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Ironically, a feisty nun who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church was recently named a saint for her work to uncover cases of sexual abuse committed by a priest. Mary MacKillop co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Australia in 1867, died in 1909, and became the first Catholic saint in Australia on Sunday.

The Sisters of St. Joseph got news of the sexual abuse and reported it to the Reverend Julian Woods, MacKillop’s spiritual advisor, who then reported the abuse back to the church authorities. As a result, Reverend Ambrose Patrick Keating, the priest accused of the sexual abuse was sent back to Ireland from Australia. Nevertheless, Keating’s friends in the church were not pleased that he was removed from his post, and thought that they could best get back at the Reverend Julian Woods for his actions by getting at MacKillop. By telling him lies about Mackillop, they eventually convinced Woods to excommunicate the entire order of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1871.

The Bishop James Quinn revoked the excommunication five months later on his death bed, but MacKillop faced an uphill battle in convincing local Catholic authorities for the control of the order that she founded. Eventually, after decades of struggle she regained control over the Sisters of St. Joseph and the order grew to include 300 women in Australia and New Zealand by 1891 and now includes 1,200 nuns. In addition, MacKillop was instrumental in getting nuns to vote after women were granted the right to vote in Australia. She is also praised for her work with the poor and sick. Over 4,000 people attended an outdoor mass on Sunday to celebrate her canonization in Penola, Australia where she first began the Sisterhood of St. Joseph in an unused stable.

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