Julian Tenison Woods’ Devotion to Mary
The writer reflects on Fr Julian Tenison Woods’ life-long devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and how fitting it was that he should die on 7 October, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Julian’s priesthood was the core of his life, his dedication in union with his Saviour, partner and brother. In this dedication, Julian was close to Mary. Her closeness to Jesus, above all in His frailty in infancy and in His suffering, dereliction and death drew Julian to her.
His attraction to Mary began in childhood. He tells in his Memoirs how, as a child, living near the National Gallery which he visited constantly he was very fond of looking at the picture of the Mother of Sorrows with the dead Christ in her arms.
The closeness to Mary strengthened, especially in his years with the Passionists and the Marists. Mary MacKillop knew his tender love of Mary, the Sweet Mother and wrote of it in her biography.
In early September 1889 when death seemed near, Julian gave a special blessing for all who wear St Joseph’s habit. At his request, Passionist Fr Marcellus re-invested him in the Passionist habit.
At midnight as 8 September began, although appearing on the edge of delirium, he announced Tell them to say the Rosary now in honour of the Blessed Mother’s birth. The feast begins now. That day he told the doctor that it was the birthday of the Mother of God, a great feast in our church.
From the feast of our Lady of Sorrows, 15 September he often seemed near death and asked those with him to pray the prayers for the dying.
On Rosary Sunday, 6 October, he asked those caring for him to pray the commendation for a departing soul and the litanies of the Sacred Heart, St Joseph and Our Lady of the Angels and St Michael and most frequently, the Chaplet of the Five Wounds. His confessor and long-time friend, Fr Ambrosoli came and Julian received Viaticum.
That evening someone brought him a small statue of our Lady of Victories. His face lit up as he said I expected her a long time before.
The next morning Fr Ambrosoli returned and stayed nearly two hours. In severe suffering, Julian said his last word, Jesus. Soon after Fr Ambrosoli left, Fr Marcellus came. He stayed until Julian breathed his last at 11.25 am. Julian died holding a blessed candle in his right hand and his little statue of Our Lady of Victories in his left. Two more priests arrived as he died. Mary MacKillop came a quarter of an hour later.
More than a hundred people came to see him the next day. Among them was Mary MacKillop who was very kind and like others, brought a special lot of flowers. Later the coffin was covered with them and there were more for the grave.
The cardinal presided at the Requiem with forty-one priests assisting. Fr Ambrosoli said Father did not need the Mass. The priests who had visited were almost without exception Religious. One Franciscan said, Follow in your Father’s footsteps and imitate his virtues, especially his gentleness and infinite charity for I can call it nothing else.
After Mass about thirty Sisters of St Joseph, all who could come, said Mary, encircled the coffin and prayed the fifteen decades of the Rosary. So ended the life of this faithful servant of God. His Doctor said he was the most loveable man he had ever met.
Sources: Mother Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Julian Tenison Woods: A Life, 2010; Sr M John Dowling (using the name, Sr M Columcille), Memoirs of our Founder Rev Julian Edmond (sic) Tenison Woods, written 1891, Hillston NSW, printed Dunedin Press, NZ. Est 1954; Sr M John to Wilcannia Sisters, September and 11 October 1889. (RSJ archives, Sydney). The little statue of Our Lady of Victories which was given to Julian and which he held as he died is at St Joseph’s Convent, Goulburn.
Jan Tranter rsj