Nun may become first Aussie saint

December 20, 2009 12:00 am

, SYDNEY, Dec 20 – An Australian nun who died 100 years ago looks set to become the nation\’s first saint, after the Pope recognised a miracle in which she apparently cured a woman of cancer, officials said Sunday.

The miracle, in which a woman who prayed to nun Mary MacKillop was said to have been healed of inoperable lung cancer in the 1990s, opens the way for the Vatican to canonise a woman already revered in Australia as a national icon.

"Today is a special day not only for the Sisters but also for Australia and the universal Church," said Anne Derwin, a nun with the Sisters of St Joseph order founded by MacKillop.

"It is a day to acknowledge Mary who is not only truly saintly but also one of Australia\’s true heroes."

MacKillop passed the first stage to sainthood when she was beatified by the previous Pope John Paul II in 1995 after having another miracle, in which a woman was said to have been cured of terminal leukaemia, attributed to her.

Melbourne-born MacKillop, who established her first school in a disused stable and founded her order of nuns at the age of 24, is already known as "the Australian people\’s saint," said Archbishop Philip Wilson.

"She was one of us," said Wilson, who is president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. "Mary was an ordinary person who lived a holy life."

MacKillop, whose parents came to Australia from Scotland, spent her life educating the poor, taking learning to the harsh Outback and to former female prisoners and ex-prostitutes.

But the pioneering educator and social reformer was not without controversy — MacKillop was excommunicated in 1871 for alleged insubordination before being welcomed back to the Church four months later.

She later sought Pope Pius IX\’s approval to continue her work with her order and by the time of her death aged 67 in 1909, MacKillop led 750 nuns and had 117 schools and had opened orphanages and refuges for the needy.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the development was a "deeply significant announcement for the five million Australians of Catholic faith and for all Australians whether of Catholic faith or not."

"In a time when poverty was common and educational opportunities for young Australians very limited, Mary MacKillop worked to improve the lives of the marginalised, the homeless and the destitute throughout her life," she said.

MacKillop\’s supporters are now awaiting a decision from the Vatican on when she can be canonised, hoping the ceremony will take place in Rome next year.

Sister Derwin said while MacKillop would not have expected the limelight, "it makes us feel excited that the gift she was given for the Church, for the world, is being recognised as valuable".

"She was bold and tenacious and let nothing stand in the way of her care for others," she said. "Her strength, humour and egalitarian vision have important relevance in today\’s busy and complex times," she said.

The woman whose survival of terminal lung cancer has been acknowledged as the second miracle said she felt personally humbled and grateful to MacKillop.

"I hope this news today provides others, especially younger Australians, with inspiration and encouragement to live as generously and as compassionately as Mary did," the unnamed woman said in a statement read by Derwin.

Derwin said Pope Benedict XVI, who made visiting MacKillop\’s memorial chapel in North Sydney a priority during his stay in Australia for youth celebrations in 2008, admitted to a great love for the Australian.

He was the third Pope to pray at the tomb.


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