Australians celebrate Mary MacKillop's path to sainthood

Sydney, Australia - Church bells rang and Catholics rejoiced across Australia yesterday after the Pope approved a decree that should lead to Mary MacKillop, a beatified nun, becoming the country’s first saint.

Australians were celebrating the news of her imminent canonisation, but none more so than the people of Penola, a small town in South Australia where Mother Mary lived for many years and founded an order dedicated to helping the poor in 1866.

“We have been waiting all these years and praying for it. We are just walking on air today," said Claire Larkin, who helps to run a centre dedicated to Mother Mary in Penola, where church bells rang for five minutes on Saturday night when the news came through from the Vatican.

"We just can't believe it. We will have to pinch ourselves."

Mother Mary passed the first stage to sainthood when she was beatified by 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.

Mother Mary is now likely to be formally declared a saint at a canonisation ceremony next year.

The "miracle", in which the woman was healed after praying to Mother Mary, had to be scientifically and theologically assessed before it was approved by the Vatican.

The woman at the centre of the miracle, who did not want to be named, released a statement on Saturday saying it was “wonderful news”.

“I feel personally humbled and grateful to Mary MacKillop, and the influence she has had on my life,” the woman said in a statement read by Sister Anne Derwin outside the Mary MacKillop Chapel in North Sydney, where the nun is interred.

Hundreds prayed and kissed Mother Mary’s tomb as she was revered at Sunday church services across the nation.

The Sisters of St Joseph, the order of nuns she founded, celebrated the news.

"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.

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

Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said Mother Mary fought many battles within the Church when establishing the Sisters of St Joseph, and the dozens of schools they created to educate less fortunate children.

“At times she was treated badly and what was remarkable about her was she was still able to forgive and to remain normal and balanced and kind,” Cardinal Pell said.

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

She 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, Mother Mary led 750 nuns and had 117 schools and had opened orphanages and refuges for the needy.

Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that Mother Mary made education possible for many Australian children.

“Today, 100 years after her passing, the work that Mary MacKillop began continues through the Sisters of St Joseph,” Ms Gillard said.