(Mary Helen MacKillop)
BLESSED MARY OF THE CROSS
Virgin & Foundress - AD 1909
Born in 1842 in Melbourne, Australia, Mary Helen learnt to know and love God
from a mother and father, Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald, whose
ancestors had held fast to the Catholic faith in Scotland through centuries of
persecution. When she came into the world, scarcely more than 50 years had
elapsed since the first Europeans had settled in Australia.
After Mary there were three more daughters and four sons born to the family.
Although Alexander was a good man and genuinely religious, he was not a
successful money earner, and his firstborn found herself with the duty of
supporting this family until she was 25.
From her earliest years Mary had a delicate sense of God's presence, and felt
called to live a life of poverty consecrated to the service of his poor. But she
had to wait. The family needed her, and at the age of 16 she went to work to
earn money to support them. Two years later she went to teach as a governess in
a little town in South Australia called Penola. There she found that the priest,
Fr Julian Tenison Woods, was concerned that in the vast area under his care the
children had no education, religious or secular.
In time Fr Woods' problem and the young woman's vocation found a single
solution in the great religious and educational enterprise known as the Sisters
of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. "Our work was instituted by God",
Mary said, "to destroy the secular spirit of education among our
schools". The foundation is traced to the period when she returned to
Penola in 1866 after some years teaching elsewhere, and became Sr Mary of the
After small beginnings in a school building that had been a stable, the
Sisters of St Joseph moved to the capital city, Adelaide, where their numbers
grew rapidly. Before long, their works of charity had spread to other parts of
Australia and to New Zealand. Besides primary schools, they cared for anybody in
need, orphans, old people, girls in danger, the friendless of all ages. No money
was asked for any of these services. They depended on alms for everything.
In 1873 Sr Mary was sent to Rome to obtain the approval of the Holy See for
the institute. She had several audiences with Pope Pius IX, who gave her great
encouragement. She returned to Australia with a modified Rule, being assured by
the officials of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide that after some years'
trial it would be given final approval.
In 1875 Mary was elected Mother General. After many difficulties she had the
joy of seeing the institute approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, by which time the
mother-house was in Sydney.
She was Mary of the Cross, and her cross took many forms—ill
health, frequent long journeys in primitive conveyances on land and sea in
oppressive weather, the writing of thousands of letters, struggles to obtain the
necessities of life, the hardships of real poverty.
But her most distressing crosses came from people, sometimes in high places.
What she suffered is sometimes astonishing to read (as when she was falsely
excommunicated), but more astonishing is the story of her charity and
forbearance towards those who were unjust to her. She judged nobody, she blamed
nobody, she was never heard to utter a word of criticism or bitterness, and her
reverence for the sacred character of priests and Bishops was never diminished.
She always tried to excuse those who had wronged her, called attention to their
good qualities, and reminded the sisters of favours received from them in the
Her public achievement is a historical fact in Australia and New Zealand, but
for those who knew her personally the most striking thing about her was her
kindness. In everything she said or did she showed respect and love for those
around her, making no distinction between the rich, the high-born, and the
influential on the one hand and the lowly and the outcasts of society on the
other. Her love did not depend on performance. Once a condemned murderer (a wild
animal, people called him) poured abuse and blasphemy on anyone who tried to
talk to him, until Mother Mary came into his cell, calmed him down, and helped
him to die at peace with God and man.
Love was the soul of her virtues, always ready to make allowances and to
endure whatever comes (1 Cor 13:7). Her faith enabled her to look beyond what
she could see and hear and smell, and to respect all as children of God redeemed
by the blood of Christ, one whom she had not seen but whom she loved (1 Pt 1:8).
Her union with God was constant, fed by long hours of prayer and great devotion
to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. From
childhood she had looked on the Blessed Mother of God as her mother. She loved
poverty with the quiet St Joseph, the patron of her institute, and honoured him
as a model and helper at all times.
Mary MacKillop, lover of the crucified Christ, had never been without the
Cross. Besides ill health she had to bear human opposition, calumny and
rejection. With the passing of the years the human problems faded, but her
physical sufferings grew worse, until in her last months they were constant and
distressing. But she always said, "my only prayer is that his will may be
done in the matter".
When God finally called her from this world on 8 August 1909, she had borne
her cross with incredible patience and with the joyful love of the dear will of
God which had marked her whole life. That love of God had filled her heart and
overflowed to all those around her, but it was especially tender towards anybody
in trouble. She had kept the great commandment, "Love God" and the
second, "Love your neighbour" (Mt 23:37).
