The feast day of Mary Help of Christians has been celebrated in Australia since 1844 but the history to this day dates back to the start of the 1800’s.
Napoleon Bonaparte had jailed Pius VI who died in jail. When Pope Pius VII was elected, he too was jailed by Bonaparte, who kept him prisoner at Fontainebleau. The Holy Father vowed to God that if he were restored to the Roman See, he would institute a special feast in honour of Mary.
The military eventually forced Bonaparte to release the Pope and on 24 May 1814, Pius VII returned in triumph to Rome. Twelve months later the Pope decreed that the feast of Mary Help of Christians be kept on 24 May.
The infant church in Australia had a special reason for turning to Mary. No priests were sent to the colony in its early days and Mass was not allowed except for one brief year until 1820. It was largely the Rosary in those early days that kept the faith alive.
Catholic Australia remained faithful to Mary and was the first nation to choose her under the title Help of Christians, as Principal Patroness.