God is in the Middle of Us

We often hear the question asked: “Where is God?”

Mary MacKillop had no doubt that God was with her, even in her darkest times. In this time leading up to Christmas, we will hear the Scriptural phrase ‘Emmanuel, God-with-us’ many times. We are invited to slow down, ‘smell the flowers’, ponder Mary’s words, and discover our God in the ‘bits and pieces of every day’.

There where you are, you will find God.Mary MacKillop 1871

Sometimes, like Mulga Bill on his bicycle, we find ourselves hurtling into the future, or rushing to our next activity. We struggle to be fully present to this moment—the one we are living now.

  • Have we paused lately to notice the small signs of changes in the seasons?
  • Do we sometimes stop to savour the smell of freshly mown grass? …or to enjoy what is right in front of our noses?

These little reflective breaks can help to keep us in the now. They put us in touch with our ‘good God’.

All the great spiritual writers invite us to try to live in the present. This moment, NOW, is the most important one we have. In fact, it is all we have. When Patrick Kavanagh tells us that “God is in the bits and pieces of every day”, we glimpse the nearness of our God in this precious moment, and in everyday happenings.

Mary MacKillop’s ‘good God’ is a faithful, gentle God who is at home with us. We don’t have to spend our lives seeking God elsewhere.

God gave me such a sense of His watchful presence.Mary MacKillop 1871

We light a candle to honour this present moment and to remind ourselves that the ground we are on is holy ground. Called, or uncalled, God is present. We sit in silence. Later on, we might take a long, slow, reflective walk.

And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’.Matthew 1:23

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 136-137)

© Sue and Leo Kane 2011

Used with the kind permission of the publishers, St Paul’s Publications

Available online and from some Mary MacKillop Centres.

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Photo: Advent candles by Sr Mary Ryan rsj. Used with permission.

ABC’s Fierce Girls features Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop — the girl who became a saint

The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has recently featured Mary MacKillop on their new podcast series called Fierce Girls.

The ABC states that “Fierce Girls is a show aimed at kids 7-11 years old (and their parents) and tells the inspiring stories of some of Australia’s most extraordinary women. Each amazing story is narrated by equally fierce and fabulous women like singer Amy Shark, the first female Governor- General Dame Quentin Bryce and Orange is the New Black actor, Yael Stone.

One week’s episode, narrated by star of Little Lunch and Home and Away actor Olivia Deeble featured Saint Mary MacKillop. The episode features the story-telling of the great work of Mary MacKillop.

You’re invited to access the podcast and resources provided by the ABC below:

‘Mary MacKillop — the girl who became a saint’ Podcast

Fierce Girls: Mary MacKillop Poster (PDF)

Fierce Girls: Mary MacKillop Colouring Page (PDF)

In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop Pilgrimage

On Tuesday 22 October, 21 people arrived in Melbourne to participate in the National Pilgrimage – In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop.

During the time of pilgrimage, pilgrims had the opportunity to hear of the struggles, joys, hopes and dreams of Mary, her family and Father Julian Tenison Woods and the needs of the early white settlers in this country.

While in places of significance in this story, pilgrims were invited to be conscious of the importance of ‘place’ and how this could impact on them if they allowed themselves to be present to it. At these places they took time to pray, in thanksgiving, praise, petition.

One of the significant places we visited was the home of Peter MacKillop’s, Mary’s uncle, at Lara near Geelong in Victoria. Peter owned this place and offered hospitality to Mary’s mother, Flora MacKillop, and Maggie and Peter, Mary’s brother and sister. Here pilgrims were invited to remember the hospitality they have received from others; the hospitality they have offered others and the ways in which they have experienced the incredible hospitality of God.

Pilgrimage calls us to reflect on our own life and the revelation of God within it and the lives of others. Much time was given for pilgrims to intentionally enter into this reflection. As they heard the beginnings of Mary’s story and the influence of her parents in her life, the pilgrims were encouraged to look at their own beginnings and family life and how they have been shaped into the person each is today.