Her place of rest in the chapel of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred
Heart, North Sydney, is a place of pilgrimage and devotion.
History of the cause
When Mother Mary of the Cross died on 8 August 1909, there was a remarkable
display of veneration for her in Sydney. This was not merely because there were
then nearly 1,000 Sisters of St Joseph, but because she was regarded as a saint.
People touched the body with rosaries and other objects of devotion, and
after her burial they took earth from around her grave. This was surprising
because this kind of thing is not customary at all in Australia. There is no
tradition of saints in that country.
On 27 January 1914, Mother Mary's remains were transferred to the chapel of
the Josephite mother-house in North Sydney. The conviction that she was a saint
grew stronger with the years, but Australia had no experience of how to go about
having someone canonized. Eventually in 1925 the Mother General of the
congregation, Mother Laurence, was encouraged by the Apostolic Delegate,
Archbishop Cattaneo, to take the necessary initiative.
Archbishop Michael Kelly of Sydney set up the necessary tribunals. Between
September 1926 and November 1928 an Informative Tribunal held 45 sessions during
which a carefully itemized set of questions was put to a number of witnesses
-sisters who had known Mary from the early days, and her own sister, Annie.
In March 1929 a technical difficulty arose, and much time was taken up in
discussing how to proceed. Eventually, in 1931 it was decided that the cause
should be suspended until a better time. But 20 years later the man who was
notary at the Tribunal had become the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. He had
always held that the suspension of the cause was an injustice to a holy woman,
and was determined to resume it. The difficulty vanished, and the inquiry
proceeded with examining witnesses. By 15 November, with the 74th session, the
Informative Process was deemed to be complete.
In April 1954 a decree was issued to the effect that Mary MacKillop's
writings contained nothing incompatible with heroic sanctity. Two decrees de non
cultu were issued, one in November 1951 and the other in 1990.
Though the Sydney Process seemed to be completed in 1951, the years 1959-61
saw 38 more sessions at which nine more witnesses were interrogated. This
brought to 112 the total number of sessions held between 1926 and 1961. All the
Acta were sent to Rome. In 1972 a volume of 600 pages was issued in Rome,
Positio super Introductione Causae. The Decree on the Introduction of the Cause
was proclaimed at the Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne in February 1973.
After more research in Roman archives and elsewhere, the Positio super
Virtutibus was composed during the years 1984-1989 under the supervision of the
Relator, Fr Peter Gumpel, S.J. On 15 November 1991 a special meeting of
theological consultants under the presidency of Fr Antonio Petti, Promoter of
the Faith, was unanimously favourable to the cause. Then on 5 May 1992, an
Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Bishops, under the Ponens Cardinal William
Wakefield Baum, was similarly favourable. The Decree De Virtute heroica was read
in the presence of the Holy Father on 13 June 1992.
On 5 February 1993 there was a special meeting of the theological consultors
to examine the evidence that there had been concerted prayer to Mary MacKillop
on behalf of the patient, and that a relic of Mary had been applied to her. When
this link had been established, the case was proposed, with Cardinal William
Wakefield Baum as Ponens, at an ordinary meeting of Cardinals and Bishops on 4
May. It was accepted unanimously and a Decree on the miracle was read at a
special papal audience on 6 July 1993.
After the reading of the decree on Mary's heroic virtue in June 1992, the
next step was the presentation of the Positio on a cure claimed to be effected
through her intercession.
Twenty years previously a panel of doctors and others had looked at a number
of such claims and selected the recovery in 1961 of an apparently dying woman. A
Tribunal was set up in Sydney to examine the case, and the evidence of
witnesses, together with hospital records, medical documents, x-rays and slides,
was sent to Rome.
In 1992 the evidence was examined by medical and legal experts, and then by
the Consulta Medica of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The verdict on
5 November 1992 was unanimous: that the diagnosis was correct, that the
prognosis was totally negative, that the therapy was inadequate to produce a
cure, that the recovery was full and permanent, and that there was no
explanation in terms of medical science. The patient is strong and healthy now
in 1995, 33 years after her illness.
