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Mary MacKillop's Excommunication

When Mary MacKillop was excommunicated on the 22nd September 1871, she and 47 sisters also expelled from the Sisters of St Joseph, were forced to find accommodation and employment where-ever they could.

During this time Mary dressed incognito. She had been ordered not to communicate with any of the sisters and anyone associating with her was liable to excommunication. Priests too were threatened with suspension if they supported any of the sisters, however a few of them remained loyal friends. Most notable among them were Jesuits Frs Hinterocker and Tappeiner from Norwood.

Mary found accommodation with friends at various locations including Flinders St City, Walkerville and George St, Norwood. For a time she and some sisters rented rooms on the corner of Queen and William Streets, at the rear of the shop diagonally opposite St Ignatius Church at Norwood. While there the Jesuits encouraged and supported Mary and allowed her to pray and receive the sacraments because they believed her sentence was invalid and unjust.

After five months, when Bishop Sheil lay dying, he realised his mistake and revoked the excommunication.

The Josephites were reinstated in their habits during a ceremony, which took place in St Ignatius Church Norwood on Tuesday 19 March 1872. It seemed fitting that this date was chosen as it was on the feast of St Joseph 1866 when the Sisters of St Joseph officially began at Penola.

Twenty-four sisters, including Mary MacKillop, resumed their habits. As well, four postulants received theirs for the first time. During subsequent weeks further reinstatements brought to at least thirty-five the number of sisters who had renewed their allegiance to the Institute.

The following article was reported in The Irish Harp - March, 1872

Feast of S. Joseph. - Tuesday March 19 being the Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, was celebrated with becoming solemnity at the church of S. Ignatius, Norwood. At 8 o'clock a "Missa Cantata" was celebrated by the Rev. J. N. Hinterocker, S.J., after which the rev. gentleman ascended the pulpit and preached an eloquent and impressive sermon on the gospel for the day. The perplexity of S. Joseph when he discovered the pregnancy of his spouse was referred to as an indication that those who follow S. Joseph must, like him, endure trials and tribulations, and that the way to heaven was the way of the Cross. In the evening the Second Vespers of Joseph were sung at 7 o'clock, after which a beautiful and touching discourse was delivered by F. Hinterocker on the flight of S. Joseph into Egypt. The rev. father dwelt at some length on the obedience, humility, and firm faith of St. Joseph in not being scandalised at the apparent inability of the child Jesus, although the eternal Son of' God, to save himself from the sword of Herod. His example should be followed by all who aspired to follow the counsels of perfection, and he especially inculcated this duty upon the members of the little community who some time ago had dedicated themselves to the service of God under the title and patronage of S. Joseph. The trials and persecutions they had undergone since the last celebration of the festival of St. Joseph in that church ought to prove stepping stones to them on their way to heaven. They ought henceforth to look upon sufferings as blessings, sent by God to try their faith, and purge them From whatever imperfections might mar their usefulness in the vocation which they had adopted. At the close of the sermon the rev. father announced that after the service those of the Sisters of S. Joseph who were dishabited a few months ago would again take the habit of religion at the hands of their spiritual director, the Rev. Jos. Tappeiner. Accordingly after Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament eleven of the dishabited sisters presented themselves within the altar rails and having renewed their vows were reinvested with the habit of religion. The scene was a touching and impressive one, and brought tears to the eyes of many of those present who remembered the last celebration of the feast of S. Joseph, and the vicissitudes which the community had undergone since that time.