One and the Same: New Saints and Old Sinners

By Susannah Radford

Mary MacKillop: Australia's first Saint

Australia had great cause for celebration when Blessed Mary MacKillop became  Saint Mary of the Cross on Sunday 17 October 2010.  Pope Benedict XVI canonised her and five others, of which four of the six are women, during a ceremony at St Peter’s Square.

It marks a long journey for the Saint Mary of the Cross: her canonisation comes after more than 100 years after her death.  Born in Australia in 1842 to Scottish immigrants, she was the eldest of eight children who grew up in poverty.  She became a nun in 1866 and co founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart with Father Julian Woods with the intention of helping and educating the poor.  Often called a whistleblower, she endured a brief excommunication from the Church when she accused a priest of sexual abuse but was welcomed back five months later.

It takes two miracles of healing attributed to the person to be declared a Saint.  Mary’s first miracle was in 1961 when Veronica Hopson, now 72, was cured in leukemia.  In 1993 Kathleen Evans was cured of cancer which has led to Mary MacKillop becoming a Saint in 2010.

Such celebrations seem at odds with the current age of secularisation.  While one Sister in Mary’s order believes that “there will be a resurgence of faith in Australia as a result of the canonisation” faith seems to be on the decline.  Attendance to Pope Benedict XVI’s open air mass in Glasgow was less than Pope John Paul II to the UK in September of this year (65,000 compared to 250,000)

Faith also seems to be selective; maybe it’s just hard to shrug off old beliefs.  A survey polled by Nielsen in Australia last year found that “only 38 per cent of Australians believe in hell; only 53 per cent in life after death; an even 56 per cent in heaven; but a solid 63 per cent in miracles“.  Another survey found that 72% of “U.S. adults who don’t go to church, even on holidays, say “God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists”.

What of the idea that old sinner Homer Simpson is the same as a saint?  According to the L’Osservatore Ramano, Homer is a Catholic.  The Simpson family “recites prayers before meals and, in their own peculiar way, believes in the life thereafter”.  This comes as a surprise to executive producer AL Jean “My first reaction is shock and awe,” Jean told, “and I guess it makes up for me not going to church for 20 years.” Which just goes to show, that old habits die hard.