As this pilgrimage within the pilgrimage came to an end, a few pilgrims were invited to share what this experience meant for them:

What a great opportunity for personal and spiritual renewal through hearing about and experiencing the efforts and achievements of Mary MacKillop and Julian T. Woods, despite their setbacks and challenges. Wish I had heard about it sooner!Kevin
To walk in Mary and Julian’s footsteps has been a privilege. To feel the pain, the excitement, the joy and also peace has been such a journey, never to be forgotten.Terri
Reflecting now on the Pilgrimage journey, it is no longer simply the journey of St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Woods, but I learned more about my own journey of life, how I had to leave my own country of birth behind and trust God that there was a new life ahead of me. God was with my family then and is still present to us now. Thank you for showing me the faith journey of Mary and Julian.Nick
This pilgrimage of Mary MacKillop has given me the opportunity to listen to the stories of Mary and Julian Tenison Woods as the layers have been peeled back on their lives, dreams, hope and achievements.
Through the collection of prayers, reflections and hymns of the past days, I have been provided with the opportunities to reflect on my life and drew on the patience Mary MacKillop that she practised through the trials, tribulations and challenges of her journey.
I pray that I may develop a stillness to become more aware of the love and compassion of Jesus in my daily life.Cathy

You might like to follow the pilgrimage in more detail by accessing the Mary MacKillop Place Facebook page below:

Mary MacKillop Place Facebook Page

View some photos from the pilgrimage in the gallery below:

Sign outside the site of the Night School and Providence in Melbourne, Victoria
Peter MacKillop's (Mary's uncle) home in Lara, Victoria
Alexander MacKillop's (Mary's father) grave in Hamilton, Victoria
Stable Park in Penola, South Australia
Franklin Street Chapel and Convent in Adelaide, South Australia

A Hill Too Far?

At a time when the treatment of animals used in sport is under the spotlight, and in this month when countless Australians are captivated by the ‘Race that stops the nation’, it seems appropriate to stop,  ponder and allow ourselves to be inspired by Mary MacKillop’s kindness and concern for both people and animals.

There must be gentleness towards the erring of others… Mary MacKillop 1871

“Another Sister and I were travelling with Mother Mary in Cobb and Co’s coach, which had its full complement of passengers,” one Sister recounted. “When we came to a very steep hill, Mother thought it was too much for the horses. She got out of the coach, and we did also, much against our will, as the hill was very long as well as steep, and, to make matters worse, Mother asked us to join her in saying some prayers for the driver of the coach. He was a most disagreeable man who was swearing at his horses most of the time.  Mother walked to the top of the hill in the best of spirits and provided the driver with some refreshments, as the days was very hot.”

On an ordinary, hot, Australian day, a grumpy man who swore at his horses must have been surprised to be the recipient of such a random act of kindness! “Amazing”, he probably thought, as he chewed on those unexpected refreshments. It raises the question: ‘Who deserves a good deed?’

In our imperfect lives, we all need someone to come along every so often to remind us of the love that underpins everything. Kindness sets up many ripples, and that’s why it is the greatest wisdom.

…Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you give will be the measure you get back.Luke 6:38

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 48-49)

© Sue and Leo Kane 2011

Used with the kind permission of the publishers, St Paul’s Publications

Available online and from some Mary MacKillop Centres.

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Image: Jiawei Shen, who has written:
I have used a pure realist style to portray a scene of Mary MacKillop travelling around Australia by Cobb and Co coach in the 1880s. I based my work on comments by Mary’s biographers about how she never stayed in the one place long, travelling vast distances between Josephite  establishments over rough roads in uncomfortable coaches.
Obtained from: Mary MacKillop: A Tribute © Honeysett Press,  NSW 1995, page 70






France Inspired by St Mary MacKillop

For the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October, the Catholic Diocese of Versailles, France prepared an online St Mary MacKillop reflection and biography about the life of Mary MacKillop.

Provided below is the Mary MacKillop biography that was prepared…

First canonised Australian saint, co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart for the Catholic education of poor children.

Born in Melbourne, the eldest of eight children from a poor family, Mary had to work to support them quite early (16 years old). At 18, she left for Penola in the South East district of the Australian state of South Australia to be a governess. In her free time, she cared for poor or disadvantaged children from the local area, especially those from Aboriginal families.

