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Mary MacKillop left a culture of exemplary living for her followers to emulate, paving the way for the education of poor children and a variety of ministries that addressed the needs of 19th century Australia.

St. Mary MacKillop, also known as St. Mary of the Cross, was an Australian nun declared a saint by the Catholic Church. She was born in Melbourne, on January 15, 1842, as the eldest of their eight children. MacKillop was educated in private schools and at home by her father. She received her First Holy Communion at the age of nine. Growing up, MacKillop and her family struggled financially. The family farm never had much success. During most times, the family had to survive on the small wages the children were able to bring home.

When she was 14, MacKillop started working as a clerk in Melbourne. 


To provide for her needy family, she took a job as governess at her aunt and uncle, Alexander and Margaret Cameron’s property at Penola, South Australia in 1860. While there, Mary MacKillop was tasked with looking after their children and teaching them. MacKillop, determined to help the poor, included the other farm children on the Cameron estate in her care. Her work as a governess and with the children brought her into contact with Father Woods, the parish priest in the south east. MacKillop stayed with the Cameron’s for two years before accepting a job teaching the children of Portland, Victoria in 1862. Two years later, MacKillop opened her own boarding school called Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies, now known as Bayview College and was joined by the rest of her family.


Father Woods, concerned about the lack of Catholic education in South Australia, invited MacKillop and her sisters to open a Catholic school in Penola. Together, they successfully opened the school in a stable. Woods was appointed director of education and he and MacKillop were named founders of the school. Following renovations completed by their brother, the MacKillops started teaching more than 50 children. At this time, MacKillop formally declared her dedication to God and began wearing black. In November 1866, Mary MacKillop and her sisters were joined by several other women. MacKillop, who now took on the religious name “Sister Mary of the Cross,” began wearing simple religious habits. The group of women began calling themselves the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart and

moved to a new house in Adelaide. While there, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart founded a new school, at the request of the bishop, Laurence Bonaventure Sheil. Their school was dedicated to the education of the children of the poor and became the first religious institute to be founded by an Australian. 


By the end of 1867, ten more women joined the Josephites. Due to their plain brown habits and name, the Josephite nuns became informally known as the “Brown Joeys.” In an attempt to bring education to all the poor, the Sisters of St. Joseph opened another school in South Australia in 1867. By the end of 1869, more than 70 of the Josephites were educating children in 21 different schools around Australia. MacKillop and her Josephites also worked within an orphanage; with neglected children; girls in danger; the aged poor; a prison; and with the incurably ill. (Despite opposition from clergy) By 1877, it operated more than 40 schools in and around Adelaide, with many others in Queensland and New South Wales. With the help from many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, the Josephites were able to continue their good work in religion, education and with prisons. 

Mary’s Legacy



Just as Mary trusted deeply in God’s presence even in the darkest times, may we too deepen our relationship through reflection, prayer and contemplation. Just as Mary’s whole life resonated with her vision for the poor, may we too reveal God’s hospitable heart wherever we are. Just as Mary stood against injustice and inequality in the care and education of poor people and provided hope-giving alternatives, may we too continue to minister joyfully among the poorest and those at the edges of church and society.


Mary MacKillop was a trail-blazer in her lifetime, leaving a culture of exemplary living for her followers to emulate. Mary paved the way for education of poor children and a variety of ministries which addressed the needs of 19th century Australia. Her legacy continues today in countless ways. Education in its many facets is still a strong ministry for the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Mary inspires us to be courageous and hopeful and to have a deep faith in our God who provides. Mary MacKillop has shown us how to forgive and how to be compassionate; she teaches us about sanctity and is a saint for all of us today. 


In October 2010 all roads led to Rome! Thousands, old and young, from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as many from other parts of the world, made the pilgrimage to Rome to participate in the Canonisation Mass in which Mary Helen MacKillop (1842-1909) was formally recognised as a saint of the universal Church. Among the pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square in Rome on 17 October for the canonisation was a group of 150 Sisters of

St Joseph. Two students from St Francis Xavier College were also present in a Diocese of Sale pilgrimage to the event. William AupitoIuliano and Cassie Gawley represented our school proudly on this day in Rome. Many more people gathered in their homes around the world to watch the ceremony on television and took part in local celebrations as one of their own was named, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

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