Canonisation all relative for St Marys family


Sheehan family Mary MacKillop News Story
Our Lady of the Rosary Primary Principal Mark Geerligs (top right) with the Sheehan family decendants of Mary MacKillop: father Mark and children Kiana and Brandon.

By Peter Gresser

It’s not every day you get to celebrate the Canonisation of a relative - but that’s precisely what the Sheehan family of St Marys Our Lady of the Rosary Parish will be doing in St Peter’s Square in Rome on 17 October.

Parishioner Mark Sheehan – fifth cousin of Mary MacKillop – only became aware of the family’s connection to Australia’s first Saint around 20 years ago, when one of his great aunts was researching the family tree.

Today, Mark, his sister Kim, wife Sharon and the Sheehan’s two children – Our Lady of the Rosary Primary students Brandon and Kiana – are preparing for the family celebration of a lifetime as they journey to Rome for Mary MacKillop’s Canonisation.

Twelve-year-old Brandon (sixth cousin of Mary MacKillop) was selected by Our Lady of the Rosary Primary Principal Mark Geerligs to join 50 representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta who will be making the pilgrimage to Rome. Brandon’s selection by the school is especially fitting, as Our Lady of the Rosary Primary was founded by Mary MacKillop in 1880.

“We were always keen that someone should represent our family at this special event, and thanks to the Parramatta Diocese covering the costs for myself and Brandon, we were also able to pay for Sharon and Kiana to share this special experience – and it’s fantastic Kim will be joining us,” said Mark Sheehan, who with wife Sharon have been a part of the Our Lady of the Rosary community since their wedding at the parish church in St Marys in 1995.

“I think actually being in St Peter’s Square for the Canonisation is going to be one of those out-of-body experiences…I won’t be able to believe I’m there. I’ll take it all in at the time, but I don’t think it will fully sink in until I sit down afterwards to reflect on it.”

Mark’s 92-year-old grandmother, Elma Davidson, whose grandmother was Mary’s cousin, is the oldest living relative of Mary. Mark said while Elma was delighted with the news of the Sheehan’s pilgrimage, she tended to carry the family connection with a quiet pride - a family trait Mark's certainly inherited.

“We’re so proud of our link to Mary, but we’ve tended to keep the story within the family,” Mark said. “The Canonisation is going to be an almost surreal experience for us all, and thanks to his school and the Diocese, it’s something Brandon is going to have with him for the rest of his life. He’ll be able to tell his kids about this one day.”

A connection of many dimensions

Sheehan family Mary MacKillop News Story
Mary MacKillop distant relative Mark Sheehan with children Kiana and Brandon.
Mark said in many ways, he felt Brandon’s selection by the St Marys school to attend the Canonisation was somehow always meant to be.

“We were honestly unaware of the school’s connection to Mary MacKillop when we first enrolled Brandon, and he didn’t know about his own connection to her till he was in Year Two,” Mark explained. “Also, since a young age Brandon’s always spoken about wanting to go to Rome…and here we are a few years later, with our trip to Rome for the Canonisation having just fallen into place.”

Our Lady of the Rosary Primary Principal Mark Geerligs said it was a great honour to be a part of a school that was founded by Australia’s first Saint and the Sisters of St Joseph, who maintained a presence at the school until 1994.

“We’re very proud of our history and that we’ve been able to continue the Sisters’ legacy for 130 years,” said Mark, who will also be travelling to Rome for the Canonisation.

We are so pleased that members of our community have the opportunity to participate in this significant occasion, particularly for Brandon and his family,” he said.

Brandon is one of two local students who will represent the Diocese on the pilgrimage, the second being Laura Wonson from St Nicholas of Myra Primary in Penrith. The pilgrims leave for Rome on 13 October.

Visit Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta

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