There she met local parish priest, Father Julian Woods whose Bishop had instructed his priests to open Catholic schools in their parishes. He was unable to hire Catholic teachers. Therefore, he decided to found a new Religious Congregation to do this work and he invited Mary to become its first member.  The project far exceeded their expectations.

In 1866, she became the first Sister of St. Joseph as Father Woods’ new Congregation was called.  In 1867 she moved to Adelaide, the principal city in South Australia, to take charge of a large school there. Many young women joined her and by December 1869, when she made her final vows, there were already 82 sisters managing 23 schools, an orphanage, a shelter for former prisoners, and a House of Providence for vulnerable or homeless women of all ages.

Between 1871 and 1889, the new institute continued to grow even though conflict over its mode of governance led to the excommunication of Mary for five months. Then, after the bishop had lifted his excommunication, she travelled to Rome to ask the pope to approve the statutes of this new Australian Religious Congregation. Even though Rome had accepted it with some modifications, the mode of governance, new for the time, continued to provoke turmoil and division among some bishops.

In 1888, Rome gave formal approval to the Congregation and bishops who wished to retain the older form of governance for their sisters were permitted to do so provided they changed these sisters’ mode of dress and the names of their Congregations.

In 1891, 25 years after the establishment of the Congregation, there were 300 sisters in 80 foundations in nine Australian and New Zealand dioceses.

Until the end of her life and as far as she was able, Mary devoted all her energy to visiting the institutions, accompanying Sisters to new foundations, and instructing them on the most subtle points of their rule and on her methods of education.

She died in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 8 August 1909 and became Australia’s first canonised saint on 17 October 2010.

Beatrice Trépanier
Head of the Evangelization Department, Catholic diocese of Versailles, France

View the Mary MacKillop biography on the Catholic diocese of Versailles website

View the St Mary MacKillop reflection for Extraordinary Missionary Month here

A Mellow Heart

This month’s foray into the Little Brown Book Too draws us into an incident which shows how Mary’s warm heart and generous spirit helped her to have an impact on another person.

Forgive me everything I have done to pain or disappoint any of you. Mary MacKillop 1881

Sister Irene told of a time when Mary sent for her:

“Do you want me, Mother?” she asked.

“Yes,” was the answer. “I want to beg your pardon for the impatient way I spoke to you when you came to me this morning. I fear I have given you pain and I am sorry for having done so.”

She may have felt irritable and thought she had betrayed it in her words or manner, but I had no sense of this and told her so, for she had been most gentle and kind to me.

This little connection came from Mary’s readiness to trust in the goodness of another. It brings to mind Ronald Rolheiser’s wisdom that:‘Sanctity is about having a mellow heart and spirit.’ 

Most would agree that it was because Mary’s heart was mellow that: ‘she did not lose touch with the people’ (Paul Gardiner sj)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. Matthew 9:36

The above is an extract from The Little Brown Book Too (pages 36-37)

© Sue and Leo Kane 2011

Used with the kind permission of the publishers, St Paul’s Publications

Available online and from some Mary MacKillop Centres.

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Image: © Veronika Dimac – InJoy International: Used with permission of the artist.

Mary MacKillop in Austria

Since 2007, the Apostolic Sisters of the Family of Mary have been organising a four day Youth Meeting and this year, they chose St Mary MacKillop as their Patron.

This event coincided with Mary MacKillop’s Feast Day being held from 8 – 11 August in Kundl, Austria. Thirteen years ago, young Catholics from the Austrian state of Tyrol, had the desire to gather together young faithful people at a youth festival. This was the start of an extraordinary journey with incredible graces, which the Lord poured into the hearts of so many of those who attended these meetings.  Throughout the years, the fruits have been visible. Some youth have joined the priesthood or religious life, while others found their future spouse and eventually were married. It’s truly amazing how young people continually open their hearts to God and find strength in a new or renewed friendship with Him and also amongst each other.

The theme of this year’s meeting was taken from the verse Jn: 12,28, “Father, Glorify Your Name.” Approximately 200 young people from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia accepted our invitation and traveled to the beautiful little town Kundl, which is surrounded by mountains, to celebrate their faith. Amongst other things, Holy Mass, Adoration, conferences, testimonies, workshops, confession, sports, and the rosary, worked together to create a very special and holy atmosphere. God also blessed us with beautiful summer weather and much joy during this time.

