Australia Day

26 January 2017 | General Interest

It is an Australian who writes...
One brought up in the midst of the evils she tries to describe  (1)


It was 1873 and Mary MacKillop, then in London to escape the heat of the Roman summer, was writing to convince Church authorities of the necessity for the recently established Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph in Australia.

AustraliaMore than a quarter of a century before Federation, she identified herself as an Australian, one well aware of the needs in the society of her day. Totally committed to the God-given dignity of every human person, she responded to God’s call by throwing in her lot with the poor, humble and exploited working class families and, together with Fr Julian Tenison Woods, set up a system of schooling to educate their children. This required the establishment of a Religious Congregation, suited to Australian conditions. We know today the effects of that courageous decision on the lives of so many and on the development of our nation.

I often wonder how Mary MacKillop would see the Australia of our day. What needs would she identify and how would she respond? She would doubtless remind us that it is our responsibility to read the signs of our times and to respond accordingly.  

The last General Chapter of the Sisters of St Joseph invited the Sisters to “walk together contemplatively with open eyes”. 

The theologian, Joannes Metz, used this image to speak of the following of Jesus and the spirituality of the Beatitudes.  

He writes:

Jesus did not teach an ascending mysticism of closed eyes, but rather a God-mysticism with an increased readiness for perceiving, a mysticism of open eyes, which sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all suffering, pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who loves every human person. (2)

Today, we are conscious of much suffering and the list is long – indigenous peoples, asylum seekers, disadvantaged families and workers, those suffering domestic violence, the unemployed, trafficked women and children. Add to these, racial discrimination, the growing gap between rich and poor, religious intolerance, environmental destruction and more.  Through 150 years, Josephites have stood firmly against poverty and injustice. Whatever our circumstances today, the way is still open to make a difference.

Recently, the Josephite Justice Network initiated a strategy called “Writing Rings for Writing Wrongs”. It is a simple but effective way to speak against injustice by expressing a concern or an opinion to a responsible person such as a politician or elected leader.  Simply write a letter, send an email, or make a phone call. It’s as easy as that! We are told that personal communications, especially hand-written letters, are very effective. From time to time, WRRWs takes up a particular issue and provides relevant information to those interested. If you would like to join this effort, please contact Sr Josephine Mitchell for further information.

Despite her busy and strenuous life, and probably because of it, Mary MacKillop found time to write. She left us a wealth of letters and writings which provide an insight into her life, her holiness, her commitment to God and to God’s poor. 

She was a writer! Maybe this Australia day, we’ll catch a spark from her pen.

Sr Josephine Mitchell rsj


(1) Mary MacKillop,  The Necessity of the Institute,  London,  August 1873.
(2) Johannes Baptist Metz,  A Passion for God: the mystical-political dimension of Christianity.  Paulist Press, 1998, 163. 
General Reference:  Matthew T. Eggemeier, "A Mysticism of Open Eyes: Compassion For A Suffering World and The Askesis Of Contemplative Prayer," in  Spiritus Journal of Spirituality, pp.43-62, March 2012.