Thursday 23 November 2017

Aussie pilgrims hail saint who 'saved' Irishman from a coma

Celebration as Pope canonises Outback nun

Kathy Marks in Sydney

It's a chant usually reserved for sporting heroes, but the Australian pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square could not help themselves.

"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!" they yelled, as a 19th-century Outback nun with a rebellious streak was canonised by the Pope yesterday, becoming the country's first saint.

Similar scenes of elation were seen at the Sydney chapel where Mary MacKillop lies buried; at festivities in Melbourne, where she was born; and in the South Australian town of Penola, where she opened her first school in a disused stable.

The daughter of Scottish immigrants, St Mary founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and devoted her life to helping the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged, mainly through education. Unusually for a saint, she was also briefly excommunicated -- for exposing an Irish paedophile priest, a century before the Catholic Church became engulfed in child sex-abuse scandals.

Tens of thousands of Australians travelled to Rome to attend yesterday's Mass, where Pope Benedict XVI canonised MacKillop and five other saints: two from Italy, one from Spain, one from Canada and one from Poland. All have been credited by the Vatican with performing two miracles.


MacKillop -- now Saint Mary MacKillop of the Cross -- is said to have healed two women with terminal cancer.

The family of Corkman David Keohane believed she helped bring him out of a coma after he was attacked on the street in Sydney.

Mr Keohane and his father travelled to Rome for the canonistation yesterday to "give thanks" for his recovery.

While he was in a coma his family and friends prayed to Sr Mary. His hospital room in Sydney was adorned with mementoes of her.

While not recognised by the Vatican as one of the new saint's official miracles, Mr Keohane is referred to by the Sisters of St Joseph as a "favour".

The usually sceptical and secular Australian media has uncovered other "miraculous" recoveries attributed to her intercession. Indeed, the country has been gripped by "Mary-mania" -- a part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy, in the lead-up to yesterday's ceremony.

A cafe in Penola has been serving up "Mary MacScallops", and images of the nun have been projected nightly on to the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A musical about her life has been playing to packed houses, and MacKillop merchandise -- including mugs, key rings and bumper stickers -- has been flying off the shelves of a museum near her tomb.

In Rome, the Australian pilgrims cheered and waved flags and balloons as the Pope praised their compatriot for her "courageous and saintly example of zeal, perseverance and prayer".

Born in 1842, St Mary -- an independent-minded woman who regularly clashed with the church hierarchy -- was only 24 when she founded her religious order. By the time of her death in 1909, she led 750 nuns who ran a network of schools, orphanages, clinics and refuges. Today, the work of the Sisters of St Joseph extends to Thailand, Brazil, Peru and Uganda.

Pope Benedict praised St Mary for the way "she dedicated herself as a young woman to the education of the poor in the difficult and demanding terrain of rural Australia". He did not mention her role in exposing the sexual abuse of a boy by an Irish priest, which -- according to documents recently uncovered in Australia -- was one reason she was banished from the church for four months in 1871.

Although only one-quarter of Australians are Catholic, many others -- even some atheists -- have swelled with national pride thanks to MacKillop's canonisation. "True blue saint" declared 'The Sunday Telegraph', on the front of an eight-page supplement. Many Australians spent yesterday evening watching live broadcasts of the Vatican ceremony at home or gathered at sites such as Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral to follow it on giant screens.

She has had a park, a rose and an electoral district named after her. Her fans have been following her on Facebook and Twitter.

St Mary, who cared for Aboriginal children in South Australia, is also revered by indigenous Australians. Red, black and yellow Aboriginal flags were among those waved in St Peter's Square.

Irish Independent

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