Brian Condon: Letters and Documents in 19th Century Australian Catholic History

Mary MacKillop to Bishop Sheil. 10 September 1871

[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, 1385v-1386v]

[Latin version sent to Rome replaced by original English version, to be found in Life and Letters of Mother Mary of the Cross [MacKillop], by A Sister of St. Joseph. Westmead, Sydney, l9l6, pp. 49-5l]



My Lord,

Will you kindly permit me to write a few thoughts which it troubles me to keep from you, and yet which I can hardly express when talking to you.

I would speak them, my Lord, and I am sure you would wish me to be unreserved with you, but I seem to lose courage; in trying to be unreserved I would displease my Bishop.

It is in a most docile and humble spirit, my Lord, that I can venture to say what are and have been for many years the thoughts of my heart. I longed for a Religious life, one in which I could serve God and His poor neglected little ones, in poverty and disregard of the world and its fleeting opinions.

When an opportunity of entering another religious Community was offered to me, family circumstances, for one reason, prevented my availing myself of it, but there was another reason as well, known only to my Confessor, namely, that in the Order I could not find what my heart craved. I looked for a poverty more like unto that practised in the early Religious Orders of the Church, a poverty which in its practice would make a kind of reparation to God for the little confidence now placed in His Divine Providence by so many of His creatures. Circumstances, as well as choice, having for many years compelled me to live as a teacher, I saw so much of the evils attending a merely secular course of education, that all my desires seemed to centre in a wish to devote myself to poor children and the afflicted poor, in some very poor Order.

My Confessor at one time thought I would have to go to France ere I could meet with what I desired. But after a few years I went to open a school in Penola, under Father Woods, who gradually unfolded to me his idea of endeavouring to do something in the same way for the neglected poor children of South Australia. The way in which he described their wants so completely agreed with all my previous desires, that when he asked me whether (provided he got the Bishop's consent to commence an Institute to meet these wants) I would remain and become one of his first children in the flock, I joyfully consented.

From that time I gave myself completely to the work, which almost every day seemed to confirm as the vocation I had so long sought, and under the direction of my good Confessor I found true peace.

On your Lordship's return from Europe in l868, I was, with another Sister present when in your presence Father Woods went over each chapter and point of our Rule previous to its getting your entire approbation. Upon that occasion, my Lord, you made some remarks about the wording of some of the sentences, to which Father Woods attended, and then in the end you kindly approved of the Rule as it now is.

From that time I looked upon it as sacred, and can you blame me, my Lord, if I do so still? I know that you can withdraw your approbation from it, and if our good God so wills it I am resigned. But, Oh! pardon me, my Lord, if I say that I cannot in conscience see the Rule altered and still remain a Sister. I am your child, my Lord, your humble, helpless child. I want to please you, but above all to please God, and do His holy Will. If then in any way it may please Him that you should alter the Rule then, my Lord, I feel that I must take the alternative that you offered, and leave the Institute, until it may please God to give me in some other place what my soul desires. Though Father Woods was God's instrument in drawing out the Rule, I never regarded the work as a merely human invention. Had I done so, I could not be here.

I grieve to think that as a body we have committed many faults, and often erred in judgment and prudence. I am glad, Oh, so glad! that you, my Lord, are taking the Convent from us. It was much too comfortable for us poor Sisters, and I never was satisfied in it for that reason.

I love and respect our Pastors, but yet I do feel it hard that, as soon as Father Woods is gone, the work for which he had so long and so patiently toiled should be placed in so much danger, and he not here to say one word in its defence? He would not thus act to any of those who are now opposed to him.

These are the thoughts I have which I wish to tell you. I wish to tell them to you, my Bishop and Father, and I implore your pardon, my Lord, if I have presumed too much. To whom can I tell them, if not to you, who besides being my Bishop, I regard as an exalted father who would wish to help even the lowliest of his children.

Humbly craving your Lordship's blessing, I remain,

your obedient child in J.M.J.

Mary of the Cross

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