Sister Maria Casey joins the 7.30 Report

Speaking from the Vatican in Rome, Sister Maria Casey joins Heather Ewart to discuss the process in selecting Mary MacKillop as Australia's first saint.

HEATHER EWART, PRESENTER: Well, the long running campaign has involved numerous trips to and from the Vatican by key supporters of Mary MacKillop. One of them is Sister Maria Casey. She spoke to us from the Vatican late today.

Sister Maria, you were one of those who spearheaded the push for canonisation. Just how hard has it been to get to this point?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: It has not been difficult in some respects. The biggest difficulty was finding the organic cure that could be presented to meet the criteria for the Vatican as a miracle.

HEATHER EWART: So can you take us through that process? What has that involved?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: First of all, we had to sift through thousands of cases to select the one that could be suitable, and then having found that, the Bishop of the local area where the cure occurred, set up a special investigation.

The lady who was cured and several witnesses gave their testimony under oath, and we had to collect all the documentary evidence from the doctors, and from the hospitals, and given that, we took it under seal to the Vatican last year in about Anzac Day, we presented it here at the Vatican.

Then it had to be presented in a special format, which took a lot of time to get it prepared. Two doctors examined that material, and they said, "Yes, there is some evidence and strong evidence that this cure cannot be explained by scientific means". Then it was presented to a further panel of doctors, and the five met in consultation, each with their written opinion, and they said, "No, we cannot explain this".

They had already done a literature search and no case was known that a person with that type of cancer was cured.

HEATHER EWART: So the medical evidence was absolutely crucial to this case?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: Yes, oh, yes, absolutely. It was the lynch-pin of the whole case.

And then when they finished the theologians had to have a turn to find and exam again all the documentation to see was there evidence that there was prayer through to Mary MacKillop and they agreed that yes, there was ample evidence.

And so then it went to a group of cardinals and bishops here from the Causes of Saints. And they in turn also gave a positive result, and so on Saturday morning the prefect for the congregation of Saints took all their findings to the Holly Father, Pope Benedict XVI and he, as you know, issued the decree on Saturday.

HEATHER EWART: Was there a lot of behind the scenes negotiation and discussion that had to go on in the Vatican?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: No, not really. It was a matter of taking documentation that was brought here to Rome and that I had brought last year. I couldn't add to it or take away from it. I just had to get it ready in the format that they required, so there wasn't a lot of negotiation, lobbying or questioning, not even from Kevin Rudd.

HEATHER EWART: But the formalities, I think, began way back in 1925. Why has all of this taken so long, do you think?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: Well, at the beginning there was evidence that there was some documentation missing from an investigation in Adelaide in the 1880s. And then the war intervened before those documents could be found, so the process was suspended.

And Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy was the priest who was taking... was the notary at that time, and when he became Cardinal he re-opened the case. Then in 1973 at the Eucharistic congress the formal introduction was announced, so it has been going a long time.

HEATHER EWART: Now, the stories surrounding the two miracles are still shrouded in some secrecy with the two women concerned, reluctant to come forward to the media. Why is that?

SISTER MARIA CASEY: Well, the first lady said she wanted her privacy respected, and the media have always respected that intention and that request. The lady that is the... has the cure just now says at this some time she believes that the day and the celebration at this period belongs to Mary MacKillop, and she wants to stand aside. She is very happy to tell her story when she feels the time is right.

HEATHER EWART: For non-Catholics though and some sceptics out there, why should they believe in these miracles, I guess, without more detailed information provided.

SISTER MARIA CASEY: I guess it's very hard for people who don't have that belief to understand miracles. Mary MacKillop, herself, does not do the curing. She prays for the person, and the cure is affected by God himself, not by Mary MacKillop.

And that is one misconception I picked up from media articles in newspapers, they think we are ascribing that to Mary MacKillop. That is not so.

I guess if they had the intimate details of the medical evidence, then they would know that no matter what, there is no cure for either type of cancer that had been studied. And in the face of that, what you believe it's a question and I'm afraid I don't have a ready answer for it.

HEATHER EWART: What have these miracles meant, in your view, for the church here in Australia.

SISTER MARIA CASEY: The miracle is a sign that the person concerned has, or is with God and has the power of intercession with God. It means that Catholics and non-Catholics, and we have many of them who come to pray at Mary's tomb have somebody who can intercede for them.

You'll probably have read in some of the media articles yesterday their testimony of some of those people, what a kinship and what a friendship they feel with Mary MacKillop, and with other Saints too, it's not just Mary MacKillop, and they feel somehow that their deep need for a spiritual meaning and for some resonance with the God almighty is satisfied through prayer to these people.

HEATHER EWART: What has it meant personally for you, getting to what appears to be almost the end of your mission.

SISTER MARIA CASEY: It has been a wonderful journey, it has been a testing of my faith at times. It has been something that, when I read again and again, gives me goose bumps because it is just so extraordinary.

The faith of the people concerned, and some of the people who did the praying were not Catholics, they were non-Catholics. There was extraordinary sense of peace and serenity, there was never any frenzy about this, no hooray hooray, look at me, what I've got.

It was a very deep contentment, something that was just extraordinary. I really have no words for it. And for me it has been a privilege to walk with that person, to take their documentation and prepare it here for the people in Rome.

HEATHER EWART: Sister Maria, I'm sure it's very cold outside there in Rome, so we'll leave it there. Thank you for very much for joining us.

SISTER MARIA CASEY: Thank you very much Heather, it's been a pleasure.