Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
10 Oct 2011
The small South Australian town of Penola will remember Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop on Sunday, 16 October when pilgrims will gather in Mary MacKillop Park at the site of the stable where she founded her first school back in 1866.
Archbishop Emeritus of Adelaide, the Most Rev Leonard Faulkner will bless the site of the old stable schoolhouse as part of the town's canonisation anniversary celebrations.
More than 1000 locals and pilgrims are expected in Penola for the event with the blessing taking place at in the park at 9.15 am. This will be followed by a procession from the park to the historic St Joseph's Church where Mass will be celebrated 10.30 am by the Archbishop and concelebrants, Father Paul Gardiner, who for more than 25 years was Postulator for the Cause, and Father Philip Marshall, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Penola, which lies in the heart of South Australia's famous Coonawarra wine growing district, is the town where St Mary of the Cross MacKillop first decided to devote her life to God, and to helping the wretched, marginalised and vulnerable. It was here with Father Julian Tenison Woods she also founded Australia's first free school for the poor and the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
For many years Penola has between has been popular with those wanting to pay tribute to Australia's saint in the making and to learn more about her life. But since her canonisation in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on 17 October last year, the small town with its population of just 1222 has become host to a non stop stream of visitors. Both Catholics and non Catholics visit the town each week to visit St Joseph's Church where Fr Tenison Woods was parish priest, to inspect the historic stone school house that replaced the original cramped school in a stable, and to trace her life via exhibitions and archives on display at Penola's Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre.
On the day of her canonisation on 17 October 2010 more than 6000 pilgrims from across Australia poured into the town to be part of a special Mass and to watch the ceremony in Rome as it was simulcast onto huge screens set up in the town's Mary MacKillop Park.
Since then the number of visitors each weekend has remained high with Australia's first saint a beloved figure and inspiration not only for Catholics but for those of all denominations and of no faith at all.
"The response we have had from visitors throughout the past year has just been marvellous," says Claire Larkin, one of the volunteers who helps run the Penola Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre.
While this year's anniversary commemoration of the canonisation will be nowhere near as large as last year's big day, the events are nevertheless expected to swell the town's population of 1200 by a further 500 to 600.
After Mass at St Joseph's, those attending will visit Penola's Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre where an exhibition of last year's canonisation to be officially opened.
The day's anniversary celebrations will conclude early afternoon with a big barbecue for locals, visitors and pilgrims.