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Mary Helen MacKillop (1842–1909)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Mother Mary of the Cross, founder and first superior of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, died on Sunday morning at St. Joseph's Convent, Mount-street, North Sydney, after eight years of illness. She was born on January 15, 1842, in Melbourne. Her father, the late Mr. Alexander McKillop, was a member of a well-known Highland family, who came to Australia in the early days, and first settled in Sydney. In Penola, South Australia, Mother Mary met the late Father Julian E. Tennison Woods, a "bush missionary." To the young girl, as she was then, he often spoke of the necessity for a school in his district, and finally, in 1866, in a stable at Penola, she and two or three companions opened one. This was the foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. In 1867 the novitiate was established in Adelaide, and in August of that year Mother Mary made her religious profession. The institute, though begun under lowly conditions and with no resources behind it, spread rapidly. Five years later there were 120 members. In 1869 a foundation was projected in Queensland, and the sisters begged their fares from one colony to the next, the branch being established in the face of many trials and privations. In 1873 Mother Mary went to Rome to submit the rule of her institute to the propaganda, and there she received the Papal blessing, the approbation of the Pope (Pius IX.) being given to the rule the following year. As it was not accepted by the Bishops of Bathurst and Queensland, the sisters of Bathurst who accepted the constitutions returned to Adelaide, the remainder forming a separate community under the guidance of Bishop Quinn. The Queensland sisters accepted an invitation from the late Archbishop Vaughan to establish themselves in the archdiocese of Sydney, and also a request from the late Dr. Torreggiani to begin work in the diocese of Armidale. In 1879 the sisters opened a House of Providence in Cumberland-street, Sydney, and schools were quickly established in many of the country towns. A novitiate was established at Cumberland-street. Later on it was transferred to North Sydney, where it is now the mother house of the congregation, a decree of the sacred congregation of propaganda having in 1888 authorised the institute to be erected into a congregation, having the mother house in Sydney. In this convent, which is one of the finest in Australia, Mother Mary resided for many years. The congregation also made good progress in South Australia. Early in the eighties the sisters were invited to New Zealand, and are now established in the dioceses of Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin; also in the archdiocese of Wellington. In the Commonwealth there are foundations now in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland. Altogether 750 sisters have been admitted to the congregation during the life-time of its foundress. While on a visit to New Zealand in 1902 Mother Mary was stricken with her severe illness. She improved sufficiently to enable her being removed to Sydney. During the long and painful years that concluded her life she never ceased to evince the liveliest interest in the welfare of her congregation. She has recorded of her work that she regularly visited every convent of her order, with the exception of a few of the later established, and knew personally every sister. Of her brothers and sisters two survive her—Father Donald McKillop, S.J., and Miss Annie McKillop. Her mother was lost in the wreck of the steamer Lye-ee-moon in 1886.

The solemn office of requiem mass will be celebrated at half-past 10 o'clock to-day at Ridge-street. Cardinal Moran will preside.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Mary Helen MacKillop

Citation details

'MacKillop, Mary Helen (1842–1909)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • St Mary of the Cross MacKillop
  • Saint Mary of the Cross Mackillop
  • Mother Mary of the Cross Mackillop
  • McKillop, Mary Helen

15 January, 1842
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 August, 1909 (aged 67)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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