Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Mary MacKillop to become first Australian saint

Mother Mary MacKillop, pictured in 1880s
Mary MacKillop is said to have cured a terminally ill person

Australia is to get its first saint, Mother Mary MacKillop, a Melbourne-born nun who worked with needy children, Pope Benedict has announced.

The Vatican said MacKillop, who died in 1909, would be canonised on 17 October.

Her work for the Church was sometimes controversial - and in 1871 she was excommunicated for insubordination.

The Church exonerated her three years later and she was eventually put on the road to sainthood by Pope John Paul II, who beatified her in 1995.

For anyone to become a saint, the Church has to officially recognise them as having carried out two miracles.

Pope John Paul II recognised the first, and last year Pope Benedict credited her with curing a person of cancer.

'I believe in miracles'

Australia's ABC News reported that the woman said to have been cured came forward last month to give her account of the apparent miracle.

This is a great honour for Australia
Kevin Rudd
Prime Minister

ABC named her as Kathleen Evans and quoted her as saying she had been cured of inoperable cancers in her lungs and brain after praying to MacKillop.

"There were quite a few [doctors] that examined me, but I didn't have any treatment so there was no explanation there," ABC quoted her as saying.

"I do believe in miracles."

Mackillop was a passionate believer in education and along with her order, the Sisters of St Joseph, founded dozens of schools.

She is reputed to have started her first school in a disused stable, and established an order of nuns at the age of 24.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hailed the Vatican's decision.

"This is a great, great tribute to the Catholic Church and a great, great tribute to her hard work in education," he said.

"This is a great honour for Australia."

Sister Sheila McCreanor, a nun in her order, told the Australian newspaper before the Pope's announcement that the nuns were "very excited".

"About four of us are huddled here in the lounge room drinking tea and waiting up to get the confirmation from Rome," she said.

During a visit to Australia in 2008, Pope Benedict described her as "one of the most outstanding figures in Australia's history".

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