Pope Benedict today canonised Australia’s first saint, a 19th century nun who exposing the activities a paedophile Irish priest
Sr Mary MacKillop was one of six Catholic figures canonised today at a ceremony in Rome.
She was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1871 after exposing the activities a paedophile Irish priest. She discovered that children were being abused by Fr Patrick Keating in the Kapunda parish near Adelaide in south Australia.
She told Josephites director Fr Julian Tenison-Woods about the abuse. It was then reported to the vicar general and Fr Keating was sent back to Ireland, where he continued to serve as a priest.
Fr Charles Horan, a Galway man who was a colleague of Fr Keating, swore revenge on Sr MacKillop and her order. After only four years as a nun, she was excommunicated by Adelaide’s bishop Laurence Shiel, who was originally from Wexford.
She was turned out on the street with no money and nowhere to go. Five months later, on his deathbed, Bishop Shiel instructed that Sr MacKillop be absolved and restored.
After being reinstated by the Catholic Church, Sr MacKillop became known for her work with disadvantaged children, female ex-prisoners and prostitutes.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 following a Vatican decree that a Sydney woman was cured of leukaemia in 1961 through Sr MacKillop’s intercession. The second miracle required for sainthood occurred in the mid-1990s when a woman sent home from hospital to die due to inoperable lung and brain cancer was cured.
"It is a great day," said Sr Monica Cavanagh, acting secretary general of Sr MacKillop's order said from her tomb, a short distance from Sydney's famous harbour. "We are proud of Mary. We are proud that she's Australian, that she's a woman and she's a Josephite. We are just filled with great joy. We have probably even had a few tears today."
Some activists in the Church have called on the Vatican to declare her the patron saint of those who suffered sexual abuse by priests.
The Rev James Martin, a prominent Catholic commentator, wrote recently in America, the journal of the Jesuits in the United States, that such a designation would be appropriate for a person he called a "whistleblower" saint. "Only recently has the Church begun to see whistleblowers as necessary - and holy," he wrote. "Victims and victims' families now have someone new to pray for them in their struggles for justice and reconciliation."
In the town of Penola in South Australia state, where in 1866 Sr MacKillop founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, a special mass was celebrated with children dressing up in 19th century costume. A special cross made from timber taken from Sr MacKillop's original school has toured Australia over the past two months in preparation for her canonisation.
In Melbourne where she was born, Australia's atheist prime minister Julia Gillard joined celebrations commemorating her life. Near MacKillop's tomb in Sydney, giant screens were set up to broadcast the canonisation ceremony live.
Foreign minister Kevin Rudd, a Catholic who has travelled to Rome for the event, commended Sr MacKillop for "extending education services to girls, to the poor, to the far flung parts of Australia". Opposition leader Tony Abbott, also a Catholic, called Sr MacKillop "inspirational".
Some five million of Australia's 22 million people are Catholic, making it the country's largest religion.
At a solemn ceremony in St Peter's Square, the pope also canonised two Italian nuns, Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano, Spanish nun Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola, Brother Andre Bessette of Canada, and Stanislaw Kazimierczyk of Poland.