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Mary MacKillop Canonisation

published  First Published: 17/10/2010
Article written by: News Editor: Nigel Brookson
Mary MacKillop, has been canonised today as Australia's first saint, who was a pioneering educator and nun who touched thousands of lives and clashed with the church after exposing a paedophile priest.
MacKillop taught poor children in a disused stable before founding her own order and establishing scores of schools and homes for the needy during the young nation's rough-and-tumble colonial days.
She was briefly excommunicated after rowing with the church; including over an abusive priest, in an episode which resonates strongly today, before personally winning the support of Pope Pius IX for her work.
Revered for her courage and tenacity as much as her work, MacKillop has been dubbed the "people's saint" in Australia where her canonisation has been enthusiastically awaited.
"She was one of us," said Archbishop Philip Wilson, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. "Mary was an ordinary person who lived a holy life."
Mary Helen MacKillop was born to Scottish parents in Melbourne in 1842, the eldest of eight children. Lacking money, the family were frequently without a home of their own.
From 16, MacKillop helped support her family working as a governess, clerk and teacher. Inspired by a local priest, she opened the first St Joseph's School in a disused stable in the outback town of Penola in 1866.
As young women came to join her, MacKillop founded her Sisters of St Joseph order. She was soon asked to start a school in Adelaide, where she also opened women's refuges and an orphanage, later expanding to Brisbane.
However Adelaide's bishop disapproved of the structure of MacKillop's growing organisation and threw her out of the Catholic church in 1871, before revoking the order on his deathbed some months later.
The Sisters of St Joseph have confirmed recent revelations that part of the row involved MacKillop's exposure of paedophilia in the church, which led to one priest being sent back to Ireland.
However, MacKillop continued to clash with local church leaders until she took her case to Pope Pius IX, and later to Pope Leo XIII, winning their approval on both occasions.
Plagued by ill health, MacKillop died in 1909 aged 67 as the leader of 750 nuns who ran 117 schools, as well homes and refuges for the needy. The order's work now extends to Uganda, Peru, Brazil and Thailand.
In 1961, some 52 years after her death, MacKillop was credited with curing a woman with terminal leukaemia after prayers to the late nun, an incident which was declared a miracle and prompted her beatification in 1995.
The Vatican agreed in December that MacKillop had cured another woman from beyond the grave in 1993, giving her the necessary second miracle and clearing the way for her canonisation.
MacKillop retains a significant presence in modern Australia. As well as her schools, convents and Sydney tomb, MacKillop has a Twitter account and a Facebook page, both maintained by her order, and a pop song and even a stage musical have been written in her honour.
Thousands of worshippers visit her memorial chapel each year, while she is also credited with recent wonders such as rousing a beaten Irish backpacker from an eight-month coma last year.
"South Australia's Mary was a rebel who refused to compromise her principles," South Australia state premier Mike Rann said. "She fought for right, time and time again."
The sainthood has inspired heavy media coverage and soaring business interest, prompting the government this week to take the unusual step of banning unauthorised commercial use of MacKillop's name.
Mary MacKillop is one of six men and women from Italy, Canada, Spain, Poland and Australia being recognised as saints by Pope Benedict XVI.


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