In the Catholic tradition, the month of May has been associated with the devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. This is the month when we celebrate MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS, Patroness of Australia, on the 24 May.
The story begins with events in Europe, at the time of the colonization and settlement of Australia by white Europeans. In the 1800, a few years after the first convicts arrived in the colony of New South Wales, a new Pope was elected in Rome, with the title of Pius 7th. At the same time, Napoleon declared himself Emperor in France, and proceeded in confiscating Church properties, and harassing Bishops and priests. Pope Pius 7thexcommunicated Napoleon, who retaliated by sending his troops to Rome to arrest the Pope and to take him to France as a prisoner (from 1809 to 1814). But in 1814 Napoleon was defeated, and taken prisoner himself. The Pope was liberated and was able to return to Rome on 24th May of that year. So in gratitude to Mary, he proclaimed the 24 May as a special day in honour of Mary Help of Christians.
During these years in the fledgling colony of NSW there were no priests; so the few Irish convicts in Sydney used to gather in their huts on Sundays to pray the Rosary to Mary.
When Fr Therry, the first Irish priest was allowed into the colony, he promptly dedicated the first church to Mary, Help of Christians. And the Catholic cathedral in Sydney is known as St. Mary’s cathedral, abbreviated from “To Mary, Immaculate, Help of Christians”.
A few years later, the Bishops of Australia declared Mary Help of Christians as the Patroness of Australia.
In 1815 when the above events were taking place in Europe and in Australia, John Bosco was born in Turin. He was to become one of the chief promoters of the devotion to Mary Help of Christians. He built a magnificent basilica in Turin dedicated to Mary Help of Christians. Every year on the 24 May, thousands of people attend special services in that church, and hold a candle-light procession around the streets of the city. And when Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello together founded an order of Sisters, they called it “The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians”. Today, there are about 15,000 of them in 130 countries!
At the end of his life, Don Bosco stated: “All that I have done, and everything that will be done after me, is Mary’s work. If you have devotion to Mary, Help of Christians, you will see what miracles are”.
Honouring Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Help of all Christians, is both Australian and Salesian! We are heirs of a great tradition. And we should be proud of it!
Fr. Frank Bertagnolli SDB
Rector, Salesian College Chadstone