The woman who would one day become Australia’s first saint was born in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Fitzroy on 15 January 1842. There was nothing about Mary Helen MacKillop that hinted at how important she would become. She was a sweet, but ordinary baby.
She caused her mother very little trouble as a child, which was fortunate because Mary’s father, Alexander MacKillop, caused more than enough trouble for the whole family. It was not that Alexander was a bad man, or a bad father. In fact, he was loved dearly by little Mary. It was just that he wasn’t a very good businessman.
Mary MacKillop was born in Australia to Scottish parents, the eldest child in a large family. Her father was very intelligent and had at one stage studied for the priesthood. But he changed his mind and married instead. He was a loving father but an erratic businessman who lost all the family money in failed business schemes. Mary realised early on that she would have to help support the family. This pathway led her to Portland in south-western Victoria and Penola in South Australia where she met Fr Woods. With his help and encouragement she founded an order of nuns with the aim of offering an education to all children. Mary and other sisters worked hard in often challenging conditions to offer free schooling to poor children. There were times where this brought her into conflict with church hierarchy and for a time meant that she was ostracised from her own church. But she endured and leaves a legacy of kindness and persistence. Colour illustrations appear on most openings.
Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint is a new offering in the Aussie Heroes series from New Frontier Publishing. Like other titles in this non-fiction series, Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint looks at the life of a prominent Australian. Mary’s work was important in establishing free education for all in Australia. Her story also illuminates some of the history of the time. Readers will discover the different opportunities (or lack of them) available to earlier Australians. Mary MacKillop’s story offers a window on history and there is plenty of material for classroom discussion. It’s also an example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint, Gabiann Marin ill Angela Grzegrzolka New Frontier Publishing 2012 ISBN: 9781921928192
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
Available in good bookstores or online.