Canonisation Process

A Life Of Heroic Virtue – Venerable Mary

Mary’s century-long Cause of Canonisation began ‘where all Causes begin, from the people’s belief that there had been a saint in their midst’. [1]

This first involved proving that she had lived a holy life exhibiting the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree.


Cardinal Moran of Sydney recognised Mary’s holiness: ‘I consider this day to have assisted at the deathbed of a saint.’


Josephite Superior General, Mother Laurence O’Brien rsj, raised the question of Mary’s Cause with the Apostolic Delegate.


Archbishop Kelly established a formal diocesan tribunal to investigate Mary’s life. Documentary evidence both by and about her was collected, and witnesses who had known her were examined.


The tribunal was suspended when the Vatican could not produce a key document [2] exonerating Mary from accusations made by Bishop Reynolds’ illegal 1883 Adelaide Commission.


Twenty years later, Cardinal Gilroy was able to procure the missing document and reconstituted the tribunal.


Further interviews with witnesses were concluded and a report of all the material gathered over many years was sent to Rome.


Pope Paul VI issued a decree that her Cause of Beatification and Canonisation be formally introduced. Further research was then undertaken by Melbourne priest Father Aldo Rebeschini.


Australian Jesuit, Father Paul Gardiner sj, arrived in Rome to prepare, under the supervision of the Vatican Relator Father Peter Gumpel sj, a comprehensive historical study from all the documentation of Mary’s Cause. He was appointed Postulator in 1984 and presented his three-volume Positio super virtutibus on Mary’s life and virtues for judgement by a panel of bishops and cardinals in 1989.


Pope John Paul II consequently decreed that Mary had lived a life of heroic virtue, specifically one that had been tested by adversity, which entitled her to be honoured as the Venerable Mary MacKillop.


Beatification and Canonisation – Blessed Mary and Saint Mary

The Vatican then required that two miracles be sought, one before Beatification and the other before Canonisation.

Miracles are a sign that God endorses human judgement of an individual’s sanctity, and in Mary’s case the scientifically inexplicable recoveries of two Australian women from critical illnesses were selected. The key theological consideration was the curative role of prayer.

The First Miracle, for Mary’s Beatification, Sydney 1995

Postulator Father Paul Gardiner sj prepared the extensive report (Positio super miraculo) on the first miracle.

A 24 year-old Sydney woman, diagnosed with leukaemia in 1961, was given only months to live. Family and friends prayed for her through Mary. She recovered and subsequently gave birth to six children. Her cure was accepted as a miracle effected through the intercession of Mother Mary of the Cross.

Pope John Paul II presided over Mary’s Beatification ceremony in Sydney on 19 January 1995 and she was thereafter honoured as Blessed Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

The Second Miracle, for Mary’s Canonisation, Rome 2010

Kathleen Evans, 49 year-old wife of Barry and mother of five children, was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer in 1993 and sent to her Lake MacQuarie home to die. Family, friends and the Sisters of Saint Joseph prayed for her. Less than a year later an x-ray found no trace of cancer.

Father Paul Gardiner sj, Postulator for 24 years, began work on the Positio  for this second miracle, which was completed and submitted to the Vatican by his successor as Postulator, Sister Maria Casey rsj. Pope Benedict XVI canonised Mary in Rome on 17 October 2010.

Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, pray with us

Key resources: Paul Gardiner sj ‘Mary MacKillop Saint in the Making’, Sydney, 2010; Maria Casey rsj St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Sydney 2010;

Penola – Where it all Began exhibition text: Margaret Muller, Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, 2011

– 1. Paul Gardiner sj, ‘Beatification and Canonisation – The Cause of Mary MacKillop’, Rome, 1994
– 2. Cardinal Moran’s report of 1884