Mary Mania engulfs Australia

October 14, 2010 12:00 am

, SYDNEY, Oct 14 – "MacKillop" the musical is playing to sold-out shows, extra nuns are pricing souvenirs and in one town, "MacScallops" are the must-have lunch.

Welcome to "Mary Mania", a part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy which has seized Australia ahead of the canonisation of its very first saint.

This week, Mary MacKillop adorns extensive newspaper and TV coverage, a new stamp — her second — and even the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where the late nun\’s image has been projected nightly.

"I think she would just be very amused, sitting back looking at the onslaught of merchandise — bumper stickers, keyrings," said Edwina Huntley, museum curator at MacKillop\’s Sydney tomb.

"As fast as we can tag it, it\’s on the shelf and off again."

In recent days, MacKillop\’s list of honours has expanded to a park, gold coins and a second pop song (Mike Brady\’s "In Mary\’s Hands", following the Gary Pinto ballad, "Saint Mary MacKillop).

These join her electoral district, a rose, Facebook page and @stmarymackillop Twitter account, where the Sisters of St Joseph — the order she founded — post her musings and sayings.

On Thursday, MacKillop\’s website ( crashed under the sheer weight of visitors.

"It\’s off the wall," said Anne Walsh, deputy director of the company which designed and hosts the site. "I think everybody who hasn\’t gone to Rome has jumped on to the site.

"There\’s so many visitors on the site at the moment that we\’re upgrading the server."

Nationwide celebrations are planned for Sunday\’s canonisation, with MacKillop\’s former home town of Penola expecting up to 20,000 worshippers and special masses across the country.

Interest is such that the government was forced to ban unauthorised commercial use of the late nun\’s name, prompting an angry response from retailers.

"Are we going to have to get the government\’s permission to reference God, Jesus or any religious icon?" said Scott Driscoll, president of United Retail Federation.

"It\’s not illicit drugs we\’re dealing with, it\’s an Australian saint."

Nowhere is the excitement more visible than at MacKillop\’s Sydney tomb complex, where visitor numbers have trebled since the canonisation was announced in December.

Many are loath to leave without a souvenir, forcing the sisters to dedicate extra staff to put price-tags on the MacKillop mugs, brooches and rosary beads to cope with the brisk trade.

"I think people want something tangible, they want to see, feel, touch," says Sister Brigette Sipa, director of the MacKillop Place complex.

In the gift shop, MacKillop perfume sits alongside tea cosies, plates, placemats, magnets and candles, while entire shelves are crammed with her writings and DVDs such as "That Very Troublesome Woman".

Organisers of the "MacKillop" musical said they sold out twice during their Sydney performances, and were expecting more big audiences for the Melbourne run starting on October 23.

Meanwhile, extra MacKillop "miracles" have been the subject of TV documentaries this week, to add to the Vatican-sanctioned healings of two terminally ill women which cleared the way to sainthood.

Commentators say the furore risks overshadowing the vast achievements of MacKillop, who taught children in a disused Penola stable before founding a network of schools and homes for the needy.

"Perhaps it\’s what we\’ve needed all along to become the nation we\’ve never quite felt we are: a saint," wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist David Marr.

"A navy and a federation aren\’t enough. A couple of world wars and a sheaf of Nobel prizes don\’t quite do the trick.

"Courtesy of the pope we now have a special friend in heaven: Australia\’s Patrick, our own Joan of Arc, our Wenceslas."

However MacKillop Place\’s Sipa said the saint-to-be, who knew the importance of wealthy benefactors, would have shrugged off the fuss.

"I\’m sure she\’d be smiling, probably with a bit of a smirk on her face, thinking \’Oh my goodness, what is all this about? Get on with the real work\’," she laughs.

"I think there\’s probably a reason for all this hype, she would definitely see there is some reason and she would accept it."


Latest Articles

Most Viewed