St Mary of the Cross... Patroness of Whistleblowers?
But only now, in the run-up to the historic day, the backdrop to one of the more intriguing angles of MacKillop's journey to sainthood has come to light with a revelation that, given the tenor of these times, is bound to make her final ascent even more high-profile than it's already been.
Five years after her establishment of the Sisters of St Joseph, alleging that the foundress had incited her community to "disobedience and defiance," Bl Mary -- then all of 29 years old -- was excommunicated by the bishop of Adelaide, who retracted the sentence five months later on his deathbed... and in a documentary slated to air on Oz's state broadcaster a week before the 17 October canonization, the context behind the move emerges:
While serving with the Sisters of St Joseph, MacKillop and her fellow nuns heard disturbing stories about a priest, Father Keating from the Kapunda parish north of Adelaide, who was allegedly abusing children....and, well, just further proof that, as often as not, a "Saint" above is just another term for one whom "The Church" persecutes here below.
They told their director, a priest called Father Woods, who then went to the Vicar General.
The Vicar General subsequently sent Father Keating back to his home country of Ireland, where he continued to serve as a priest.
Father Paul Gardiner, who has pushed for MacKillop's canonisation for 25 years, says Father Keating's fellow Kapunda priest Father Horan swore revenge on the nun for uncovering the abuse.
"The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children," he said.
"The nuns told him and he told the Vicar General who was in charge at the time and he took severe action.
"And Father Horan, one of these priests, was so angry with this that he swore vengeance - and there's evidence for this - against Woods by getting at the Josephites and destroying them."
Father Horan was by now working for Adelaide's Bishop Shiel and urged him to break the sisters up by changing their rules.
When MacKillop refused to comply, she was banished from the church.
"Mary was not excommunicated, in fact or in law. She submitted to a farcical ceremony where the Bishop had ... lost it," Father Gardiner said.
"He was a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests. This sounds terrible but it's true."...
A statement from the Sisters of St Joseph says the events of September 1871 have "been comprehensively documented".
"There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters," the statement said.
For good measure, the story leads tomorrow's broadcasts and papers Down Under; ABC features another interview with Gardiner, the first postulator of the MacKillop cause.
Recently praised (and effusively so) by Australia's "first atheist" -- the freshly-elected Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- as "a pioneering woman who embodied the very best of our values and the best of the Australian spirit," a formal apology for Bl Mary's excommunication was tendered to her spiritual daughters by the current archbishop of Adelaide last year.
The significance of the move -- which saw weeping among several of the sisters in attendance -- was only heightened by Archbishop Philip Wilson's added standing as president of the Australian bishops.
(Above: in a moment which he later said "deeply moved" him, B16 praying at MacKillop's tomb in Sydney during his Aussie visit for World Youth Day 2008.)