Nun Whose Order Fought Abuse Becomes Saint

Australia got its first Catholic saint Sunday, a feisty 19th-century nun who was briefly excommunicated when her colleagues exposed an abusive priest.

Mary MacKillop co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 1867, and gained a reputation as the first Australian nun to leave the cities and minister to the rural poor.

Nuns in her order got evidence that a priest was engaged in ""scandalous behavior,"" according to the Rev. Paul Gardiner, who has spent decades researching MacKillop's life.

The nuns reported it to the Rev. Julian Woods, MacKillop's first spiritual mentor who co-founded the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Woods in turn reported the abuse to church authorities, resulting in the Rev. Ambrose Patrick Keating being sent back to Ireland from Kapunda, Australia.

But Keating's friends ""were really upset with Father Woods and thought they could best get at him by getting at Mary,"" said Claire Larkin, the chair of the Mary MacKillop Centre in Penola, Australia.

""They told a lot of lies to the bishop,"" who excommunicated MacKillop and the entire order in 1871, she said.

Bishop James Quinn revoked the excommunication five months later, on his deathbed, the order says in its biography of Mary MacKillop.

But she still had to spend decades fighting local Catholic leaders for control of the order she founded.

""She was a charismatic entrepreneur,"" the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of ""Inside the Vatican,"" told CNN. ""She was a feminist before her time. She struggled in a male-dominated institution and got things done."""