Mary MacKillop: An extraordinary Australian


Fr Paul Gardiner SJ
Fr Paul Gardiner SJ (courtesy of Border Watch).
A book about the life of Mary MacKillop, which draws on historical records and letters from the woman herself, has proved so popular it has been republished.

Written by Jesuit priest Fr Paul Gardiner and first published in 1993, An Extraordinary Australian Mary MacKillop is the official biography of Australia’s first saint. The book is based on the ‘position paper’ which was written to tell Mary MacKillop’s life history as part of her canonisation process.

For many years, Fr Gardiner was the postulator of the Cause of Mary MacKillop, a role which gave him access to letters and other archival material essential to his research.

Fr Gardiner’s book gives a no-nonsense account of the life of Mary MacKillop, from her birth in 1842 in impoverished circumstances in Fitzroy, Melbourne, to her death in 1909 at the place that now bears her name in North Sydney.

Paul Gardiner’s book deals with controversial issues from Mary MacKillop’s life that are still talked about today, including the circumstances around her temporary excommunication from the Catholic Church. The book also details the breakthroughs made by Mary MacKillop and her Sisters in educating children and helping the poor in cites and remote settlements in both Australia and New Zealand.

Fr Gardiner says it is important that a book like this portrays Mary MacKillop as she really was.

“This woman was the quintessential ‘Aussie battler’; a very human person with great courage,” Fr Gardiner said.

Spiritually speaking, Mary MacKillop was a woman whose holiness was apparent to everyone who met her but she was very much one of the people. I am delighted that her story continues to be told.”

In his introduction to the biography, Fr Gardiner writes about the death of Mary MacKillop:

“In those August days of 1909, Sydney knew that it had lost not only a noted personage but a very holy one. Those attending her as she lay dying had noticed the unusual reverence of bishops and priests who came to visit her.

“Cardinal Moran, a very circumspect man, whose office had brought him into close contact with Mary for a quarter of a century, stated at the time that he thought she was worthy to be declared a saint.”

Fr Gardiner says that the story of Mary MacKillop is interwoven into stories of Australia and New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“As well as being an historical figure, Mary MacKillop encapsulates qualities of character and spirit shared by many we know as ‘unrecognised saints.” 

An Extraordinary Australian Mary MacKillop is available at Mary MacKillop Place Mount Street, North Sydney or online at

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