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A priest's journey with Mary MacKillop

 |  20 March 2017

Fr Paul Gardiner SJ passed away last weekend, aged 93. He is best remembered for the 24 years he spent working in support of the canonisation of Australia's first saint, Mary MacKillop. 

He was appointed as Postulator for the cause of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation in 1983. He spent six years researching and compiling the documents about her life, before putting together the case for her canonisation. The case was later published as an authorised biography, Mary MacKillop: An extraordinary Australian.

‘In Rome, it became more and more clear to me that she was a holy person’, Fr Gardiner said in an interview in 2012. ‘I got more and more closely acquainted with real holiness on earth. She gave me a living example of what the gospels are all about.’

The case for her beatification, or positio, was approved by the Vatican in 1993, and led to the Beatification of Mary in Sydney in 1995. Following that, Fr Gardiner worked with Sr Maria Casey on the positio for MacKillop’s second miracle. This led finally to her canonisation in Rome in 2010.

A moment with Mary

A biography of Fr Gardiner's life, A Long Journey, written by close friend Margaret Muller, was released last year. In the biography, Muller shares a story from the canonisation.

In the lead-up, Fr Gardiner was asked for his feelings about seeing Mary take a place among the saints of the Church in Rome. He noted that Mary MacKillop had often walked across St Peter's Square when she was in Rome. 

'She was a lonely young woman from Australia, knowing little of the language and having no close friends there... going into St Peter's to pray for the interests of her order in Australia, and for herself and her mission there in Rome', he said. 'Nobody would have taken any notice of her. And there we will be at the canonisation, with her picture blazened up on the facade of St Peter's, and the Pope telling the whole world to heed her person, her faith, her perseverence, her embracing of the cross, her kindness, all the things about her that we're being asked to imitate.'

Arriving in Rome a few days before the canonisation, he learned that Mary's picture was hanging above the square. He walked into the square, and found her there, and spent a long moment taking it in. 

'Mary, we made it!' he thought to himself.

The moment was captured in this picture by his nephew, Dr Peter Maloney. 

Fr Paul concelebrated the canonisation Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. Two years later, he was awarded the Order of Australia for his efforts. 

'You can say Mary MacKillop should have been awarded a medal but I've just happened to be a cog in a machine', he said. 

'She 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 people imitated her ordinary way of dealing with her fellow humans, I think it would be a much better Australia.'

With Mary in heaven

Bishop Greg O'Kelly, from Port Pirie Diocese, paid tribute to Paul this week. 

‘A most erudite and scholarly man, who studied the daily scriptures for Mass in Greek and Latin, he never lost the sparkle of his humour, and was in possession of his faculties until the very end’, says Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ.

‘His great contribution to the Australian Church is the fact that it was his painstaking research and his defence of the case of Mother Mary before Vatican committees that helped bring about the very popular canonisation of the one who became known as the saint for all Australians.’

‘His admiration of the example of Mary MacKillop was unbounded. Mary will be having a great party now with him in heaven.’

Fr Gardiner's funeral will be in Penola next Monday, 27 March. 

Father Paul Gardiner SJ's biography, A Long Journey, by Margaret Muller, is available via the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, PO Box 231, Penola South Australia, 5277. To order a copy phone (08) 8737 2092, or email 




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