A cross they are happy to bear

Bayview College student Tom Bird (rear, left) welcomes Michael O'Halloran and the MacKillop Cross to Portland with fellow Bayview student Ciara Cancian and All Saints Parish School year 6 pupils Lachlan Murrell and Maggie Doherty.100825AW01 Picture: Alexandra Weaver
Bayview College student Tom Bird (rear, left) welcomes Michael O'Halloran and the MacKillop Cross to Portland with fellow Bayview student Ciara Cancian and All Saints Parish School year 6 pupils Lachlan Murrell and Maggie Doherty.100825AW01 Picture: Alexandra Weaver

A THREE-METRE cross is not the easiest item to travel with but that hasn't stopped a group of Catholic pilgrims sharing a special piece of Mary MacKillop's past with south-west supporters.

The object was made from the original floorboards of Mother Mary's first school in Penola and is being taken to significant sites around the nation by Knights of the Southern Cross.

On Tuesday members of the New South Wales-based group visited the grave of Mary's father Alexander at the Hamilton cemetery before continuing to Portland for a special mass at All Saints Catholic Church.

Member Michael O'Halloran said the cross had received a warm reception at its 38 stops to date.

"It's been to all the Victorian diocese, and Ballarat is the last diocese," he said.

"We were asked by the Sisters of St Joseph to actually take the cross on a pilgrimage, and we felt privileged to take it around and involve ourselves. Mary is for all Australians."

Two crosses were made from floorboards salvaged when the original Penola schoolhouse was renovated, with one given to Pope John Paul II during his visit to Sydney in 1986.

Yesterday the remaining cross was brought to Bayview College and placed in the house Mother Mary and her family lived in during the 1860s.

Principal Jim Goodall welcomed the pilgrims' efforts and said it reinforced the former nun's local background.

"It's a fantastic concept. I guess it brings home to us that Mary MacKillop was a real person," he said.

"She has a very strong following in Australia and she was a significant Australian, so it's a way for us to actually get started with this whole process."

Mr Goodall said more than 300 pilgrims had visited Bayview so far this year and expected two busloads each weekend until Mother Mary's canonisation in Rome on October 17.

Pupils from Bayview College and All Saints Parish School carried the cross into Tuesday night's mass and agreed it was a special experience.

"When we were at primary school we learnt about her and we didn't think too much of it but now we realise she's actually Australia's first saint and that she was from Portland," Year 11 student Tom Bird said.

aweaver@standard.fairfax.com.au