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This is Holy Ground

April 04, 2016

"This is holy ground! We're standing on holy ground..." 

So sang those present in the Stable Park at Penola on 19 March 2016, exactly 150 years after Mary MacKillop and Julian Woods committed themselves to the founding of a new Religious Congregation for the education of children from poor families. That was the day when Mary donned her black dress as a symbol of her commitment.

What a weekend it was! What a privilege it was to be present there among so many Josephite Sisters and wonderful lay people and to take part in the celebration of the special Mass that marked the occasion!

As we drove into Penola on the previous afternoon, we were greeted by banners proclaiming proudly: Penola where it all began. Yes, that was it, and a sense of excitement and of joy and gratitude for the 150 years of growth and development that have resulted from that seemingly tiny event right there so long ago.

Friday’s weather was threatening and it rained during Friday night but, true to form, St Joseph kept the rain at bay and all enjoyed comfortable outdoor conditions at the park. Right from the beginning, everything went like clockwork - the seating of guests, the arrival and welcoming of Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide and of the Governor of South Australia, the Honourable Hiew Van Le and his wife, Mrs Lan Le, the miming of events surrounding the original foundation by students from MacKillop College, Kensington, and then the Mass itself.

The presence of the Governor gave rise to memories of that other Governor of South Australia who wished to have his grandson attend Mary’s school. The little boy did not stay because Mary insisted that he be treated as an equal to the poorest child there. The presence of Governor Van Le, a former refugee, who came to Australia from Vietnam by boat 40 years ago, also served to remind us that there was a time when our nation welcomed boat people.

After the Mass came a well-orchestrated picnic lunch for all present and plenty of opportunities to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

The unveiling of the new sculpture of Mary MacKillop in the local Woods MacKillop Interpretive Centre and of a beautiful painting of Mary and Julian in the church were also highlights of the weekend. Both are beautiful representations of their subjects - the statue of the mature Mary and the painting of the young Mary and Julian on foundation day. One may wonder what they were thinking on that day, a day when, as Mary put it, neither of them dreamed of what was to spring from that very small beginning in that tiny isolated settlement that was the Penola of 1866?

It was certainly a privilege to be there, to remember all that has been since 19 March 1856 and, like Mary and Julian, to be ready for all that will be in a spirit of faith and trust in the loving Providence of our God.

Sr Marie Foale rsj

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