Mary MacKillop’s feast day honours an amazing Australian woman

Mary MacKillop was the first Australian to be canonised as a saint - St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.  She was canonised on 17 October, 2010 - just over 100 years after her death on 8 August 1909. Since then the day of her death has become her feast day and each year there are celebrations.

In the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle, Mass will be celebrated on 8 August at:

  • 7.30 am – St Joseph’s Church, Merewether
  • 8.20 am – Sacred Heart Cathedral, Newcastle West

You can find Mass times in your local area here.

Life of Mary MacKillop

Mary was born in Fitzroy in Melbourne  on 15 January, 1845. The eldest of eight children, she moved to Penola in South Australia to be a governess.

It was in Penola that she met Fr Julian Woods who invited her to become Australia’s first Sister of St Joseph. She started schools in South Australia for the poor - and from here the St Joseph order and the number of schools grew.

Mary is known for being an ordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. She was an educator and social reformer. She also triumphed over adversities and obstacles one of which was being excommunicated from the Church on 22 September, 1871.

Bishop Sheil, the third Bishop of Adelaide, cited insubordination as the reason for the excommunication which was lifted on 1 March, 1872 when Mary was found to be without fault. She continued the work of teaching and founding schools, orphanages and nursing homes across Australia.

Mary spent the twilight years of her life in a wheelchair before  she died in North Sydney in 1909. Her tomb is in Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney.


Mother Superior of Sisters of St Joseph, Mother Lawrence began the process of having Mary canonised in 1925. It took until 1973 for initial investigations to be concluded and even longer until miracles were recognised by the Church to confirm the canonisation.

Mary was beatified on 19 January, 1995 by Pope John Paul II. Her canonisation was announced on 19 February, 2010 and took place on 17 October, 2010.

The miracle that lead to canonisation

Newcastle’s Kathleen Evans was instrumental in the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross.

Kathleen was cured of cancer after praying for Mary’s intercession. This was the ‘second miracle proposed in support of the cause’ that resulted in the canonisation going ahead.

Kathleen’s son Luke wrote in an article for Aurora: “In 1993, Mum received the news that she was dying of cancer. I believe it was what was called a Stage Four non-small, metastasised carcinoma. The cancer had spread to her glands and to her brain and it was inoperable.

“Any chemical or radiation treatment was predicted to give her maybe a week or two extra at best, along with a handful of horrible side-effects, so Mum elected to have no treatment. She retreated into her faith and to her growing connection with Mother Mary MacKillop, who was being talked about then as possibly Australia’s first saint.

“Mum and the family, along with a lot of people from our Parish of Windale and throughout other parishes in Australia, prayed the novena prayer for Mother Mary’s intercession on our behalf to God. At the end of the novena, Mum started to feel a little better. In 1994, some ten months after receiving her death sentence, Mum was told her cancer was gone. Gone completely, without treatment.”

The Australian Women’s Weekly reported that Kathleen and Barry (her husband) had no doubt they had Mary MacKillop to thank for their miracle. Kathleen had never prayed to saints, but while ill, a friend gave her a book on Mary with a tiny relic — a piece of cloth from the nun's wimple.

When Kathleen prayed and others prayed on her behalf, they were not asking Mary to cure her (under Catholic teaching, saints don't perform miracles) - instead they were asking Mary to intercede with God.

"Miracles only happen via God, but I really think she put her two pence in, she was such a strong woman,” Kathleen told the magazine.

The MacKillop Prayer

Holy God, source of all goodness,

who show us in Saint Mary MacKillop

a woman of faith

living by the power of the Cross,

teach us, we pray,

to embrace what she pioneered,

that like her we may show to the world

new ways of living the Gospel

that respect and defend

the human dignity of all in our land.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle