Feast of St Mary MacKillop, Patron Saint of Australia
August 8 is the feast day of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Australia's first and, until now, only saint.
Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne in 1842. Her parents, Flora and Alexander MacKillop, were Catholic immigrants from Scotland. Mary, the eldest of eight children, was raised in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.
At 16, Mary went out to work, to support her younger brothers and sisters. Two years later she took a job as a governess on her uncle's farm in the small country town of Penola in South Australia. Here Mary met the man who would change her life forever, Father Julian Tenison Woods.
Father Woods, a charming and eccentric priest, shared Mary's dream of educating the poor. He became her mentor and spiritual guide.
Mary later wrote: "I heard the Pastor... speak of the neglected state of the children in the parish... and I had to go and offer myself to aid him".
Sister Mary's biographer, Sister Marie Foale, says Mary and Father Woods had a very close relationship.
"I think they loved each other very deeply," she said.
"Father Woods was such a charismatic character that when he moved to Adelaide, according to Mary, many of the mothers of the town locked their doors when they saw Father Woods coming past, because they didn't want their daughters to be running off and joining the Josephites."
Together, Mary and Father Woods opened the first free Catholic school in Penola in 1866, at first in a converted stable and later in this more substantial stone building.
A year later the pair formed a new religious order of nuns - the Sisters of St Joseph - devoted to teaching the poor. Mary took her vows, becoming the order's first sister and its leader. She was just 25 years old.
"Within four years of Mary becoming a sister there were 130 Sisters of Saint Joseph, which is incredible," Sister Foale said.
The Sisters of St Joseph was the first Catholic order founded by an Australian. They vowed to live in poverty, own no property and were committed to equality. These were central to the order's rule.
As well as schools, Mary MacKillop and the sisters founded hospitals and orphanages, as well as providing shelters for the homeless, former prostitutes and unmarried mothers. And they raised all of the money themselves - mostly by begging.
Other religious orders were controlled by their local bishops but the Sisters of St Joseph insisted on governing themselves, something that caused considerable friction with the powers that be in the church.
This conflict, along with allegations of sexual abuse the sisters raised against a priest at Kapunda, north of Adelaide, led Adelaide Bishop Laurence Sheil to excommunicate Mary MacKillop for alleged insubordination in 1871.
Five months later Bishop Sheil was gravely ill and dying; from his deathbed he instructed that Mary be absolved and restored to her order.
After returning to the church, Mary MacKillop and the sisters continued their work.
In 1873, Mary travelled to Rome for a personal audience with Pope Pius IX and obtained papal approval for the sisterhood. She also sought sign-off on their 'Rule of Life', as set down by Father Woods. However, that document was discarded and another was drawn up.
That caused a divide between Sister Mary and Father Woods, and their relationship never recovered.
Mary and the sisters continued to come into conflict with a number of bishops, including in Bathurst and Brisbane, over the issue of their central control.
Mary was also accused of being an alcoholic - she drank brandy to relieve severe menstrual pain - and those claims drove her from Adelaide to Sydney, where she lived for the last 25 years of her life.
Mary suffered a stroke in 1902 and was an invalid until her death on August 8, 1909.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, visited Mary just before she died to give her the last rites of the church. As he was leaving he told two of the sisters that he felt as if he had been administering at the death bed of a saint.
Mary was buried in Sydney's historic Gore Hill Cemetery. Today a memorial marks the spot where she once lay. Five years after her death, her body was transferred to the newly built Mary MacKillop Chapel in the grounds of the North Sydney convent where she last lived.