Uralla residents Gabrielle and Tobias Kelly have just returned from the trip of a lifetime – witnessing the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary of the cross MacKillop.
How did the opportunity to visit Rome eventuate?
Both of us wanted to attend the canonisation, as we knew it would be a very special time for all Australians. Our Parish Priest, Monsignor Wayne Peters, was the representative of the Armidale Diocese attending the canonisation. He invited us to travel with him. This was great, as it meant we had a guide in Rome and it was easier to get tickets organised for the ceremony.
Why was Mary of the Cross MacKillop canonised?
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop is someone all Australians can identify with. She was a strong, independent woman who was somewhat of a rarity for her time. She had a deep faith in God, which saw her through some terrible times in her life. Being excommunicated from the Church would have been a shocking thing for someone who had given their life to serve the Church!
She was a pioneer; she cared for the poor and the less fortunate. She was committed to the welfare and education of Aboriginal children. Mary lived by “never seeing a need without doing something about it”. It is for these reasons she isn’t just a Saint for the Catholics; she was such a good example of a kind and generous person – something that everyone can appreciate. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that Mary had on our country in terms of social welfare and education.
The movement she started and that continues today has spread around the world, with Sisters now living and working in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Peru, East Timor and Brazil. The Sisters have a very practical approach to assistance and service and have been instrumental in these countries, but especially so in regional Australia. In the Armidale Diocese alone, 21 schools were set up by the Sisters, of which 16 are still in operation.
To be named a Saint in the Catholic Church, there is a long, involved process that has to be followed. Included in this process is the proof of miracles. In Mary’s case, the Vatican deemed that she had interceded on behalf of two women with terminal illnesses, which resulted in God healing them. These miracles have to be unexplainable from a medical perspective.
Describe the canonisation ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome …
The canonisation was a special day. Early in the morning we could hear all of the Australians lining up to get in – cheering, singing and laughing – they were certainly the most animated of attendees!
It was very moving to see all of the Australian flags around, and the atmosphere was great. People were visibly cheerful and excited about the occasion. We were getting messages from home as they watched on the television, so it was nice to know people back at home were excited too.
The music at the canonisation ceremony was beautiful. Two Sisters from our own diocese – Sr Margaret Therese Cusack rsj (Moree) and Sr Pat Bartley rsj (Werris Creek) – were among those honoured to be a part of the choir. It was great to know that two Sisters who have done so much work in our own region were able to be a part of the events.
What emotions did you experience while being at such an event?
We felt very excited and honoured to be present. We also felt quite proud in a way! It was so great to have an Australian honoured so highly. We met some Sisters before the canonisation who were also a little chuffed – the Mary MacKillop souvenirs and prayer cards had been selling out everywhere!
Your fondest time in Rome?
The highlight of the trip was the Thanksgiving Mass that happened the day after the canonisation at St Paul’s Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome. Around 5,000 Australians and New Zealanders were present. It was such an Australian celebration; there were many young people from the Australian Catholic University, as they had a great deal to do with the ceremony – including making up a large part of the amazing choir. The Sisters of St Joseph who were present were so happy and cheerful.
After the Mass, there was a moment where everyone present thanked the Australian press for their coverage of the event and the lead-up to the event. We felt this was a nice moment, as we had met one of the Sky News reporters the day before. She spoke about how great her experience in Rome had been and how much she had enjoyed meeting with pilgrims and Sisters.
The benefits of sister and brother taking this trip together?
We enjoyed each other’s company on the trip, and it was nice to share the journey because it is something we will always remember. We both attended St Joseph’s School Uralla, which was started up by the Sisters of St Joseph and which Mary visited several times in her life. We grew up with a great appreciation for what Mary had done – as our own little school wouldn’t have been there otherwise!
Our mother and our grandfather were both taught by the nuns at St Joseph’s too. Our great aunt, who recently turned 90, said that when they were children at the school in Uralla, she would look up at the portrait of Mary in the classroom and not know whether she was looking down at them having a joke or if she was keeping an eye on them! Probably a bit of both!
Thank you Gabrielle and Tobias.