Mother Mary MacKillop RSJ

Mother Mary Mackillop was the first woman in Australia to found a Christian religious order.

Honour Roll

Mary MacKillop was born on 15 January 1842 in Fitzroy, Melbourne, the eldest of eight children. Mary was educated at private schools and by her father who had studied for the priesthood in Rome. When her family fell on hard times she took on a succession of jobs including a shop girl, governess and teacher at a Catholic school in Portland.

Mary was influenced by an early friend of the family, Father Geoghegan and became interested in a penitential form of religious life. Accordingly, she placed herself under the direction of Father J.E.Tenison-Woods who as parish priest of Penola in South Australia wanted to found a religious society. With Mary as its first member and Superior, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart was founded in 1866.

Members were to live in poverty and dedicate themselves to educating poor children. Membership increased rapidly and the order spread throughout South Australia but ran into difficulties. Mary was excommunicated by Bishop Sheil in 1871 over alleged insubordination and the Sisterhood was almost disbanded. The excommunication was removed in 1872.

The following year, Mary obtained papal approval of the Sisterhood and travelled throughout Europe visiting schools until her return in 1875. By then, her relationship with Tenison-Woods had soured. In March 1875, she was elected Superior-General of the Sisterhood. She travelled throughout Australasia, establishing schools, convents and charitable institutions. On 11 May 1901, she suffered a stroke while travelling in New Zealand, and remained an invalid until her death in Sydney on 8 August 1909. In 1972, she was nominated for the honour of beautification and canonisation.