Emigrant Scots give Australia its first saint
Now Mary MacKillop will be canonised after her second miracle was recognised yesterday by The Vatican.
MacKillop was "blessed" by Pope John Paul II in 1995 – the first step towards canonisation – after being credited with one miracle, but she needed a second to secure sainthood.
Vatican officials are now satisfied, after consulting with doctors and theologians, that an incident 14 years ago in which MacKillop "cured" a woman of inoperable cancer qualifies as her second miracle.
Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI approved the second miracle, saying that it occurred thanks to the intercession of Mother MacKillop. The Pope also approved a decree attesting to the "heroic" virtues of his predecessor, John Paul II, the first step towards a fast-track sainthood.
MacKillop, born in Melbourne, will be Australia's first saint, with sainthood expected to be officially conferred in the New Year.
Her father Alexander was born near the village of Roy Bridge, near Fort William. He migrated to Australia in 1838 on the ship Brilliant and went on to become a leading layman in Melbourne's fledgling Roman Catholic community.
He married Mary's mother, Flora McDonald, two years later and the couple went on to have eight children, with Mary the first born. One of her brothers, Donald, became a Jesuit priest while sister Lexie also became a nun.
MacKillop was educated at private schools and by her father, who later returned to Scotland to farm for 17 months.
During his visit, Pope Benedict referred to MacKillop several times during his public addresses, calling her "one of the most outstanding figures in Australia's history" and paying tribute to her "perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated, and her practical example of holiness."
Her importance was underlined when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited Mary MacKillop's Chapel in Sydney just hours before flying out to Copenhagen for the global summit on climate change.
Earlier this year, to mark the centenary of her death, thousands of Australians celebrated a national day of thanksgiving in her memory. A service was also held at St Mary's Church in Fort William.
Sister Maria Casey, the nun at the centre of the campaign for Blessed Mary's canonisation, said the gift of sainthood is finally expected early next year.
"Cardinals and bishops examined all the material (relating to the miracle], all the statements, and agreed that, yes, the process could be presented to the Holy Father," said Sister Maria.
"First, it had to be examined by a panel of doctors. Two at first and then a panel of five. They gave their opinions that they could not explain the cure by medical means," she said.
"Then the theologians had to examine all the data and see whether the prayer had occurred to Mary MacKillop and whether they could decide whether the cure was through her intercession. They also said it was positive."
As the eldest child, MacKillop left home at 14 to work as a teacher before becoming a nun and co-founding the Sisters Of St Joseph, with the aim of educating poor children.
She opened her first St Joseph's School in Sydney in 1866 when she was just 24, and went on to found orphanages, women's refuges and more than 130 schools in some of the poorest and most remote areas of Australia.
Her path to sainthood, however, was not without its obstacles. MacKillop, who had taken a vow of poverty, was excommunicated from the church for begging and for encouraging children in her schools to be defiant and to sing "excessively".
But the excommunication was lifted after just six months when numerous witness testified to her good works. She died aged 67 after a stroke. At her funeral mass on 11 August, 1909, people vied to touch her body with rosaries and other pious objects, a practice highly unusual in Australia.
The process of canonisation began in 1925, although it took another 70 years for her to be beatified (blessed) following a confirmation she was responsible for a miracle healing. It involved the curing of a woman with leukaemia, again through prayers to MacKillop. Although reported to The Vatican in 1961, it was a decade before it was approved. The patient was still alive in 1995.
Then, in July this year, the Congregation For The Causes of Saints determined there was sufficient evidence of a second case of divine intervention.
Tony Kelly, a priest, professor and member of The Vatican's Theological Commission, said MacKillop was "a straight down Scottish Catholic and she did things that had never been done before. She is a feminist icon in that sense of the utter radicality about caring for those who had no-one. In working with indigenous people, she was well ahead of her time."