Mary MacKillop still very much a presence in Veronica’s life
|Veronica and Allan Hopson attended the blessing of the St Mary of the Cross Chapel at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta, on Sunday 17 March.|
Photo: Alfred Boudib, Visualeyes Photography
Originally published in Catholic Outlook April 2013
By Virginia Knight
Every time I travel to the Blue Mountains I feel at ease with the world and a gentle serenity descends upon me. The fresh mountain air hovers above the smog and bustle of Sydney and the scenery is literally breathtaking.
In these peaceful and inspiring surroundings, I will spend the morning with Veronica Hopson, the woman most recently revealed as St Mary MacKillop’s first recorded miracle, and Allan, her husband of more than 50 years.
My welcome is warm, and once we have dutifully acknowledged the demands of their live-in companion Khan (a gorgeous, eccentric Burmese cat), it is time to turn my attention to Veronica and her story.
This quiet, unassuming woman with an air of tranquillity about her is still struggling to come to terms with the idea that the world might be interested in her journey.
For many years Veronica avoided the spotlight so it would shine brightly where she believes it should be focussed, on Mary MacKillop and her path to canonisation as Australia’s first recognised saint.
Diagnosed at age 22 with acute myeloblastic leukaemia, Veronica’s recovery from the very brink of death was due to the intercession of Mary MacKillop, through the prayers of friends, family and the Sisters of St Joseph.
Forty years ago, Veronica’s case was first examined and came to the notice of Cardinal Gilroy, who was promoting Mary’s path to sainthood. He undertook to interview Veronica personally.
At that time, she requested and has since maintained her anonymity, only agreeing to interviews after Mary’s sainthood was confirmed.
Veronica was born in 1937 in Naremburn to James and Edith Donohue and was the youngest in a Catholic family of eight children. She attended Mount Street Primary where she was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph.
Veronica recalls that many of her extended family – aunts and cousins – were Josephites, in particular Sr Eulalie, her mother’s great-aunt.
“Growing up at school, we didn’t really know very much about Mary MacKillop,” Veronica said. “I used to think Sr Eulalie was Mary MacKillop!”
Veronica completed her education at St Scholastica’s at Glebe Point and went on to St Patrick’s Business College where she studied to become a secretary.
She met her soon-to-be husband Allan through a mutual friend and the couple married in 1959. In 1960, they settled in St Finbar’s Parish at Glenbrook.
A year later, Veronica’s became ill. She grew very weak and was in a lot of pain and sought medical treatment. As her health began to deteriorate, her husband and parents were told she had acute myeloblastic leukaemia and had only a few weeks to live.
“I didn’t know; they kept it from me,” Veronica said. “I suspected it was something serious, but for virtually the next two years I didn’t know. I just thought I was very sick.”
Veronica had been looking forward to settling into married life, raising children and making a happy home for her family. Instead, she had a debilitating illness that threatened to take away all her dreams.
So she prayed, not for her life as she was not aware of the depth of her illness, but for a cure and a healthy, happy future with the young man she loved. “Mum went to the Josephite Sisters who had taught me at Mount Street and asked them to pray for me.
“They used to come and visit. They gave me an intercessory prayer leaflet and I used to say it every day. They also gave me a medallion with Mary’s image and a relic in it. The relic was cloth from Mary MacKillop’s habit.”
Veronica’s full recovery could not be explained by medical reasons and 18 months later she gave birth to the first of her six children, again against medical opinion to the contrary.
It was then that her sister told her of her true condition and how close she had come to death.
When you ask Veronica what the miracle meant to her it is obvious she was always more overjoyed by the gift of her child; and that the gift of her cure allowed this to be.
“My eldest son, Brett, was born one month premature on the anniversary of Mary MacKillop’s death. I wasn’t aware it was the anniversary of her death, but he became known to the hospital staff as ‘Mary’s baby’.
Veronica said she is just an ordinary person. “I don’t feel special or ‘like’ a miracle. I see the connection through Brett’s birth, which was wonderful. I am just grateful and happy that I had Brett and then my other children.”
Brett was killed tragically in a car accident at the age of 17. One of her younger sons, Mark, has a severe brain injury after an accident and, presently, one of her daughters-in-law is ill and Veronica is praying to Mary MacKillop for her sake.
“I gave away the medallion and prayer card to another lady who was very sick when my children were in their pre-teens, but Mary MacKillop is still very much a presence in my life. I pray regularly to her at church and I often ask her to look after Brett.”
During a trip to South Australia, Veronica and Allan visited the Mary MacKillop Centre in Penola. It was here in 1866 that the young teacher and Fr Julian Tenison Woods founded the Sisters of St Joseph.
They provided a free Catholic education, initially for the isolated bush children of Penola. Since then the lives of many throughout Australia and overseas have been enriched and transformed.
Veronica has been present at all of the important celebrations in Mary MacKillop’s path to sainthood but has preferred to remain a face in the crowd, unidentified and away from the limelight.
At the canonisation celebration in St Peter’s Square on 17 October 2010, Veronica, Allan and three of their children had special seating with the Josephite congregation, virtually in front of the huge banner of Mary’s image.
But it was at the beatification ceremony in Sydney in 1995 that Veronica met another saintly person who would impact on her life.
“I met Pope John Paul II before the ceremony, but that was kept secret too. They took me to the presbytery at St Mary’s Cathedral. He was lovely and we spent about 20 minutes with him.
“I wanted to hug him; he was so lovely and grandfatherly. He told me I was a very special person. He put aside his cane and placed both his hands in mine and we sat and talked.”
Veronica has been a parishioner at St Finbar’s for many years. She has been actively involved in parish projects including the annual fete when her children attended the parish school but generally remains in the background, quietly working away.
Continually supportive of her faith and devotion to Mary MacKillop, Allan was received into the Catholic Church several years ago.
Last month, Veronica and Allan attended the blessing of the new St Mary of the Cross Shrine in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta.It was another chance to honour the woman whose presence seems destined to be interwoven with hers for the rest of her life.
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