Honouring the life and work of Fr Paul Gardiner SJ (1924 to 2017)

Australian Catholics are honouring the life and work of Fr Paul Gardiner SJ, who died in Penola on March 18, aged 93.

Fr Gardiner is best remembered for his pioneering work in support of the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop.

Born in Melbourne in 1924, Fr Gardiner entered the Jesuits in 1940, and was ordained in 1955.

After that he spent two years at the Gregorian University in Rome, and underwent a year of tertianship in Ireland, as well as spending six weeks as chaplain to an American naval base in south-west Germany.

From 1959, he taught philosophy and natural theology, psychology and ethics in seminaries in Melbourne, before moving to St Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney in 1976.

When he was made Regional Secretary for the Jesuits’ East Asia Assistancy in 1978, he moved to the General Curia and spent four years in Rome before returning to St Ignatius’ College for a year.

He went back to Rome in 1983, after being appointed as Postulator for the cause of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation. He spent six years researching and compiling the documents about her life, before putting together the case for her canonisation. The case was later published as an authorised biography, Mary MacKillop: An extraordinary Australian.

The case, or positio, was approved by the Vatican in 1993, and led to the Beatification of Mary in Sydney in 1995. Following that, Fr Gardiner worked with Sr Maria Casey on the positio for MacKillop’s second miracle. This led finally to her canonisation in Rome in 2009.

‘In Rome, it became more and more clear to me that she was a holy person’, Fr Gardiner said in an interview in 2012. ‘I got more and more closely acquainted with real holiness on earth. She gave me a living example of what the gospels are all about.’

From 1999 onwards, Fr Gardiner lived and worked at Penola, as chaplain to the Mary MacKillop Centre. Few are as familiar with the life and ministry of Australia’s first saint, and Fr Gardiner was hopeful that her example could inspire others to follow her footsteps to sanctity.

In 2012, Fr Gardiner received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his contribution to the canonisation cause. A biography of his life, A Long Journey, written by close friend Margaret Muller, was released last year.

‘A most erudite and scholarly man, who studied the daily scriptures for Mass in Greek and Latin, he never lost the sparkle of his humour, and was in possession of his faculties until the very end’, says Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ.

‘His great contribution to the Australian Church is the fact that it was his painstaking research and his defence of the case of Mother Mary before Vatican committees that helped bring about the very popular canonisation of the one who became known as the saint for all Australians.’

‘His admiration of the example of Mary MacKillop was unbounded. Mary will be having a great party now with him in heaven.’

Vigil Prayers will be held for  Fr Gardiner from 7pm on March 26 at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Penola SA (led by Josephite Sisters), while his Requiem Mass and Funeral will be held the next day at 11am in the same church.


Fr Gardiner by the Years

  • 1924 (Jan) — Born in Melbourne, Victoria
  • Secondary Ed. CBC St Kilda and St Kevin’s, Toorak, Vic
  • 1940-41 — Novitiate at Loyola College, Watsonia, Vic
  • 1942, 46-48 — Juniorate at Watsonia, arts degree (honours) at Melbourne University
  • 1943-45 — Philosophy at Loyola College, Watsonia, Vic
  • 1949-51 — Regency at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, NSW
  • 1952-55 — Theology at Canisius College, Pymble, NSW; ordained Jan 5 1955
  • 1956-57 — Biennium in Philosophy at Gregorian University, Rome
  • 1957-58 — Tertianship at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, Ireland
  • 1959-68 — Loyola College, Watsonia: Professor of Philosophy & Psychology, Greek Language, text interpretation & Sacred Scripture, prefect of studies & of reading, lecturing Juniors & Novices (in Scripture), examiner
  • 1969 — Sabbatical at the Collegio Bellarmino in Rome
  • 1970 — Campion College, Kew, Vic.: Professor of Philosophy, assistant prefect of studies
  • 1971-72 — Corpus Christi College, Werribee, Vic.: Professor of Natural Theology, Psychology & Ethics, prefect of studies, lecturer in ‘Catholic College’
  • 1973-75 — Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic.: Professor of Philosophy, lecturer in ‘Catholic College’, semester lecturer at Holy Name Seminary, Christchurch, New Zealand (1975)
  • 1976-78 — Riverview, NSW: Teaching Religion, Latin, History, assistant prefect of boarders (1977-May 1978)
  • June 1978-82 — General Curia, Rome: Regional Secretary for East Asia Assistancy
  • 1983 — Riverview, NSW: Chaplain, teaching Religion, Latin, History. Began work on Mother Mary MacKillop’s Cause for Canonisation
  • 1984-94 — Collegio Bellarmino, Rome: Postulator for Mother Mary MacKillop (officially appointed in 1985)
  • 1995-98 — Milsons Point, NSW: Postulator for Mother Mary MacKillop; Chaplain to Josephite convent in Mount Street, North Sydney
  • 1999-2017 — Norwood, SA: Postulator for Mother Mary MacKillop (until June 2008); Chaplain to Mary MacKillop Centre, Penola. Resident at St Joseph’s Parish, Penola, then Pinchunga Hostel, Penola, from November 2014