Fr Paul Gardiner, S.J.,
Postulator of the cause
Taken from L'Osservatore Romano, 25 January 1995
SAINT PETER CHANEL
Priest & Martyr - AD 1841 (April 28)
Proto-martyr of Oceania, born at Cuet, dep. of Ain, France, 1803, died at
Futuna, Friendly Islands, Oceania, 28 April, 1841. Being of humble parentage, a
zealous priest, M. Trompier, assisted his education. Ordained priest in 1827, he
went as curate to Ambérieux and later as pastor to Crozet. His desire to serve in
the foreign missions drew him, in 1831, into the newly-founded Society of Mary
which, having been formally approved, 29 April, 1836, was entrusted with the
evangelization of Occidental Oceania. Chanel, after taking the three religious
vows at the hands of Father Colin, founder and first superior of the Marists,
embarked that same year for his distant mission under the leadership of Bishop
Bataillon, and was sent to the island called Horn, or Allofatu, by geographers,
and Futuna by the natives. War between rival tribes and the practice of
cannibalism had reduced its population to a few thousands when Chanel landed
on its shores. The religion he found there was a worship of terror offered to evil
deities. Chanel laboured faithfully amid the greatest hardships, learning the native
language, attending the sick, baptizing the dying, and winning from all the name
of "the man with the kind heart". Niuliki, the then ruler, showed first an amicable
disposition towards the missionary and even declared him "taboo", or sacred and
inviolable; but when he saw that his subjects were being drawn away from the
idols into the white man's religion, he issued an edict against him to avert the
movement towards Christianity. At that very time his son Meitala joined the
Musumusu, Niuliki's prime minister and an implacable enemy of Christianity,
then concocted a plot with the petty chiefs against the Christians, which was
carried out with great cruelty. At day-break, on 28 April, 1841, the conspirators
assembled together and, after wounding many neophytes whom they had
surprised sleeping, proceeded to Chanel's hut. One shattered his arm and
wounded his left temple with a war-club. Another struck him to the ground with a
bayonet. A third beat him severely with a club. The missionary was uttering the
while words of gentle resignation: "Malie fuai" (it is: well for me). Musumusu
himself, enraged at the tardiness of death, split open the martyr's skull with an
adze. The remains of the martyred missionary, hurriedly buried, were later
claimed by M. Lavaux, commander of the French naval station of Tahiti, and
taken to France on a government transport, 1842. The cause of the beatification
of Father Chanel, introduced 1857, terminated by the Brief "Quemadmodum" of
16 Nov., 1889. The solemnities took place the following day in the basilica of St.
Peter, Rome. "Oceanicæ protomartyr" is the official title given Blessed Chanel by
the Congregation of Rites in the decree declaring: "tuto procedi posse ad
solemnem Ven. servi Dei P. M. Chanel beatificationem".
[Note: Peter Chanel, the proto-martyr of the Society of Mary, and of Oceania,
was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.]
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)
BLESSED PETER TO ROTMartyr - AD 1945
Peter To Rot was born in 1912 in Rakunai, a village on the Melanesian island of New
Britain, today an eastern province of the independent nation of Papua New
Guinea. Due to the lack of documentation, destroyed by the Japanese during the
war, it is impossible to determine his date of birth. This is also the case for
his martyrdom and for almost all the events in his life. In the culture of Papua
New Guinea it was not customary to keep public records.
His parents, Angelo To
Puia and Maria la Tumul, baptized as adults, belonged to the region's first
generation of Catholics. It should not be forgotten that the evangelization of
Papua New Guinea owed a great deal to the extraordinary faith, training and
commitment of English Methodist Missionaries.
On 29 September 1882 the first
group of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart arrived in Matupit, New Britain, 10
years after the Methodists had begun preaching and had established the Malaguna
Mission. What happened in 1898 is surprising. Angelo To Puia, the great chief of
Rakunai village on the hills near Rabaul, told the Missionaries of the Sacred
Heart that the majority of his people wished to be Catholic and not Methodist.
It was precisely in these circumstances that Peter To Rot's father, together
with other powerful tribal chieftains, was solemnly baptized, forming the
nucleus of the first generation of Catholics in the region. It was Angelo To
Puia himself who opened the village of Rakunai to the faith and to collaboration
with the missionaries. He promoted the Christian life in his village, where he
was chief for 40 years.
Beginning in adolescence, Peter To Rot had a strong
inclination to piety and obedience, which convinced his parish priest Fr Emilio
Jakobi that the boy was born to be a priest. But Peter's father considered this
choice premature. He felt none of his people were ready for the priesthood at
the time. He nonetheless agreed that Peter should be trained as a catechist.
capable but modest catechist
In 1930, at the age of 18, the Servant of God was
enrolled at St Paul's Mission School for training catechists who would work
closely with the missionaries in evangelization. He succeeded brilliantly in his
studies and in 1933 obtained the catechist's diploma. An account testifies to
the character of this young student: "...he was modest and there was not
the slightest vanity in him, neither with regard to his background nor
capability. He let the older catechists guide him in his work and accepted their
advice, but eventually eclipsed them all and soon became their recognized
leader, although he was younger".
