Penola's Schoolchildren Welcome MacKillop Cross

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
25 Aug 2010

Cardinal Pell blessed the MacKillop Cross
as it began its journey across Australia

Children aged between five and 13 from the oldest Josephite school in Australia turned out in force to greet the MacKillop Cross as it was carried into Penola, SA by the Knights of the Southern Cross Wednesday afternoon. The children joined staff and members of the town, where Mary MacKillop established her first school at the historic St Joseph's Church, for a celebration Mass.

On a pilgrimage that began on 8 August, the Feast Day of Blessed Mary MacKillop, the Knights are carrying the MacKillop Cross to dioceses and parishes across South Eastern Australia as part of the lead up to the canonisation of Australia's first saint in Rome on 17 October.

Blessed Mary MacKillop is patron of the Knights of the Southern Cross and their arrival with the Cross in Penola was particularly significant as the timbers used to create the Cross were made from wood taken from the original flooring of the 1867 MacKillop-Woods schoolhouse.

When the flooring in the historic schoolhouse had to be replaced in 1985, the Sisters of St Joseph presented the Sydney chapter of the Knights of the Southern Cross with four pieces of the flooring, two of which measured 274.3 cm (nine feet) and two of which measured 137.2 cm (4 ft 6 inch).

"From these pieces we fashioned two Crosses and had them French polished by one of our members," says Greg Briscoe-Hough of the Knights of the Southern Cross.

One of these Crosses was presented to Pope John Paul II during the Open Air Mass at Randwick during the Holy Father's visit to Sydney in 1986. The second Cross spent some years at St Mary's Cathedral before being given to the Sisters of St Joseph at North Sydney in December 2009.

"Carrying the Cross into Penola is a bit like bringing it back home," South Australian Knight, Rex Williams said, adding after the visit to Penola's Mary MacKillop Memorial School and the service at St Joseph's Church, the Cross will be put on display at the nearby Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre which houses the Mary MacKillop Museum.

The Cross will remain in Penola until Friday, 27 August before continuing its journey across South Australia.

"Everyone in Penola is very excited about the arrival of the MacKillop Cross, especially our young students," says Jenny Eckermann, a member of staff at the Mary MacKillop Memorial School which educates 100 children of primary school age and continues the Josephite tradition of providing "a holistic education for children of Catholic and non Catholic backgrounds based on Gospel values, with an emphasis on Catholic traditions, practices and beliefs."

Children in Penola attend the oldest Josephite School
in Australia

"Our children are very aware of the legacy of Blessed Mother Mary MacKillop and are very proud to be students at the oldest Josephite school in Australia," she says.

Already pupils at the school, their parents and extended families are excitedly planning their contribution to the three days of celebrations in Penola to coincide with the canonisation of Australia's first Saint. The children will not only take part in a parade through the town to Mary MacKillop Park on Sunday, 17 October but will dress up in period costume, recreating the era when Mary MacKillop founded her first school with Fr Julian Tenison Woods.

"Mums, aunts, grandparents -  everyone is pitching in to make the costumes and next week we are holding a special sewing day at school with our team leader, Megan Calder-Smith who will help design the costumes and explain to families how to make them," says Jenny.

This weekend the MacKillop Cross will be at Norwood's St Ignatius Church in Adelaide where it will be part of all Mass celebrations. Built in 1869, the church has a close association with Mary MacKillop and the Jesuits priests of St Ignatius Parish offered their support and encouragement after her shock excommunication by Bishop Sheil.

On Monday, 30 August, the Cross will journey to Port Pirie for special services at the Cathedral there before continuing on to Port Augusta and then back into New South Wales.

Mid week the Cross is expected to reach Broken Hill and visit dioceses across the state before returning to Sydney in time for the canonisation celebrations here.