Daily Archives: October 18, 2010

Saint Mary MacKillop: A “rebel”?

On the Compass coverage of the canonisation last night, Geraldine Doogue interviewed the Secretary of the Bishops Conference, Fr Brian Lucas. He insisted that Mary was “a woman of the Church” and could not in anyway be painted as “a rebel”. Needless to say, Geraldine just about choked on this assertion and begged to differ. Fr Lucas, however, wasn’t having any of it.

My friend, Andrew Rabel, filed a report for “Inside the Vatican Newsflash” (my link for this isn’t working – sorry). Here’s some of what he wrote:

With the news that Australia was to have its first saint canonized on October 17, the normally secular country has erupted with joy. But it seems that many are more interested in a false conception of Mary, and perhaps this is a reflection of attitudes that have prevailed following the Second Vatican Council.

For instance, looking on the website romancatholicwomenpriests.org, a blog by Bridget Mary says, “Pope Benedict will canonize Mother Mary MacKillop, an excommunicated nun. Perhaps, this Pope is offering hope to the many thousands of Catholics who have been excommunicated, including women priests. Excommunication is not a barrier to canonization.”
Yes, but Mary Mackillop’s excommunication was lifted a few months later by the very bishop who performed the sentence, realizing he had been badly advised.

Following the tensions that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there has been the tendency for different factions in the Church to use a person like Mary MacKillop to bolster their own cause.

…Mary MacKillop was far from being a rebel. She was a woman of deep fidelity and loyalty to the Catholic Church. …In 1873 when MacKillop met Blessed Pius IX at the Vatican, in an attempt to gain approval of her order by the Holy See, she recognized her lowliness in having been excommunicated (albeit falsely) and said that meeting the Holy Father was a day that was worth years of suffering.

…Unfortunately, people today who resist Church authority in matters like women’s ordination or contraception etc …use Mary MacKillop as an example to justify these actions. They say “She was disobedient and payed the price for that. Now the Church has made her a saint because of this”.

For starters, Mary MacKillop founded her order of nuns to teach the Catholic faith to the poor children of Australia. She knew that in this emerging waspish country the faith was under attack by people of influence who wanted secular education only. Her resistance to Bishop Sheil’s edict had nothing to with disobedience, as such. She had made religious vows to live her life in a certain manner, with the principle of self-government that he had agreed to. Suddenly when things had not gone to his liking, he had no authority to tell Mary to conduct her community differently, and this was the advice she had been given by her Jesuit confessors who had been trained in canon law. Bishop Sheil had limited knowledge of these areas.

The Holy See approved the rule, with a few modifications, but most importantly they gave approval to her principle of self-government, and they were to be supervised directly by the Holy See. Later on the successive bishop of Adelaide, Christopher Reynolds still tried to get the Sisters to follow him and when they wouldn’t, banished Mary to Sydney. Fr Paul Gardiner SJ, a postulator of the Cause, always regarded this episode as worse than her excommunication, as it involved outright calumny. (A nun who falsely accused Mary to the bishop of being a drunkard, because of the brandy she was taking to deal with painful periods!) Bishop Reynolds had no right to do this, as the Rule now approved by Rome, stated they were not under the authority of the local bishop.

…But when all is said and done, the key to understanding Mary MacKillop is that she was a person of holiness. …Yes the canonization of Mary MacKillop is very sorely needed, because we don’t need another sports star or celebrity. We need a saint.

Saint Mary was a “rebel” only in the sense that she was determined to be faithful to her vocation and to live faithfully according to the call of Christ despite the obstacles of many sinful people both inside and outside the Church. At no time was she ever a “rebel” against Christ’s holy Church. Those who try to coopt her to any movement of dissent in the Church are horribly abusing the memory and example of this holy woman.

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