By Anthony Barich
A group of dedicated South Australians are building up to the long-hoped for canonisation of Blessed Mary MacKillop with a successful first annual pilgrimage walking in the Australian legend’s footsteps.
It was a trial run before next year sees the 100-year anniversary of Mary MacKillop’s death on August 8, 1909.
Blessed Mary MacKillop, born in Fitzroy, Victoria, started the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Penola in 1866 with Fr Julian Tenison Woods with schools, providing Catholic education initially for isolated bush children.
On August 6 this year, 20 South Australians plus Fr Michael Rowe, the chaplain of Perth’s Latin Mass community, undertook a pilgrimage, retracing the steps of the Australian Blessed from the Adelaide chapel where she was controversially excommunicated to Penola itself to the Coonawarra vineyards where the ‘Fr Woods Tree’ is, some 20km from Penola.
She hopes it will grow exponentially as it will be held annually.
The idea was born five years ago when Adelaide Catholic Karolina Gasparovic, now 26, and her mother Bernadette decided they were sick of travelling all the way to Victoria every year for the Christus Rex Pilgrimage from Ballarat to Bendigo, and wanted to start up their own in South Australia.
After attending a silent retreat that Fr Rowe runs in Sydney in February, Karolina sat down with the Perth priest and said now is the time to act.
“There ís nothing like this in South Australia, so we decided to give a public witness to local Australians that Mary MacKillop is our only Blessed, and is so important to us in our identity as Catholics,” Karolina told The Record.
“We’re all waiting for her canonisation, so this is our way of building up to it; then we can give glory to God that she is a saint.”
The pilgrimage included 13 children aged 16 and under, plus their mothers and an 83-year-old.
Karolina was shocked about the locals’ seeming lack of knowledge about Mary MacKillop; for even if they are not Catholic, the town has a large building devoted to her.
“My faith is there, but going on a pilgrimage like this reassures us who we are as people, as Catholics in this world, especially in South Australia where many people are apathetic towards the faith. It seems people just donít want to exclaim the faith here, so this about just getting up and doing something, I think World Youth day proved that Australians can do it.”
The pilgrimage started with a sung Mass in the Extraordinary form on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, in the restored St Mary’s Chapel on Franklin Street, Adelaide, where MacKillop was excommunicated in 1871. Today, the chapel is used only by the attached school for music lessons.
It is understood that when she was excommunicated, MacKillop was restricted to only view Mass in the chapel from a convent dormitory positioned high in the nave – “an honour” which pilgrims were also able to do, ascending the stairs to the window in what is now a staff room to experience her view, Karolina said.
The following day the pilgrims travelled by bus to Penola. A long drive along the Coorong brought pilgrims to Robe, where sung Mass was celebrated at St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church.
It is believed MacKillop travelled by ship to Robe from Port Adelaide as she made her way to Penola inland by horse and carriage.
As the Opening ceremony of the Olympics was being held in China a world away on August 8, the pilgrims celebrated the Australian feast day of Blessed Mary of the Cross. This was when a pilgrim encountered a local store owner who said ‘who?’ when told of the feast day. Pilgrims processed through the streets of Penola to the Mary MacKillop Memorial Park; the site of the first school stables donated by the McDonald family.
Despite the rain, Fr Rowe led pilgrims in prayer and song toward the church, museum and school house. The centre displays memorabilia of MacKillop and Fr Woods. Fr Rowe used Fr Woods’ original chalice for sung Mass at St Joseph’s Church in Penola.
Pilgrims then walked past the Coonawarra vineyards to the Fr Woods Tree, where the co-founder of the Josephites escaped the noise of the town to meditate and write his sermons. The pilgrims heard Fr Rowe’s sermon around a bonfire while toasting marshmallows and drinking billy tea, Aussie style, at the historic location.
The day ended with Benediction and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in St Joseph’s Church in Penola.
In honour of Our Lady, a sung Mass was celebrated in St Joseph’s Church in Kalangadoo – built in 1904 – early on August 9. The Church still displays the altar rails used for the Extraordinary Rite, a rare site in Australian churches today. The six-hour journey back to Adelaide was spent in prayer and song, after which the pilgrims reportedly felt enriched in faith and knowledge of Australia’s own Blessed Mary of the Cross – otherwise known as Mary Mackillop.
For info on the pilgrimage, contact Karolina on 0412 443 100 or email email@example.com.