Mary MacKillop’s Jewish connection

A FAMOUS forebear of history buff Trevor Cohen had a big impact on the life of Australia's first saint, Mary MacKillop.

History buff Trevor Cohen. Photo: Peter Haskin
History buff Trevor Cohen. Photo: Peter Haskin


TREVOR Cohen is elated that Mary MacKillop has been canonised. A famous forebear of his had a big impact on the life of Australia’s first saint.

The Melbourne history buff, a former president of the Australian Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), Victoria , has researched the life of his great-great-great uncle, Emanuel Solomon, one of 19th century Adelaide’s most colourful characters.

Solomon, a London-born hawker, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1818 for possession of stolen property. After his emancipation, he became a successful businessman and a colourful member of South Australia’s fledgling Jewish community.

Solomon married three times and entered South Australia’s parliament.

The philanthropist was drawn to MacKillop’s extensive charitable work, and twice took action to help her and her order.

Solomon first met the Melbourne-born nun in Adelaide in 1868, when he rescued her order from overcrowded rented premises after they vacated their convent to make room for a visiting Dominican order.

Three years later, after a dispute over education practices with Bishop Laurence Sheil, MacKillop was excommunicated for insubordination, and she and the other nuns were evicted from their convent.

Cohen told The AJN that when the sisters had nowhere to go, Solomon came to their rescue again, providing a house, rent-free, for as long as they required.

A letter from MacKillop to a mentor reveals her gratitude to Solomon, and she later wrote that “the kindness shown by the Jewish community has been remarkable”.

In 1883, the church expelled MacKillop and her order from Adelaide, and they re-established themselves in Sydney.

The historian has addressed the present-day descendants of the Sisters of St Joseph — MacKillop’s order — at its North Sydney convent, where a nun’s dormitory has been named Solomon Terrace.

Cohen, whose paper on Solomon was published by the AJHS, believes his ancestor’s philanthropy sprung from the suffering he had endured as a convict.

“Upon Emanuel’s death in 1873, there is no mention of his convict past in his obituary.”