Pope Benedict XVI approved sainthood for Mother Mary MacKillop on Friday, making the woman known for her work among the needy Australia’s first saint.

The Pope made the announcement during a ceremony at the Vatican and set the formal canonization for October 17 in Rome.

MacKillop founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, an order that built dozens of schools for impoverished children across the Australian Outback in the 1800s, as well as orphanages and clinics for the needy.

With vows of abstinence from owning personal belongings and dedication to helping the poor, MacKillop is credited with spreading Roman Catholicism in Australia and New Zealand.

But she was a strong-willed advocate who sometimes got into trouble for challenging orthodox thinking within the male-dominated church. In 1869 she was excommunicated for inciting her followers to disobedience, though the bishop who punished her recanted three years later and she was exonerated by a church commission.

“This is a great, great tribute to the Catholic church and a great, great tribute to her hard work in education,” Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said on Friday. “This is a great honour for Australia. I offer a heartfelt expression of appreciation to the wider Catholic community.”

MacKillop died in 1909 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

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