Mary of the Southern Cross: Patron of the Toowoomba Diocese
The title of Mary of the Southern Cross is one that acknowledges that God has ever been watching over this Great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit and that the sign of hope has hung in our sky since before any person walked this ancient land. Mary was one of the few who stood before the Cross of Christ and is therefore well qualified to be honoured with the title of Mary of the Southern Cross. The fact as we are a rural diocese the spectacular stars are so visible over most of it at night makes the use of the Southern Cross even more appropriate. The Southern Cross is also a pointer of direction just as Mary was a pointer to her Son, the Way, at Cana.
The feast of Mary of the Southern Cross is relatively new. In 1960 the new church in Inglewood was blessed under the title of Our Lady of the Southern Cross but no feast day was established for the celebration of the feast.
In 1997, after questions were asked as to who was Patron of the Diocese of Toowoomba, the Diocesan Liturgical Commission (DLC) undertook a search to discover whether a Patron had been established. The Ordo (the book that sets out the celebrations for a diocese, region or country) began acknowledging Diocesan Patrons in the 1980s but there was never one published for Toowoomba. Searches of the archives of the Diocese, the Apostolic Nunciature and the appropriate congregation in Rome failed to find record of the establishment of a Patron Saint.
The DLC then proposed that we seek the approval of the Holy See for Mary, under the title of the Southern Cross, to be established as our Patron. Before approaching the Holy See the DLC sent out a survey across the diocese explaining the history of the title and setting forth reasons why it was thought to be an appropriate choice for the diocesan patron.
The results of the survey were overwhelmingly in favour of the choice. The appropriate procedures were followed and the petition sent to the Holy See. On 14th November 1998 the Holy Father issued a Bull formally recognizing the title of the Blessed Virgin Mary — under the title of Our Lady of the Southern Cross.
The first celebration of the Feast of Mary of the Southern Cross, as the diocese has chosen to refer to it, took place on 1 September 1999. The day is a solemnity across the Diocese. The date of September 1st was chosen because it is the anniversary of the taking possession of the Cathedral by our first bishop, James Byrne; it is eight days before the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and therefore would create an octave; and it is the first official day of Spring in Australia and an appropriate day to be specially marked. It is also a day when no other feast is celebrated in Australia.
The Patronal Feast is a day on which we especially pray for the whole diocese and recall that it is through the diocese that we are brought into communion with the universal Church. This Feast is especially ours and is an opportunity to renew our bonds as a diocese.
Mary of the Southern Cross Portrait
A painting was commissioned by competition to find a suitable image of Diocesan Patron, Mary of the Southern Cross and was sponsored by the Knights of the Southern Cross. Artist Jan Williamson won the competition.
A Word from the Artist: Jan Williamson's life sized portrait in oils depicts Mary as a rural woman standing with the child Jesus in what might be considered a wheat field. The infant Jesus is dressed in a romper suit, as any child today might be. Mary is wearing a simple brown dress.
Mary's face is serene, yet possessing of a great strength. It could be the face of an Aboriginal woman, or even the face of a European migrant. It is a face that might be described as universal.
Behind the picture of Mary the shadow of the cross can be seen. It is as if her shadow and the shadow of the cross are one. The colours of the painting are reminiscent of the outback — olive greens and ochre reds.
The Mary of the Southern Cross Portrait currently hangs in The Chapel of the Incarnation, The Shrine, Toowooomba.
Visit the photo gallery to view the Mary of the Southern Cross portrait.