When he had completed his studies, Peter
was assigned to the mission in his own village, and so began his work as a
catechist in Rakunai. These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in
the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to
become acquainted with people's real life situations. All those who had him as
their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He
referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for
Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was
particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and
shared them intimately.
On 11 November 1936, the only certain date in his life,
Peter To Rot married the young Catholic Paula la Varpit from a neighbouring
village. Their marriage was celebrated in church but many local traditions—like the 50 shell necklaces to buy the bride—were joyously included. Three
children were born from his marriage with Paula: Andrea, who died after the war;
a little girl, Rufina La Mama, who is still alive; and the third child (name
unknown), who was born shortly after the Servant of God's death in 1945 and died
The decisive turning point in Peter To Rot's life and mission
occurred in 1942. After the Japanese occupation, all the missionaries and
mission staff were imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Servant of God
remained alone. During the war he was the only spiritual guide for Catholics in
the Rakunai district. With his constant presence, he provided prayer services,
catechetical instruction, the administration of Baptism, the preservation and
distribution of the Eucharist to the sick and the dying, and assistance to the
poor. On the outskirts of Rakunai, he built a church for the Catholic community
from branches, the only material available. The main church had been destroyed
by the Japanese.
At the start of the Japanese occupation, he was on good terms
with the military authorities. This sort of friendly relationship with the
inhabitants ceased in 1942 after the Japanese suffered some military reverses.
At that point the military police replaced the local authorities, creating an
atmosphere of repression.
Therefore, they decided to forbid Christian worship
and all types of religious gatherings, public and private. Subsequently, the
repression became more violent. The Japanese, seeking to force the local
chieftains into collaborating with them, decided that the Tolais should return
to their previous practice of polygamy. This was a severe blow after almost half
a century of missionary work. Peter firmly opposed this and was not afraid to
disagree publicly with his brother Joseph.
The Servant of God was arrested in
April or May 1945. According to accounts, his questioning by the official
Meshida was a farce as well as an expression of the crudest violence. He was
sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Later, referring to his imprisonment,
Peter said: "I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and
because of those who do not want the growth of God's kingdom".
for the faith'
The Servant of God was held in a concentration camp which had
been set up in a cave. Various accusations were leveled at him, including:
religious gatherings, undue interference in the Japanese plan for polygamy and
persistence in his catechetical activities.
Efforts by the Methodist chief of
Navunaram and the chief of Rakunai, Anton Tata, to have Peter released failed. A
prison mate said: "He was often visited in prison by his aged mother and
his wife, who brought him food every day. At one of their last visits, To Rot
said to his mother: the police have told me that the Japanese doctor will be
coming to give me some medicine. I suspect that this is a trick. I am really not
ill at all and I cannot think what all this means".
Despite the precautions
of the Japanese, Arap To Binabak, a prisoner, could see the brightly lit room
where Peter had been summoned after the doctor arrived. The doctor gave Peter an
injection, then something to drink and finally stuffed his ears and nose with
Then the doctor and two police officers made him lie down. Peter
was stricken with convulsions and looked as though he was trying to vomit. The
"doctor" covered his mouth and kept it closed. The convulsions
continued for a time, while the doctor held him still. Peter fell into
unconsciousness and after a long while drew his last breath. The same eye
witness gently spread the terrible news of Peter's death to his companions.
Several prisoners, taking advantage of the night-time absence of the Japanese,
wanted to see his body. Thus they verified his horrible death.
But in the
morning they saw a totally different scene: Peter's corpse was now arranged on
the dormitory floor. The Japanese, summoned by loud speaker, registered great
surprise when they saw Peter's corpse. Later, to Anton Tata, an old family
friend, the Japanese cynically replied that the prisoner died from a secondary
infection. In the meantime, they informed the family and returned his corpse for
burial, which took place in silence without a religious rite.
The immense crowd
which attended the Servant of God's burial, notwithstanding the presence of the
Japanese police, immediately considered Peter a martyr. This was not a momentary
reaction but a growing certitude. In fact, in the Tolai language Peter To Rot is
called "A martir ure ra Lotu": "A martyr for the faith".
Fr Renato Simeone, M.S.C
From L'Osservatore Romano, 25 January 1995