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August 8

St Mary MacKillop - August 8

Saint Mary MacKillop
Mother Mary of the Cross 

Nun, Foundress
First Native Born Australian Saint

(1842 – 1909)

“Let us all resign ourselves into His hands, and pray that in all things He may guide us to do His Holy Will … When thoughts of this or that come I turn to Him and say: “Only what you will, my God. Use me as You will”.”

Saint Mary MacKillop

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life  

Mary was born on January 15, 1842, in what is now the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Australia. Her parents, Alexander and Flora, were poor Scottish emigrants. She was the eldest of eight children. Although she continued to be known as “Mary”, when she was baptised six weeks later she received the names Maria Ellen. Mary was educated at private schools and by her father. She received her First Communion on August 15, 1850 at the age of nine.

Started Working as a Teenager

At the age of 16,  Mary started working as a clerk in a stationary store in Melbourne. To provide for her large needy family, in 1860, she took a job as governess at the estate of her aunt and uncle, Alexander and Margaret MacKillop Cameron in Penola, South Australia where Mary looked after their children and taught them. Already set on helping the poor whenever possible, Mary included the other farm children on the Cameron estate as well. This brought her into contact with Father Julian Tenison-Woods, who had been the parish priest in the area since 1857.

In 1862, after two years with the Camerons, Mary accepted a job teaching the children of Portland, Victoria. Then, in 1864, Mary opened her own boarding school, Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies, now Bayview College, and was joined by the rest of her family.

Founding of School and Religious Congregation

In 1866, Father Tenison-Woods invited Mary and her sisters Annie and Lexie to come to Penola, South Australia to open a Catholic school. Mary and he became cofounders of a free Catholic school they opened in a stable there for the poor. After renovations by their brother, they started teaching more than 50 children.

On November 21, 1866, the feast day of the Presentation of Mary, several other women joined Mary and her sisters. Mary and Lexie began wearing simple religious habits. The small group began to call themselves the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. They moved to a new house in Grote Street, Adelaide. There, they founded a new school at the request of Bishop Laurence Sheil.

The “rule of life” developed by Father Woods and MacKillop for the community emphasized poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings, faith that God would provide and willingness to go where needed. The rule of life was approved by Bishop Sheil. By the end of 1867, ten other women had joined the Josephites, who adopted a plain brown religious habit. Due to the colour of their attire and their name, the Josephite sisters became colloquially known as the “Brown Joeys”.

Expansion of the Sisters of St Joseph

In October 1867, in an attempt to provide education to all the poor, particularly in rural areas, a school was opened in Yankalilla, South Australia. By the end of 1869, more than 70 members of the Sisters of St Joseph were educating children at 21 schools in Adelaide and throughout Australia. Mary and her Josephites were also involved with an orphanage; neglected children; girls in danger; the aged poor; a reformatory (in Johnstown near Kapunda); and a home for the aged and incurably ill.

In December 1869, Mary and several other sisters travelled to Brisbane to establish the order in Queensland. They were based at Kangaroo Point. They took the ferry or rowed across the Brisbane River to attend Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral. Two years later, she was in Port Augusta, South Australia for the same purpose. The Josephite congregation expanded rapidly and, by 1871, 130 sisters were working in more than 40 schools and charitable institutions across South Australia and Queensland.


Mary’s independence and social ideas concerned Church authorities. She was ordered by her bishop, who believed some exaggerated stories about the educator, to surrender control of the schools and her Order. In 1871, she refused and was excommunicated. Mary was crushed, but never blamed Church officials.  Mary prayed that some good would come from the action and she suffered through this time. In 1872, her bishop, having determined the baseless nature of the accusations, apologized, and returned Mary to full communion.

