Pope Announces First Australian Saint
This year has been a historic one for Australian women. In June, Julia Gillard became Australia’s first woman prime minister. And last week, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the Catholic church, declared Mary MacKillop, a 19th century Australian nun, as the country’s first saint.
According to the Catholic church, a saint is a Christian who is in heaven because of the holy work they did during their life, and for miracles performed after their death. The Pope named five other saints in a huge gathering at the Vatican, the holy city of the Catholic church. Vatican is the world’s smallest independent country located inside Italy.
MacKillop’s sainthood was the cause for great celebration back in Australia, where about 10,000 people gathered at the Sydney chapel where she is buried, while other Australians watched a live broadcast of the Vatican ceremony on TV.
A Woman On a Mission
Born in 1842 in Australia, MacKillop grew up poor as the eldest of eight children. As a young adult she became a teacher in southern Australia and where she taught the poor Aborigines (the original natives of Australia) for free in a classroom that was built out of a horse stable.
She then went on to create Australia’s first women’s religious community called The Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. She and the other sisters of the congregation spent the rest of their lives serving the poor, the sick and the needy through education.
The process by which the Catholic church declares someone a saint is called canonization, or through the official recognition of that person for their achievements. The canonization process is lengthy, often taking decades or centuries to complete.
To be a saint, there must be proof of two miracles that were caused by the person after their death. In MacKillop’s case, the two miracles are believed to be curing a woman who prayed to her, of leukemia (cancer of blood cells), and curing another woman follower of lung and brain cancer.