On January 15, 1842, Mary Mackillop was born in Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia, of Scottish parents. A plaque in the footpath now marks the place of her birth in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Mary was educated very well by her father, who had spent some time studying for the priesthood. In 1835 he migrated to Australia.
From the age of 16 on, Mary, the eldest of eight children, greatly supported her family, working as a governess, and as a teacher at the Portland school. While employed as a Governess to her uncle's children at Penola, Mary met Father Julian Tenison Woods, who needed help in the religious education of children in his huge parish of some 56,000 square kilometres.
In 1866 she achieved one of her dreams by opening the first Saint Joseph's school in a disused stable in Penola.
Other young women came to join her and so the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph began. Bishop Shiel asked Mary to come to Adelaide and start a school there, and from there the Sisters spread out through the outback. She also opened orphanages, and homes to care for the homeless, both young and old, and refuges for ex-prisoners and ex-prostitutes who wished to start over anew.
Mary constantly met with opposition from some people outside the Church, and even from some within, who had been either wrongly advised, or had been of feeble mind, or both. At one stage she was even ex-communicated, though many did not believe that the ex-communication was validly performed. But Mary always refused to publicly criticise those who had wronged her, and continued to pray for them that they may realise their mistakes.
For much of her life she was in ill-health, and she died on August 8, 1909, in the convent at Mount Street, North Sydney, where her tomb is now enshrined. Her congregation, known affectionately as the "Brown Joeys" now numbers about 1200, working mainly in Australia and New Zealand, but also in many other places throughout the world.
Mary was declared Venerable ( the first step towards canonisation as a Saint) in 1992, and was Beatified (declared Blessed - the second step) in 1995. She will most likely in the near future be declared Australia's first Saint.