By Sue Orchison
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to go with Archbishop Mark Coleridge on the Mary Mackillop Canonisation Pilgrimage. It is a privilege to be able to honour a woman who has had such a significant influence in the early formation of Australian families through education and far reaching works of charity. In Rome we will do a Footsteps of Mary MacKillop Pilgrimage revisiting landmarks, sites and churches that played such an imperative role in her quest in 1873-74 to establish the Rule of the Sisters of St. Joseph approved by the Holy See.
I am excited to be able to claim a family connection with Mary of the Cross, as do many Australians.
Mary Higgins, born 1832, my great, great grandmother, herself a teacher came to Australia from Ireland to be house keeper to the priest at the Kincumber Church. She met and married John Woodward. John was born at Kincumber. They were the first people to be married at Holy Cross Catholic Church Kincumber NSW in Jan 1859.
Mary and John Woodward lived on the opposite side of the river from the presbytery, across the Broadwater at Yow Yow (later renamed Woy Woy). This was 2 miles in a row boat down the main channel.
John Woodward had chosen the sea as a career and after obtaining his ‘Masters Ticket’ he and his Schooner, Ann became well known on the Brisbane Water-Sydney run, carrying cedar and cedar shingles for homes in Sydney. When he was on a return trip, bringing back supplies, a storm arose, they struck a rock in Sydney Harbour and it was necessary to pump the water out of the boat as it was being swamped. John who was drenched through got a chill, he also had measles at the time and in his weakened condition died in 1875 at the age of 37 years. He is buried at the Church Graveyard of Holy Cross, Kincumber. Mary and John had 10 children.
In anticipation of the coming of the Railway the priest in charge of the parish in 1887 changed residence from Kincumber to Gosford. Cardinal Moran gave the Kincumber presbytery to the Sisters of St. Joseph, the congregation founded by Mary Mackillop, to become a Home for Boys.
“The Orphanage Sisters have earned the respect and admiration of all sections of the community. In earlier years when there was little road transport I have seen them visiting the outlying villages collecting gifts of food etc. for their charges and walking long distances with heavy burdens”. Mary of the Cross was a frequent traveller to Kincumber being met at the rail head at Woy Woy and rowed across the Brisbane Waters to the Boys Home. In 1900 she wrote – Seek first the poorest and most neglected parts of God’s vineyard.
Mary Woodward would always go across to Kincumber to see Mother Mary of the Cross when she came to visit the Boys Home. On one of these visits Mary Woodward was not able to come to visit Mother Mary of the Cross, so Mother Mary of the Cross rowed the 2 miles down the river to visit her.
Joseph Woodward one of the children of this marriage, married Ellen Purkiss, they had two sons and a daughter. Stanley Woodward is my grandfather. The children received instruction for first Holy Communion at Kincumber Church early 1900’s. Joseph my great grandfather would have known Mother Mary of the Cross from her visits. In our family she is always fondly referred to Mother Mary of the Cross.
My mother remembers in the 1930s the boys from St Josephs Home were the crew of the ferry boats that went up and down the river from wharf to wharf. She says one of the ferries was named San Jose and another Killarney.
Several years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was privileged to be given a relic of Mother Mary of the Cross. During that journey my prayer was through a Mary MacKillop “holding cross”, when I had no energy to pray with words I held the Cross and knew the Lord and I were communicating. During this time I read “The Black Dress” by Pamela Freeman – a fictionalised biography presenting the early life of Mary MacKillop. She was born in Fitzroy and Baptised 28 February 1942 at the Church of St Francis’ Church Lonsdale Street, Melbourne where she made her first Confession and received her first Holy Communion. I lived with my family in Melbourne for 20years of my early life.
I am excited to be the family representative at the canonisation of Mother Mary of the Cross, to honour the deep influence she has had on my family. In the coming months I intend to write an Icon of Mother Mary of the Cross.