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MACKILLOP-CLAIMS Feb-22-2010 (820 words) With photos posted Feb. 19 and 22. xxxi

Nun says Australian's sainthood cause delayed by unfounded claims

The excommunication of Blessed Mary MacKillop is depicted in an exhibit about her life at Mary MacKillop Place in Sydney, Australia. Pope Benedict XVI will canonize her and five others Oct. 17. The Melbourne nun who co-founded the first religious order in Australia, will become the country's first saint. (CNS file photo/Nancy Wiechec)

By Anthony Barich
Catholic News Service

PERTH, Australia (CNS) -- Blessed Mary MacKillop's sainthood cause was delayed by accusations that she was a drunk because she drank brandy for menstrual pain, said the head of the order the Australian nun co-founded in 1866.

Irish clergy in Adelaide were "determined to bring her down," said Sister Anne Derwin, head of the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, which Blessed MacKillop founded with Father Julian Tenison Woods. The cause for the woman who will become Australia's first saint also was delayed by questions about her obedience, the way she governed her order and allegations of not paying her debts.

Sister Anne, 60, spoke to The Record, Perth archdiocesan newspaper, in a telephone interview Feb. 19, the day Pope Benedict XVI announced Blessed MacKillop would be among six new saints canonized in Rome Oct. 17.

In the late 19th century, Adelaide Bishop Lawrence Sheil became angry at Blessed MacKillop's "seeming imprudence" when she informed him that she would look for another place to follow God's call after clergy persuaded the bishop to send Father Woods to New South Wales. The bishop excommunicated her Sept. 22, 1871, less then three years after he had approved the congregation.

A document by Sister Maria Foale, a historian for the order, stated that Bishop Sheil reversed the order Feb. 22, 1872 -- one week before his death -- after he realized he had been badly advised by clergy.

"By excommunicating Mary, (Bishop Sheil) had set in motion a process for closing down at least two-thirds of the 60-plus Catholic schools in the colony. He also saw how strongly the people supported her, even to the point of speaking out publicly in her favor and vilifying him in the local papers," said the historical document. "For her part, Mary still respected him and was very upset over what was being written in the papers. In fact, throughout this sad time she behaved in an exemplary manner and would not allow anyone to speak against the bishop while in her presence."

Blessed MacKillop was investigated and cleared during her lifetime by a church tribunal set up by Adelaide clergy.

The canonization process -- which started in 1926, 17 years after her death in Sydney Aug. 8, 1909 -- was halted when the accusations again were investigated, and again Blessed MacKillop was found innocent on all charges, Sister Anne said.

"The clergy tried to say she was a drunkard, but after interviewing her fellow sisters they found that she only took brandy for medicinal reasons for 'women's troubles' -- period pain," Sister Anne said.

"Brandy was all women had, and Mary suffered bad period pain, really bad. She wrote late in life that she was glad that her 'friends' had left her -- that's what she called her period -- when she'd reached menopause.

"She'd often write 'I cant get up today because of this,' and the inquiry interviewed the sisters back then, who said it was totally unfair ... accusations made by men who didn't have to go through that," Sister Anne said.

She said Blessed MacKillop, also known as Mother Mary of the Cross, had "an incredible strength, despite knowing she was treated unjustly by the bishops."

"At the moment of her excommunication, she said she'd never felt calmer in her life and felt an overwhelming presence of God," Sister Anne said.

The order's historical document noted that Blessed MacKillop's congregation was radically different from the religious orders that Adelaide's priests had known in Ireland because:

-- It drew its membership from among the working classes.

-- Some sisters were barely literate when they entered.

-- A significant proportion of their number were Australian-born.

-- All had equal status regardless of their social or educational background.

-- They worked among the poorest sections of society.

-- They relied solely on school fees and alms for their support.

-- They lived in ordinary housing, which was rented or owned by the church.

-- They moved about openly in the streets and other public places and went into the homes of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in the neighborhoods where they had their schools. Sister Anne said Blessed MacKillop's canonization would give the order "a great sense of renewal and revival, to keep focused on the way she was with the poor, and a great sense of joy."

She said the new saint would be a role model to many Australians, who would empathize with her ability to make such a difference to people's lives despite her suffering.

Born of Scottish parents in Fitzroy, Victoria, Jan. 15, 1842, Mary MacKillop, the eldest of eight children, was well-educated by her father, Alexander, who had studied for the priesthood in Rome but returned to Scotland due to ill health before migrating to Australia in 1835 with his parents.

Today the order has sisters in Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Brazil, Ireland and Scotland.


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