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Mary MacKillon: Aussie Saint and Troublemaker.

Australia is celebrating its first saint: Sister Mary MacKillon, a 19th-century nun who founded a religious order which ran schools and orphanages and clinics, is to be canonized on October 17th.

A Painting of Sr Mary MacKinllop, now in the Vatican museum

From The Independent:

Born in Melbourne to poor Scottish immigrants in 1842, MacKillop opened the first St Joseph’s School in a disused stable in the town of Penola, in South Australia. She died in 1909 and passed the first stage to sainthood in 1995 when she was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

A teacher and social reformer, MacKillop founded a religious order at 24, and by the time of her death led 750 nuns who ran 117 schools, as well as orphanages, clinics and refuges for the needy. The work of her order, the Sisters of St Joseph, now extends to Thailand, Brazil, Peru and Uganda.

In Australia,Prime Minister Kevin Rudd  said

She was a pioneering woman who dedicated her life to working for the “homeless, the destitute and the marginalised. In a time when many children grew up in poverty and had little chance of gaining access to a decent education, Mary MacKillop changed the course of many young Australians lives

(Sydney Morning Herald).

What I like about her, is her clear rebellious streak, which for a while got her into serious trouble with the Church authorities.

MacKillop’s pioneering work included setting up schools in remote inland areas, educating women and helping the poor and the destitute. Her congregation broke with tradition by drawing its members from the working classes, allowing its nuns to move around openly in public places, and refusing to allow local priests to manage its affairs.

Her clashes with the Church, and her egalitarian approach to her work, have led to her being called the “people’s saint”. She challenged orthodox thinking within the male-dominated Church, and in 1871 she was excommunicated for four months for alleged insubordination.

Later, of course, she was welcomed back into the church and exonerated of wrongdoing. It is worth remembering though, that she is by no means the first saint to have been in trouble with the Vatican. Sanctity does not simply equate with meek compliance.  Many of our most celebrated saints at one time or another were viewed with grave suspicion by the authorities in Rome.  St Athanasius, the theologian renowned as a father of the church, was excommunicated not once but several times, in the complex wrangling over the Arian heresy.

Heresy, it has been said, can be just a matter of bad timing.  That certainly applied to Joan of Arc, burnt at the stake as a heretic, but later celebrated as a saint and martyr. (Martyred, please note, by the church.) Nor was she the first religious rebel to be executed for upsetting the religious authorities of the day. Jesus Christ, many centuries earlier, was another – even more celebrated.

How many of today’s religious “troublemakers”, silenced or excommunicated for following the truth as they see it, might be rehabilitated and honoured in the years to come?

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