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Priest honoured for saintly work


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The Penola community and Australian Catholics have paid tribute to the life and work of Fr Paul Gardiner SJ who died on March 18, aged 93.

Fr Gardiner is best remembered for his pioneering work in support of the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop.

Archbishop Philip Wilson said the Adelaide Archdiocese had experienced a “great blessing” by having Fr Gardiner live in the Penola parish for the last phase of his life.

A large number of priests and faithful gathered in St Joseph’s Church in the South East town of Penola for his requiem Mass on March 27. He was buried in the local cemetery where he had chosen a site because of its proximity to the property where Mary MacKillop worked as a governess when she first arrived in Penola in the 1860s.

“Fr Paul was laid to rest there, as he said ‘in a nice place with a view’…it was a very beautiful and fitting send off,” said Archbishop Wilson, who concelebrated the funeral Mass with the Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese Greg O’Kelly SJ and members of the Jesuit community including Fr Paul Mullins SJ, parish priest at St Ignatius’ Norwood.

“I will always be very grateful to Fr Paul Gardiner for his priestly service as a Jesuit over all the years of his life. However, I am especially grateful for his tremendous contribution to the life of the Church by assisting in the cause for St Mary of the Cross MacKillop to be canonised in 2010.”

From 1984 to 1994 Fr Gardiner was based in Rome as the postulator for the cause of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation.

For six years he spent nearly every day researching and compiling the documents about her life before putting together the case for her canonisation, which was approved by the Vatican in 1993 and led to the beatification of Mary in Sydney in 1995.

Fr Gardiner then worked with Sr Maria Casey on the positio for Mary MacKillop’s second miracle, paving the way for her canonisation in Rome in 2010.
His research was later published as an authorised biography, Mary MacKillop: An extraordinary Australian.

“In Rome, it became more and more clear to me that she was a holy person,” Fr Gardiner said in an interview in 2012.

“I got more and more closely acquainted with real holiness on earth. She gave me a living example of what the gospels are all about.”

From 1999, Fr Gardiner lived and worked at Penola, as chaplain to the Mary MacKillop Centre.

In 2012, he received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his contribution to the canonisation cause. A biography of his life, A Long Journey, written by close friend Margaret Muller, was released last year.

“A most erudite and scholarly man, who studied the daily scriptures for Mass in Greek and Latin, he never lost the sparkle of his humour, and was in possession of his faculties until the very end,” said Bishop O’Kelly.

“His great contribution to the Australian Church is the fact that it was his painstaking research and his defense of the case of Mother Mary before Vatican committees that helped bring about the very popular canonisation of the one who became known as the saint for all Australians.

“His admiration of the example of Mary MacKillop was unbounded. Mary will be having a great party now with him in heaven.”

Born in Melbourne in 1924, Fr Gardiner entered the Jesuits in 1940, and was ordained in 1955. Before his appointment as postulator, he lectured in philosophy and natural theology, psychology and ethics in seminaries in Melbourne, taught at St Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney and was regional secretary for the Jesuits’ East Asia Assistancy, based in Rome.


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