Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Barr Mackinlay (1910–1974)

by Margaret Carmel Leavey

This article was published:

Mary Barr Mackinlay (1910-1974), Dominican Sister, was born on 28 August 1910 at Temora, New South Wales, third of five children of Australian-born parents John Barr Mackinlay, farmer, and his wife Ellen Theresa, née Duffy. Mary's father remained a staunch Presbyterian; her mother was a Catholic. In 1905 John had settled at Pucawan and named his property Linton. Mary and her six siblings (two of whom were adopted) were educated at the small bush school nearby. In later years she often referred to the excellent grounding and love of learning she had received from dedicated teachers in a one-teacher school.

In 1925 Mary was sent to the Dominican Convent, Santa Sabina, at Strathfield. There she was taught by Sister Anselm O'Brien who encouraged her to pursue higher studies in English literature. At the 1929 Leaving certificate examination, Mary obtained first-class honours and topped the State in English, while gaining A-level passes in Latin, French, mathematics and history. She had also represented the school in basketball and tennis. In 1930 she entered Sancta Sophia College, University of Sydney (B.A., 1933; M.A., 1935). She majored in English and modern history. After teaching for a year at St Dominic's Convent school, Tamworth, she entered the Dominican novitiate at Maitland on 25 January 1934. In a significant departure from normal Catholic practice for novices, she completed her thesis on 'Mysticism in Modern English Poetry' during her postulancy.

Professed on 28 November 1936, she adopted the religious name Alphonse Marie and took her final vows on 28 November 1939. Sister Alphonse Marie taught in the Order's schools in Maitland, Tamworth and Melbourne, as well as at Santa Sabina, Sydney, and the inter-congregational St Anne's High School, Newcastle. She was an enthusiastic teacher, keenly interested in her pupils with whom she maintained friendships over many years.

Sister Alphonse Marie held the office of provincial directress of studies (1963-69) in the Dominican Congregation and served on the Provincial Council (1963-69 and 1973-74). She managed to combine academic excellence with practical skills and a great exuberance for life. Her conversation, broad in its scope, was enlivened by a trenchant wit and an elegant turn of phrase. Retaining her love of study, she pursued further academic courses virtually all her life. In 1972 Macquarie University conferred on her the degree of master of arts in education for her research into teaching the deaf. At the time of her death she was researching the characteristics of Dominican spirituality through the ages.

The motto, 'Watch and Pray', which she had chosen at profession, influenced her spiritual life. None the less, she was no plaster saint. Sister Alphonse could be caustic and outspoken: she was most critical of the numerous 'hobbles' that seemed to characterize religious life of her time. In early November 1974 the Mackinlay clan held a large family gathering at Santa Sabina. A week later, on the 10th, Sister Alphonse suffered a severe stroke from which she never regained consciousness. She died on 13 November in Lewisham Hospital and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27, 29 Jan 1930
  • Dominican Archives (Santa Sabina Convent, Strathfield, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Carmel Leavey, 'Mackinlay, Mary Barr (1910–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Alphonse Marie, Sister

28 August, 1910
Temora, New South Wales, Australia


13 November, 1974 (aged 64)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.