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Flying the flag a decade on

Opinion

Ten years ago South Australians turned out in their thousands to celebrate the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

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It was with much pride and joy that we witnessed from afar the bestowing of her sainthood by Pope Benedict in a packed St Peter’s Square in Rome.

Here in Adelaide, Victoria Square was a sea of colour after banner-bearing pilgrims paraded from Kensington to Mary MacKillop Plaza to gather for the live broadcast of the event and an afternoon of multicultural festivities.

International media descended on the small South East town of Penola, the place where it all began in a stable, and the locals put on their period costumes as they made sure it was a day to remember.

After years of planning for this event, I remember being incredibly moved by this public expression of our faith and the far-reaching impact of this trailblazing woman on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

When I look back over the past decade, October 17 2010 certainly stands out as the high point in a turbulent time for the Catholic Church as it grappled with the devastating impact of the child sex abuse crisis.

While individuals of all ages, religions and cultures continue to have a deep personal connection to St Mary MacKillop, at a broader level and in the public sphere her story had to take a back seat as our newspapers and TV screens were overtaken by the Royal Commission and allegations against the highest of Church leaders.

It was, perhaps, a missed opportunity for the Church in terms of capitalising on the goodwill of the wider community surrounding Mary MacKillop’s sainthood, particularly here in South Australia where she began her work in education and serving the poor.

I recall promising discussions with Tourism SA and other government officials about the potential to attract pilgrims from around the world to SA, and yet much of the efforts in this regard were left to the Sisters of St Joseph and their loyal band of supporters.

The Mary MacKillop Stable Park in Penola and the recently renovated interpretative museum at Kensington were the result of countless meetings, planning applications and fundraising aimed at ensuring there was a visible tribute to Mary’s presence in our State.

With the COVID-19 pandemic prompting increased intrastate (and hopefully soon interstate) travel, there might be a chance to at least encourage Australians to replicate some of the great pilgrimages of Europe in our own backyard.

We also need to make sure every school student in the State is not only familiar with, but inspired by, the story of Australia’s first saint.

Many of our Catholic schools, in particular those founded by the Sisters of St Joseph, are extremely committed to carrying on her legacy as you can see from our front page story.

But Mary is ‘a saint for all Australians’ and so we need to keep finding new and creative ways of telling her story in ways that will reach many people and last for generations to come.

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