CHRISTCHURCH — An important link to St Mary of the Cross MacKillop lies in the Barbadoes St cemetery. Buried there is Mary’s brother, John, who transformed stables at Penola in South Australia to create the Sisters of St Josephs’ first school, which opened in 1866.
The place of burial was recently given a special blessing by Bishop Barry Jones. The blessing was attended by about 50 people, including St Joseph Sisters Provincial Sr Colleen Keeble, RSJ, a large number of sisters from around the South Island, Sisters of St Joseph Wanganui, and the Knights of the Southern Cross.
Sr Colleen spoke and Sr Eleanor Capper read an excerpt about John McKillop’s life.
Sr Colleen said they knew for a long time that John was buried there somewhere, “and thanks to Mary Parker this gravesite was eventually found”, she said.
“I’m sure the spirit of Mary, John and all her family are here with us as we remember him today,” added Sr Colleen.
The tombstone, found by ex-Josephite sister Mary Parker in the early 1990s, was cleaned up by the Knights of the Southern Cross around the time of the saint’s canonisation. The knights also added a plaque that says John was the beloved brother of St Mary MacKillop, and cites the knights’ work.
John is the only one of Mary’s MacKillop’s family buried beyond the shores of Australia. He made the stable in Penola presentable enough for Mary to open the first school of the Sisters of St Joseph.
Spokeswoman Sr Jill McLoughlin said that having John MacKillop’s grave in Christchurch was an important part of the MacKillop story — and the blessing was a source of joy for the numerous sisters and associates who attended on a grey day.
John MacKillop came to New Zealand with his gold-hunting father. Gold proved elusive, and John raised money for his father’s return to Australia by building house and stables for a Mr Bruce at Cora Lynn station in the Selwyn district.
John intended to make his life here, but a fall from a horse caused a wound thought to be harmless, but which produced tetanus and cut short the young man’s life at age 23. Mary and John MacKillop were very close.
Finding the grave was difficult, Ms Parker said. Earlier efforts had failed, as some Catholic records had been destroyed in a fire. After some searching, Ms Parker finally climbed under branches brushing the ground to come across it. The tree, which has now been removed, meant the gravestone was well preserved.
It is presumed that St Mary would have visited her brother’s grave during her New Zealand visit when she was heading for Arrowtown — where she lived and worked for some time. It is hoped that this spot will become a place of pilgrimage.