Visited Pope Pius IX

In 1872, after the acquisition of the Mother House in Kensington in 1872, Mary made preparations to leave for Rome to have the “Rule of Life” of the Sisters of St Joseph officially receive papal approved. In 1873, Mary visited Pope Blessed Pius IX, who encouraged her in her works. Then, she travelled through England, Ireland and Scotland to seek funds for her schools. In March 1875, Mary was unanimously elected superior-general of her Order. She travelled from house to house in the Order for the rest of her life, working to improve education for the poor, and general conditions for the Aborigines. She was a prolific correspondent, over 1,000 of Mary’s letters have survived.

Although still living through alms, the Josephite sisters had been very successful. In South Australia, they had schools in many country towns including, Willunga, Willochra, Yarcowie, Mintaro, Auburn, Jamestown, Laura, Sevenhill, Quorn, Spalding, Georgetown, Robe, Pekina, Appila and several others.

During this period, the Josephites expanded their operations into New South Wales and New Zealand. In 1883, Mary relocated to Sydney on the instruction of Bishop Reynolds of Adelaide.

Mary continued her work for the Josephites in Sydney and tried to provide as much support as possible for those in South Australia. In 1883 the order was successfully established at Temuka in New Zealand, where Mary stayed for over a year. In 1889 it was also established in the Australian state of Victoria. In 1899, Mary was once more elected unopposed as superior general, a position she held until her own death.

Health Problems

During the later years of her life, Mary had many problems with her health which continued to deteriorate. She suffered from rheumatism and after a stroke in Auckland, New Zealand in 1902, became paralysed on her right side. For seven years, she had to rely on a wheelchair to move around, but her speech and mind were as good as ever and her letter writing had continued unabated after she learned to write with her left hand. Even after suffering the stroke, the Josephite nuns had enough confidence in her to re-elect her in 1905.

Her Death

Mary died on August 8, 1909 at the Josephite convent in North Sydney. Her order continues its good work today with hundreds of Sisters in Australia, New Zealand, and Peru.  

Born :                  January 15, 1842 in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia

Died:                   August 8, 1909 age 67 in Sydney, Australia

Beatified:           June 13, 1992 by Pope John Paul II

Canonized:        October 17, 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI

Feast Day:          August 8

Patron Saint:     Australia; Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Australia



Throughout her life, Saint Mary MacKillop faced significant challenges and opposition from both civil and ecclesiastical authorities. She was excommunicated from the Church for a period, but she persevered in her mission. Her unwavering dedication to her faith and her vision for education is a testament to her courage and resilience. Her legacy serves as a source of inspiration for people of all backgrounds, emphasizing the importance of compassion, perseverance, and the pursuit of justice in making the world a better place.

While we may not be excommunicated like Saint Mary MacKillop, we most certainly will face some adversity in our lives. So, how can you make perserve and make the world a better place today?


Saint Mary MacKillop, you who dedicated your life to serving God and educating the poor and marginalized, we come before you in humble prayer. Your example reminds us that even in the face of adversity, one person can make a significant difference by staying true to their principles.

As we face the challenges and uncertainties of our own lives, we ask for your intercession and guidance. Help us to live with the same courage and conviction that you displayed throughout your life. Teach us to be instruments of God’s love, especially to those who are in need, just as you were.

Saint Mary MacKillop, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Adoremus – Blazing with Love: Surrender to Christ in the Life of St. Mary MacKillop

Aleteia – Mary MacKillop, the Mercy Saint of the Outback

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 8 August – St Mary of the Cross (1842-1909)

Catholic Ireland – St Mary MacKillop (1842–1909) 1st Australian saint

Catholic News Agency – Blessed Mary MacKillop

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Mary MacKillop, Foundress by Katherine I Rabenstein

Franciscan Media – Saint Mary MacKillop

Independent Catholic News – St Mary MacKillop

National Catholic Reporter – St. Mary MacKillop and the Communion of Saints by Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart – Mary’s Story

The Catholic Weekly – Honouring Australia’s first saint


Video Link

Cradio Saint of the Day: Saint Mary of the Cross Mackillop – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)

Mary MacKillop – YouTube (Sydney Catholic Youth)