Father Maximilian Maria Schwarzbauer, priest and missionary of the Community “Work of Jesus the High Priest,” spoke in his conferences about the fatherly love of God. His joy was truly contagious. It was no surprise that the resounding round of applause at the end of the meeting seemed to have no end.

Religious sisters of the missionary community “Family of Mary”, helped throughout the meeting with music, workshops and personal talks with the youth. They used their talents and gifts to spread the Good News and helped the young people to deepen their personal relationship with God.

One thing was very obvious at our meeting – we love the saints! During the last of couple years, Sr. Elisa Foidl, wrote seven beautiful musicals, each depicting the life of a different saint, including, Saint Gabriele Possenti, Blessed Charles of Foucauld, and Saint Don Bosco. These musicals were performed by the youth and were attended by adults, other youth, family members and the faithful from local parishes, thus allowing hundreds of people to witness God’s great work in the lives of the saints. The musicals have continued to be a great success.

At the beginning of each New Year, the team organizing the event, randomly draws a patron saint whom they ask to be their patron and intercessor for their summer meeting. This year, as we came together and asked the Lord for our patron saint, we were truly amazed, when we picked Saint Mary MacKillop, as we discovered that her memorial coincided with the first day of our meeting, 8 August. We know this is no coincidence and are so very grateful to God for this sign of His grace and love.

With Saint Mary MacKillop’s homeland being Australia, which is more than 20 hours by plane from our homeland of Austria, it is amazing how this saint has found a place in our hearts. Our two countries not only share similar names, Australia/Austria, but above all, a love and veneration of this truly amazing saint.

We send a big hello to all of you in Australia and unite ourselves with you in prayer, through the intercession of Saint Mary MacKillop.

Barbara Thielen
Member of the organisational team “Liebesiegt”


Photos provided by Sr. Elisa Maria and Sr. Mary Nichole, Apostolic Sisters of the Family of Mary. Used with permission.

Australian National Pilgrimage

Each year since 1994, the Sisters of Saint Joseph have offered the people of Australia the opportunity to go on pilgrimage, “Walking in the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop”.

Portland a place of decision

Several weeks ago I received a phone call from a person who was interested in participating in the national pilgrimage entitled “In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop”. One of the questions asked was about the itinerary and what a typical day during the time of pilgrimage would consist of.

As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that in the enquirer’s mind the words pilgrimage and tour were synonymous. This however, is not the case. There is significant difference between the two words. To a degree the day-to-day routine does look as though people are tourists enjoying a trip. There is the getting on and off the coach; meeting new people; journeying with an interesting combination of personalities; receiving information about significant sites; opportunities to purchase mementoes of places visited. This is however, where the similarities end.

So what then is a pilgrimage? It is a journey to a sacred place which takes the pilgrim out of her or his usual day-to-day routine into a sacred time and space. Some would say that the time of pilgrimage is a liminal time, “an in between time”, a graced time allowing for the possibility of transformation in a pilgrim’s life.

As Macrina Wiederkehr writes in her book Behold Your Life:

Pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. A pilgrimage is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place.
Penola a place of Ministry

Each year the Sisters of Saint Joseph offer people the opportunity to journey in the footstep of St Mary MacKillop, by visiting places of significance in her journey of listening and responding to her God. This journey is an invitation to see, listen and reflect on Mary’s relationship with God and her ability to trust implicitly in God to provide in all things. The journey will be filled with challenges, joys, disappointments, frustrations, unexpected delights…. God is there gently calling the pilgrim by name to enter more deeply into relationship with

Mary as guide and inspiration.  Pilgrims are invited to reflect on where they see God in their journey; to what is God calling her or him and how they respond in trust to God as did Mary.

Returning from the time of pilgrimage the pilgrim is changed. She or he is open to responding more deeply to the word of which each is a part; more aware of the presence of God with and in them and in all creation.

Franklin Street Chapel, Adelaide

Our pilgrimage for 2019 commences in Melbourne on 22 October and concludes in Sydney on 2 November. If you would like to join us please email us for further information and/or to request an Application Form.

Information is also available on the Mary MacKillop Place website.

Annie Bond rsj