Mary Mackillop – a formidable Australian pioneer if ever there was one – is a great example of someone who saw the obstacles and then changed her behaviour to ensure she stayed on the road to achieving her vision.
Aged 18, and blessed with a fine education herself, Mary Mackillop worked as a governess looking after and educating her aunt and uncle’s children on their estate near Penola in South Australia. Here, rather than seeking simplicity, she invited all the poor children of the neighbourhood to receive the benefits of education. So began her extraordinary journey. Often lonely and frequently filled with great personal sacrifice, this journey continued because of the smiling children she had vowed to teach.
Her passion for educating brought her into contact with the parish priest, Fr Woods. Upon witnessing the value of her selfless work, her devotion to it and the following she had developed, Fr Woods invited Mary to open a more formal school at Penola in an old stable. This became the first ever religious institute founded by an Australian. Here, Mary and the other sisters, who had formalized themselves into the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, lived according to their ‘Rule of Life.’ This decreed a dependence on divine providence, with no possessions, a willingness to go where the educational needs of the children existed and to live among the communities they served to develop profound bonds. These first and last provisions resulted in clashes with church powers as, to date, sisters always lived in convents and “divine providence” in fact meant begging. The increasing ire of local clergy occurred coincidentally with Mary’s increasing popularity and spectacular success due her commitment and belief in an education for all.
The church hierarchy began a campaign to discredit her and attempted to have her ex-communicated. Having the awareness to understand the threat to her life’s work, and the determination to do whatever it took to continue this work, the 31-year-old Sister Mary embarked on a solo life-changing pilgrimage to Rome to have her ‘Rule of Life’ granted papal approval in 1873. Never over-awed by the grand capitals and architecture so foreign to the young woman from Melbourne, Mary made her submissions to Pope Pius IX and was then requested to wait for a response. However, guided by her saying, ‘never see a need without doing something about it’ and unable to remain stationary when there is work to be done, Mary remained focused on building her Order whilst waiting for the Papal decision. She continued her travels through France, Germany, Italy and Ireland and along the way gathered 15 additional postulants to assist with her work back in the Australian bush. Over a year later, the decision was handed down approving Mary’s central government structure of her institute and the ‘Rule of Life’.
The new Constitution was adopted unanimously upon her arrival back in Australia in 1874 and Mary was elected the institute’s first Superior General, thus stymieing the heads of the church in their efforts to gain control of her work. Mary would time and time again show this sensory acuity and behavioural flexibility with a stalwart focus on her outcomes while listening to the concerns of her detractors. The legacy that Mary left this country was a testament to her focus on her goal of education for all, and her willingness to see it through – no matter what.
At our Destiny By Design day, we will focus on getting clarity on our goals and outcomes and perhaps the likes of Sister Mary McKillop, will inspire you to keep doing what works and stop what doesn’t get you closer to your success.