I have just cleared the mail box and, with Mary MacKillop’s sainthood about to be officially recognised in Rome, I’m wondering what Mary would have done with the would-be local body politicians’ flyers.
In my shoes, this young woman with a passion for working with the poor would have scanned each one for a sense of the person’s concerns for those in need.
Mary MacKillop founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 1867 when she was just 24, her mission: to open simple schools where there was no class distinction, offering refuge to the most neglected, and bringing practical help to families.
Mary felt strongly the widespread ignorance of the whole of the spiritual dimension of life and dedicated her life to bringing the message of God’s love to all whom she encountered. Her spirit and values continue to inspire young people today to make a difference.
The eldest of eight, Mary was increasingly called on to provide for her family after her father experienced a series of failed business deals. At 18 she left her home in inner-city Melbourne to care for her aunt’s children in the rural South Australian town of Penola. There she met Fr Julian Tennison Woods who was concerned about the lack of Catholic education in the area. With two of her siblings and Fr Woods’ guidance, Mary opened a school in a disused stable.
Six years later Mary became the first sister and mother superior of the order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart – by the end of 1867, 10 others had joined. Their rule included an emphasis on poverty and the exhortation to go wherever they were needed, trusting in God’s providence.
Mary’s schools offered children the opportunity to learn basic life skills. As well as hymn-singing, they learned how to write a letter and add up a grocery bill in the hope of improving their situation in life.
The sisters would go in twos and threes into the remote areas of Australia and to New Zealand and live in and among the people. They would beg on the streets to support themselves through this work. (Some people grumbled at the sight of the sisters begging saying they were not real religious.)
Faced with a local body election or a by-election as we are today, Mary’s intimate knowledge of people’s needs would have prompted her to attend political meetings and quiz the candidates about, for example, the need for clean water, for affordable housing, for parks where children could play, for accessible public transport and about climate change. She knew the power of politics through her struggles to keep the order independent of the dioceses in which they were based.
The Australian federal election of 1903 was the first in which women were allowed to vote. ‘It is the duty of all of us to vote … Find out who are the members proposed for election and vote for those who are most friendly to the church,’ was Mary’s advice to her sisters. ‘Not every so-called Catholic is the best man’ < www.marymackillop.org.au>.
St Mary MacKillop, pray that the concerns of the poor will be best represented in the local body elections this month and in the Mana by-election.