Australia’s very first Saint, Saint Mary MacKillop, a “Saint for all Australians” has a very close connection to our area. It was around here that she not only discovered her love of teaching but also God’s calling.
The eldest child of Alexander and Flora MacKillop, Mary was born in Fitzroy however, due to her family’s decent into poverty, moved around constantly often dependent upon friends and relatives for shelter and sustenance. The family soon became fragmented with Mary heading to Penola as a governess, Flora and her two of her brothers living in Portland and Alexander living at Mount Sturgeon Plains Station, south of Dunkeld.
It was while in Penola that Mary met Father Julian Tenison Woods opening the first free Catholic school in Penola and establishing Australia’s first Catholic religious order – The Sisters of St Joseph. Devoted to teaching the poor the order quickly grew. Mary was excommunicated from the church for alleged insubordination due to refusing to allow a Bishop to head her order. She was later absolved and restored to her order by the Bishop who excommunicated her whilst on his death bed.
Mary passed away in 1909 in Sydney, with the Archbishop administering her last rites saying that he “felt as if he had been administering at the death bed of a saint”. Mary was buried at Sydney’s historic Gore Cemetery however her body was later transferred to the newly built Mary MacKillop Chapel in the grounds of the North Sydney Convent where she last lived.
Mary’s father, Alexander MacKillop, died suddenly in 1868 at Hamilton’s Victoria Hotel at the age of 56, with his wife Flora by his side. The funeral service was held in Hamilton’s Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, and Alexander MacKillop’s grave is located on a prominent corner in the Roman Catholic section of the Old Cemetery on Coleraine Road. Stained glass windows and banners within Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Hamilton pay homage to Alexander and Mary MacKillop during their time spent in the district during the 1860s. An icon encased in silver has also been installed in Hamilton’s Christ Church Anglican Church, and it is believed to be the first time that a representation of Mary MacKillop has been placed in any Anglican Church throughout the world.
A pilgrimage following Mary’s trail from Adelaide through Penola, Portland, Hamilton and on to Sydney has been established. For more information on the Australian National Pilgrimage following the footsteps of Saint Mary MacKillop here.
Only an hour and a half from Hamilton just across the Southern Australian border, Penola is home to the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, which is an interpretive centre with exhibitions, research rooms, a shop and offers guided coach tours. Learn more about the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre here.
Mary MacKillop Place, where Mary MacKillop is buried, is also another must visit whilst visiting Sydney. Learn more about Mary MacKillop Place here.
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