1 November 2010: Staff and students from all six ACU campuses are back in Australia after a whirlwind visit to Rome to participate in the Mary MacKillop canonisation festivities.
The 40-strong team spent six days in Rome - in roles ranging from singers and actors, to team leaders, media liaison, technical support and identity and mission representatives.
The first event for ACU was a performance at the Vatican Museums on the evening of October 15 - where Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd opened an exhibition of Australia Indigenous artifacts. The cultural part of the evening featured a team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from ACU, Catholic Education, and Nudgee College in Brisbane.
The performers danced and sang in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums, with the brilliantly lit dome of St Peter’s Basilica as the backdrop, and the Vatican echoing to the sounds of the didgeridoo. The enthusiastic crowd included Kevin Rudd, Cardinal George Pell, Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, Australian Ambassador to the Vatican Tim Fischer, and deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop.
The ACU MacKillop Indigenous Dancers in the Vatican Museums
Saturday October 16 was the eve of the canonisation, and the staging of two vigil performances by ACU staff and students – who were invited to participate by the Sisters of St Joseph.
The two-hour tribute drew crowds of more than 2,000 pilgrims, Josephites and dignitaries, and told the highs and lows of Mary MacKillop’s life through singing, drama and video.
The crowd stomped their feet and clapped loudly to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and joined in with a soaring version of Amazing Grace. The once-in-a-lifetime event was described by Mr Rudd as a “fantastic, unruly Australian gathering right in the middle of the Holy See”.
The vigil ended on a more traditional note, with prayers led by Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson and readings by ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven. However the finale was an ear-splitting standing ovation for the Sisters, followed by rousing Waltzing Matilda by ACU singers, in Italian.
Sunday October 17 was the day everyone had been waiting for. As the ACU performance team took their place on stage with the Vatican Choir, the rest of the team took their seats, surrounded by more than 6000-plus fellow Australian pilgrims dressed in green and gold, waving flags, yelling “Mary, Mary Mary, oi oi oi”, and out-cheering the 50,000-strong crowd of Italians, Poles, Canadians and Spaniards who had come to celebrate the canonisation of their own saints.
There were plenty of tears throughout the ceremony, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the great joy the Sisters must be feeling when you saw the look on their faces.
Drama performer and ACU student, Gabriel Rulewski, said it was an amazing experience, and one he would never forget.
“The atmosphere in Rome was electric, filled as it was with so many fellow Australian pilgrims and I am so grateful to God and the University for the opportunity to use my talents for such a unique and historic occasion,” he said. “The journey to Rome, including the months leading up to October 17 had its challenges, but that only made the experience that much more meaningful and the process became, for me personally, a small way in which I could honour the great work of a woman who changed Australia for the better and devoted her life to God's Will for her.”
The last event for the ACU performance team was the thanksgiving Mass the following day, held at the ancient Roman Basilica of St Pauls Outside the Walls. The choir sang beautifully throughout the joy-filled ceremony for the newly canonised St Mary of the Cross, presided over by Cardinal George Pell.
Professor Marea Nicholson, Associate Vice-Chancellor (Sydney), and Professor Anne Cummins, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching), led the ACU team in Rome.
Professor Nicholson said the University was privileged to be able to support the Sisters of St Joseph, and contribute to the canonisation ceremonies in such a significant way, as well as support the pilgrimage experience of so many Australians in Rome.
“As a community we can be proud of the contribution our staff and students made on our behalf in Rome,” she said. “It is important also to acknowledge the significant support provided by so many staff back at home to ensure the success of our contributions.”
Professor Cummins said to see Mary MacKillop’s picture raised on the wall of St Peter’s Basilica and her name read in the Canon of the Saints was extraordinary.
“Our Mary, country girl, nun, teacher, advocate, social entrepreneur, brave woman and saint!” she said. “It was an enormous privilege to share the moment with the Sisters of St Joseph.”
The ACU drama team re-enact the highs and lows of Mary’s life
The ACU team after the vigil performance