Mary MacKillop Shrine St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta


On the occasion of Canonisation of Australia's first Saint, we revisit the history of the Mary MacKillop Shrine in St Patrick's Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.

Mary MacKillop Shrine St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta
Someone to watch over us...the Mary MacKillop Shrine in St Patrick's Cathedral. Artist: Peter Corlett. Photographer: Hamiliton Lund.
In a quiet corner of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta, Mary MacKillop keeps watch.

The shrine to Mary MacKillop is located in the southwest alcove of the chapel - or the orginal church - of the cathedral.

The shrine is immediately to the left following the parishioners’ entry through the Main Entry Door Gates and after passing through the glazed vestibule.

The original design brief requested that in the design of the shrine image, the artist should convey the presence in Mary MacKillop’s life of “heroic virtue”, the prime determinant of sainthood in the Catholic Church.

In the words of Fr Peter Gumpel SJ (Relator at the Congregation for the Causes for Saints):

“Her virtue was ‘quality of life’, not on abstractions appropriate for the times of philosophers. It was a flesh-and-blood fulfilment in a rough vale of tears, not the attainment of one protected from life’s harsher realities”.

'A humble traveler, a missioner'

Artist Peter Corlett with the Mary MacKillop statue
Face-to-face...artist Peter Corlett with his creation at the end of the artistic process. Photo: Hamilton Lund.
Melbourne sculptor Peter Corlett, known to many Australians through his highly respected public sculptures such as “Simpson and the Donkey” at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was commissioned to design and fabricate the shrine image in lost-wax cast bronze.

Mr Corlett has described his design intent as:

“My sculpture of Mary MacKillop (is intended to) be dignified and sensitive, a three-dimensional, freestanding, life-sized contemporary portrait figure of Australia’s first Saint. It will epitomise an assured and kindly woman in her mid-40s – a mother type, a mentor, teacher and leader … At a symbolic level, the sculpture will show the qualities of ‘heroic virtue’, of Mary standing fast in her faith … in God’s intentions. It will represent Mary’s egalitarian vision, her faith and belief in God’s way of reaching out through her to the poor. Mary will be shown as a humble traveler, a missioner, always on the move around Australia and beyond, by showing her dressed in her coarse wool traveling cloak or mantle.

“She will be a singular presence, a pillar, upright and enduring – a lone figure in the centre of the void of the alcove. The drapery of her mantle, dignified and stately, is intended to read like a column of gentle strength, the vertical folds of the cloth descending buttress-like supporting her about the vigorous undulations and deep voids of the lower drapery, a metaphor for the tumult often surrounding and confronting her. The surfaces and modeling, rough-hewn and energetic at the base, (rise) up the figure, gradually giving way to the fine and highly finished surfaces of the wimple and the face, from tumult to serenity.”

Mr Corlett’s fabrication of the sculpture included the process of modeling the sculpture in full size in clay in reference to the approved design maquette, after which it was moulded using plaster waste moulds, cast into hollow wax sections by the artist, and delivered to the foundry in Melbourne, ready for casting into bronze and final finishing under the artist’s supervision.

The sculpture took well over 12 months of intense work and intermittent supervision to complete.

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