The New Evangelization - Oceania

(Mary Helen MacKillop) 
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 Cross.

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 formsill 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 past.

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.

The miracle

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

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)

Martyr - 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. 

A 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 traditionslike the 50 shell necklaces to buy the bridewere 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 soon thereafter. 

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". 

'A martyr 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 cotton wool. 

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