the trouble stemmed from the type of Order she was establishing. She wanted one different from others. Her nuns were not to be cloistered; they were to get out and work with and for the people. In 1868, Bishop Laurence Sheil, of Adelaide, South Australia, approved the rule she had drawn up for the Josephites. But denigrators of the Order, , who hated its (and all other) unorthodoxy, kept needling the bishop until finally, in 1871, he ordered Mary MacKillop to ' conform to the way other congregations were run.
Mother Mary of the Cross was shaken but unbowed. "Pardon me, my Lord", she wrote to Bishop Sheil after their wounding interview, "if I say that I cannot in conscience see the rule altered and remain a Sister. I am your child, my Lord, your humble, helpless child. I want to please you, but above all to please God".
Two weeks later she was excommunicated and 47 of her nuns were expelled.
Five months later, in 1872, and a week before he died, Bishop Sheil withdrew his excommunication. He had, he said, been badly advised.
The rule remained. In 1888, the order was formally sanctioned by Rome. Mary MacKillop's trials did not end with Bishop Sheil's retraction.
"Many prejudices are directed against myself, for bishops and priests think me some extraordinary and bold woman", she wrote to a fellow , nun.
"Sometimes it wearies me that they think thus, and I have wished as far as I dared without sin, that it might please God to -, take me away".
It pleased God to take her away on August 8, 1909 when, ; at 67, she died at the Josephites' Mother House in North Sydney. Her grave is in the Sisters' 11 chapel. It has become, increasingly, a place of pilgrimage not only for 1, Australians but for overseas , visitors, too.
In 1880, she came to Sydney . and established the first of what she called her Houses of ' Providence. Need was the only test of eligibility for admittance. Forsaken lonely old women, neglected children, girls needing , protection — Mary MacKillop and her Sisters had room for them all.
The same with her schools. , They were essentially for the children of the poor, but those of better-off parents were also . accepted provided they were , prepared to share and share . alike with the poorest of the poor. No distinctions werg tolerated.
Mary MacKillop was also a woman of the people. Working, people found her and her Sisters practical partners in their struggles. If she were alive today, said Cardinal Freeman, she would have been out there battling for the unemployed, providing leadership for youth.
Mother Mary MacKillop's Cause for canonisation, was opened in Sydney by the late Archbishop Michael Kelly in 1925. In 1973, Pope Paul VI declared her a Servant of God, thus confirming her as a candidcanonisation.
The Cause is now with the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome.