A Significant Date
It was in Adelaide in the convent on Franklin Street that, 150 years ago on 22 September 1871, Mary endured her excommunication at the hands of Bishop Sheil. It remains an important date in the history of all Sisters of St Joseph.
On this anniversary of the excommunication of Mary, we are finding our way through the second and more difficult year of a pandemic. We look to Mary and to Julian, from the way they faced the crisis of 1871, to draw the strength we need today.
Mary described her experience on hearing the words of excommunication: I really felt like one in a dream...I do not know how to describe the feeling but I was intensely happy and felt nearer to God than I have ever felt before. The sensation of the calm and beautiful Presence of God I shall never forget.
With Julian’s niece, Sr Mechtilde Woods, Mary went to Julian’s brother James and his wife, Catherine who were Mechtilde’s parents. They took in eleven Sisters till they found other accommodation. We know, too, of the generous Jewish merchant, Emanuel Solomon who helped the Sisters with housing and also the support given by the Society of Jesus. The Sisters in the country convents were allowed to continue life as usual, not that it was usual. Five months wore on before the excommunication was lifted.
At the time of the excommunication Julian was missioning in the Bathurst diocese as arranged by Bishop Quinn and the Bishop Sheil, when he received the distressing word that the convent in Adelaide was to be vacated. Julian and Bishop Quinn headed to Sydney where Julian heard word of the excommunication.
Unable to do anything to change the situation and not knowing what was happening, he wrote to Mary and the Sisters: I am sure my dear Sisters, as I am of my own existence, that our Lord will take care of you all.
With the stress of the event, the inability to do anything about it and, like a puppet, continuing to preach in various places as ordered by Archbishop Polding, his health buckled. He wrote to Mary: Do not be uneasy my dear Sister, first about yourself, because the proceedings on your account are quite irregular and cannot be upheld, but we must go on gently.... My heart is so full when I think of my poor children's sufferings and I am so far away.
In January 1909, the last year of her life, Mary MacKillop wrote: Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them cheerfully, remembering Whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another and let charity guide you in all your life.
Whatever happened, both were grounded in faith in God's sheltering presence and in God’s leading in and through all circumstances. Let us draw strength from their example.
Jan Tranter rsj