Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Become a Saint. Australian Medievalism #456

Some circles in Australia have become awfully excited about the prospect of our first saint, and it seems the final condition has now been met, with the declaration of Mary McKillop's second miracle (it takes two, apparently). The first was a cure from leukemia in 1961; now a woman in the Hunter Valley's prayers to Mother Mary have been certified as curing her cancer in the mid 90s. The report says, "The approved miracle ... had to be scientifically and theologically assessed before it was decreed by the Vatican." An announcement of her sanctity is expected from the Vatican next year.

I would have liked to hear a little more about this assessment process. Was it a joint committee? Did the same conditions have to be met by each body of experts? Apparently the woman in question does not yet wish to be identified. So her testimony has been taken over by the professionals, institutionalised and certified, and lifted out of the possibility of personal witness.

I guess this is similar to the medieval process, where miracles similarly had to be declared or authenticated by the church. I don't know enough to know if doctors were involved then as well. But I'm pretty sure that witnesses didn't often have, or want, the option of anonymity.

Mary's intercession apparently also played an important role in the recent successful separation of conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna in Melbourne, the survival of burns and car crash toddler Sophie Delezio, and the awakening from his seven-month coma of David Keohane, the Irish backpacker who was assaulted in Sydney. So that's good to know...

She was also known as an educator, establishing her first school in Penola, South Australia. I've been there twice: most recently on a road trip with some medievalists (some Catholic, some not). The Mary McKillop centre did seem, indeed, as if it was in suspension, just waiting for some news... My companions and I walked carefully through the question of religion: it can be a sensitive issue for medievalists.

But here's a funny section from the report in The Age:
Former Pentridge Prison chaplain Father Peter Norden said he was ''very pleased and happy to celebrate the fact that recognition is given for Mary, that it's a woman chosen for sainthood." ... "Even though many would view nuns as creatures of the past, we see the earnest goodness in the way in which she lived and dealt with adversity and met challenges,'' he said.
Well, Mother Mary died in 1909, so yes, she was indeed a "creature" of the past, though I suspect Father Norden really means something more like "medieval", or "not-modern" here. Do others find a bit of a back-hander here, though? He's pleased that it's a woman who's been chosen, but nuns — creatures — belong in the past? A little unconscious condescension here, I can't help but feel.

Update: Helen's sent me this photo, taken a few kilometres away up near St Vincent's in Brunswick St. So she's really a local Fitzroy saint as well...


3 comments:

Bavardess said...

"Creatures of the past" - that is an odd way of putting it. Almost as if Father Norden has been reading The Book of Margery Kempe.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps 'creatures' is used to mean 'creation' - by a Creator God.

Esther

Stephanie Trigg said...

Sure, it could be; and I recognise that usage. It just seems to be used here to distinguish nuns from ... people, so it seems rather unfortunate to me.