Australian Catholics honor nun as first saint

Sun Oct 17, 2010 6:19pm EDT
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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of Australians poured onto the streets and into churches on Sunday to mark the impending canonization of a feisty nun who died a century ago as the country's first Roman Catholic saint.

In her lifetime, Mary MacKillop struggled with the Catholic authorities and was once briefly excommunicated. She was also instrumental in exposing sexual abuse by an Irish Catholic priest.

She was one of six Catholic figures being canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday at a ceremony in Rome.

"It is a great day," Sister Monica Cavanagh, acting secretary general of MacKillop's order, told Reuters.

"We are proud of Mary. We are proud that she's Australian, that she's a woman and she's a Josephite. We are just filled with great joy. We have probably even had a few tears today," Cavanagh said from MacKillop's tomb, a short distance from Sydney's famous harbor.

In the town of Penola in South Australia state, where in 1866 MacKillop founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, a special mass was celebrated with children dressing up in 19th century costume.

In Melbourne where she was born, Australia's atheist Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined celebrations commemorating her life. Near MacKillop's tomb in Sydney, giant screens were set up to broadcast the canonization ceremony live.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, a Catholic who has travelled to Rome for the event, commended MacKillop for "extending education services to girls, to the poor, to the far flung parts of Australia." Opposition leader Tony Abbott, also a Catholic, called MacKillop "inspirational."

Around 5 million of Australia's 22 million people are Catholic, making it the country's largest religion.   Continued...

<p>A boy holds a book showing new Australian Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop as Pope Benedict XVI leads a solemn mass for the canonisation of six new saints in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican October 17, 2010. REUTERS/Tony Gentile</p>