Sisters of St Joseph have taken to the heavens, flying to the Vatican for the ceremony which will confirm Mary MacKillop, the founder of their order, as Australia’s first saint.
A group of 39 Josephite sisters, aged from their mid-twenties to their mid-eighties and dressed casually but wearing specially made teal-coloured sashes, checked in their humble looking luggage for a flight from Sydney Airport to the Papal city on Tuesday.
For Sister Margaret Flood, 57, from Bathurst in central NSW, the pilgrimage breaks the habit of a lifetime, marking her first-ever trip overseas.
“Being part of it is very exciting,” she told AAP before boarding the plane.
“To be part of what is history for Australia.”
Sydney-based Sister Anne-Marie Gallagher, 26, is the youngest of the group.
She says the ceremony on October 17 to confirm Mother Mary’s sainthood will be the culmination of a very long canonisation process, which began in 1926.
“It’s a day that I suppose many sisters thought they would never see,” she said.
“I think we’ll just be carried along with the excitement … celebrating an Aussie woman who lived here just over a hundred years ago and somebody who was real.
“And who didn’t live her life aiming to be a saint but who is recognised for the good work that she did.”
Sister Mary Ellen O’Donoghue won’t be among those travelling, but was at the airport to wave goodbye.
She said she would watch the Vatican ceremony streamed live on the internet and celebrate with a glass of bubbly.
“For me it’s as much about the excitement here as it is in Rome,” she told AAP.
“It is nationally important because I think the world in general want models of goodness.
“People want a good news story and Mary is a great news story.
“I think people everywhere, regardless of their religion or their heritage, are really quite excited about the fact that an Australian has stood up and said, ‘I’ve done something that’s made a difference to the world.'”
The nuns travelling from Australia will be joined at the Vatican City by other Josephite nuns from New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Peru.
Mother Mary, born in 1842, co-founded the order in South Australia in 1866.
She died in North Sydney in 1909, having spent a lifetime helping the poor and needy.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 when the Vatican accepted a miracle occurred in 1961 when a woman with terminal leukaemia was cured after praying exclusively to Mother Mary.
The second miracle needed for sainthood – the curing of NSW woman Kathleen Evans, who had developed inoperable lung cancer in 1993 and sought Mary’s intercession – was recognised by the Vatican as attributed to Mary in December 2009.
Also travelling to the Vatican for the canonisation ceremony this week is a bipartisan delegation of politicians, including Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.