In the backstreets of Mitcham, two piles of stacked bluestone rocks sit amid the real estate oasis of one of Adelaide’s most leafy-green suburbs, reports The Southern Cross.
Some of the stone making up the triangular-stacked cairns comes from the very convent Mary MacKillop built for her nuns in Mitcham. The four-year-long process to build the cairns has revealed a deep connection between Australia’s first saint and the Presbyterian matriarch of one of Adelaide’s wealthiest pioneering families.
“Mary’s relationship with Joanna Barr Smith and the Barr Smith family was a significant and treasured one for both Mary and Joanna,” said State Provincial Leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Sister Marion Gambin. “It was a friendship that lasted a life time,” she said.
Joanna and Robert Barr Smith were well known for their generous donations to the University of Adelaide, the art gallery and many more Adelaide charities and institutions.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Joanna met some time after Mary arrived in Adelaide from Penola in 1867 and before she established a women’s refuge in Mitcham in 1870. Robert and Joanna, who lived a short distance away at Torrens Park, assisted Mary in running the Mitcham Refuge to help rehabilitate and provide life skills to outcast women – unmarried mothers, prostitutes and former prisoners.
Mary was in her late 20s, as was Joanna. Joanna was born in Scotland and Mary’s ancestry too is Scottish.
Their friendship lasted almost four decades and ended only with the death of Mary in Sydney in 1909. In that time, the friends wrote many letters to one another.
“It is clearly evident by the letters written between these two women that theirs was a strong and close relationship,” said Mitcham Mayor Michael Picton.
"In a letter written by Joanna in 1873, she closes: ‘I can only send you these brief lines dear Sister Mary and explain my sad position. I wish you a very happy New Year and a speedy reunion with your beloved helpmeets in the South. Ever your attached friend Joanna Barr Smith’,” he said.
“And in return Mary closes: ‘But I must stop. Forgive me if I have said too much, you know I love your soul, and that I cannot be false to it. Believe me dearest Mrs Smith, affectionately yours in JMJ Mary of the Cross’.”
FULL STORY: Penpals with St Mary (the Southern Cross)