On 15 January 1842, Mary Helen MacKillop was born of Scottish migrant parents, Alexander MacKillop and Flora McDonald in Fitzroy, Victoria. She was the eldest of eight children.
Her family was very poor and had to move very often in search of work. In 1861, while working as a governess to her uncle's children at Penola, she met a young missionary priest, Fr Julian Tenison Woods. Both Mary MacKillop and Fr Woods had a dream of providing education for the poor children of Australia.
In 1866, with the help and encouragement of Fr Woods, a Catholic School was opened in an unused stable in Penola. Young women came to join Mary, and so the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph was begun. In 1867, Mary was asked by Fr Woods to come to Adelaide to start a school. She arrived in St Francis Xavier's hall next door to the present Cathedral. From there, other schools were established around Adelaide. Before long, the work spread throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Mary suffered ill health most of her life but despite this she continued her work of reaching out to the poorer people. The early Sisters and lay teachers, under the guidance of Mary MacKillop, had a profound influence on the forming of Catholic education as we have come to know and experience it today.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop died on 8 August 1909 in the convent at Mount Street, North Sydney where she is now buried.
Since her death, the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph has grown. It now numbers about 1600 sisters who work mainly in Australia and New Zealand, but are also scattered singularly or in small groups around the world. Sisters are at present working in Ireland and Peru, with short term ministries in Pakistan, Uganda, Cambodia, Samoa, Kiribas and the Philippines.
Mary MacKillop was canonised on 17 October 2010 at St Peter's Basilica, Rome. Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed Mary's sainthood during the Canonisation Mass. Over 8000 pilgrims from Australia and New Zealand attended the ceremony.
The work being done at St Joseph's, Ottoway is a direct continuation of the work started by St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.