Pioneer, Provider, Governess, Teacher, Founder, Australia’s First Saint

Mary, the daughter of Scottish parents, Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald was born on 5th January, 1842 in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy in the very early days of colonial Melbourne. The eldest of eight children she was tutored by her father who had previously studied for the priesthood in Rome.

Having migrated to Australia in 1835 and married Flora, Alexander lacked business knowledge and was often out of work, leaving his family without a home of their own. As the eldest, Mary worked from an early age to support the family. She said in later life that their home was not a happy one.

While acting as a governess to her Cameron cousins at Penola, Mary met Father Julian Tenison Woods who needed help in the religious education of children in his vast parish in south-east South Australia.

In 1866, greatly inspired and encouraged by Father Woods, Mary opened the first Saint Joseph’s School in a disused stable in Penola.

Many young women were drawn to Mary and her work, and so the first Australian congregation, the Sisters of St Joseph came into being. Many trials and hardships were suffered by Mary and her Sisters, Mary herself being excommunicated by the Bishop of Adelaide.

Mary died in North Sydney on 8th August 1909. She was beatified in Sydney on 19th January 1995 and canonised as a saint of the universal Church in St Peter’s Rome on 17th October 2010.

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