First Full Unabridged Biography of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
21 Oct 2015

Father Paul Gardiner SJ Postulator for the Cause from 1983 until 2008

Less than a fortnight after the fifth anniversary of the canonisation of Australia's first saint, the first full unabridged two volume biography of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop will be launched at the Mustard Seed Bookshop, Lidcombe on Friday, 23 October.

Father Paul Gardiner SJ who was Postulator for the Cause for her Canonisation from 1984 until 2008, spent five years of intensive research into the life and spirituality of Mary MacKillop. His research of documents and letters held in the Vatican as well as letters written by and to Mary MacKillop in libraries, schools and churches across Australia and New Zealand began several years before his official appointment as Postulator.

His research was followed by a further five years during which he collated his research and wrotel the remarkable 1600 page Positio Super Virtutibus - "the position on her virtues" - which was presented to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1989.

Sisters of St Joseph attended the Canonisation of their founder, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop on 17 October 2010

As a result of his research and the Positio Super Virtutibus,  Fr Gardiner went on to write the first authorised biography of Mary MacKillop which was published by E.J. Dwyer in association with David Ell Press in 1993.

Entitled "An Extraordinary Australian: Mary MacKillop," Fr Gardiner's biography of the woman who founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and would later become Australia's first saint, received international acclaim and continues to sell well in bookshops as well as on global internet sites such as

For more than 22 years, Fr Gardiner's "An Extraordinary Australian: Mary MacKillop" has been regarded as the definitive work on her life, works, character and spirituality.

The biography was in many ways an abridged version of the Positio Super Virtutibus he had presented to the panel of bishops and Cardinals that had resulted in Mary MacKillop being declared "Venerable" on 13 June 1992.

However until now, the unabridged text of Fr Gardiner's far more detailed and expanded exploration of Mary MacKillop's life and spirituality presented to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints has only ever been published privately and seen by a small number of theological scholars. 

But thanks to the dedication of Fr Gardiner, along with a team of volunteer editors, proof readers and fact-checkers, and publishing house, Miegunyah Press, Fr Gardiner's Positito Super Virtutibus is being published internationally for a broad Catholic and non Catholic readership.

Pope Benedict is one of many who have prayed and reflected beside the tomb of Mary MacKillop

In addition to the Australian Jesuit priest's original submission to the Vatican, the two volume biography handsomely bound in leather includes Fr Gardiner's translations into English of documents written in their original Latin and Italian, as well as translations into English of French and German papers and letters uncovered during his research.

In this new expanded and authoritative insight into the life, spirituality and works of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, also includes up to date details tracing the years from 1989 when the submission to the Vatican was made through to her Canonisation in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on 17 October 2010. 

Fr Gardiner's 1993 biography of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop has long stood as the most authoritative story of her life and spirituality. But now his unabridged two volume biography is set to supersede his original work as the ultimate, complete and definitive account of Australia's much loved Saint.


Entitled "The Life of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop, 1842-1909," the new expanded official biography will be launched on Friday, 23 October at the Archdiocese of Sydney's Mustard Seed Bookshop, Lidcombe where an address will be given by Sister Monica Cavanagh RSJ, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph and Father Peter Joseph who was instrumental in helping prepare the two volume biography for publication.

Fr Joseph insists he is just one of a group of dedicated volunteers who gave their time, energy and attention to detail by helping retype the original text, proof reading and checking the original to ensure English punctuation and grammar was correct. As well as enlarging the index, the entire work had to be then be checked once again and given a final proof read before being sent to the publishers.

Despite his 91 years, Fr Gardiner was actively involved in the production of the new expanded biography of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. With a mind that misses little, he is however physically frail so instead of leaving his home in Penola, South Australia where Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods established their first school, Fr Gardiner will instead send a message by video to be played at the launch.

Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph

"Mary MacKillop was, from a human point of view a very admirable person, and if people imitated her behaviour - apart from her religious depth and her faith in God - if they imitated her ordinary way of dealing with her fellow humans, I think it would be a much better Australia," he says.

While the two volume biography includes many anecdotes and details of Mary MacKillop's life, one anecdote that was not included is a particular favourite of Fr Joseph's and is sure to be recounted on Friday as part of his address.

"When I asked Fr Gardiner about the story, he said that while it could not be definitely verified, it fits with her character," Fr Joseph says and recounts the legendary story of how Mother Mary - as she was then known - received a letter from the Superior of one of the Josephite convents in an Australian country town.

"The Bishop comes to the convent every Friday night to play cards with the nuns and insists upon doing it, although it's against our religious rule to play card games -what should we do?" the head of the country convent wanted to know.

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop's reputed suggestion in her letter of reply on how to handle the situation was straight forward: "Make sure you let him win some of the time," she supposedly wrote.

"The Life of St Mary of the Cross, Mary MacKillop 1842-1909" by Fr Paul Gardiner SJ will be launched at 7 pm on Friday, 23 October and will feature talks by Sister Monica Cavanagh RSJ, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Joseph, and Fr Peter Joseph. All are welcome.