It turned her into a saint, but the full story of Mary MacKillop's most important miracle has never been told — until now. In this interview Kathleen Evans breaks her silence on her miraculous recovery from cancer, and what happened next.
Life as a walking miracle has its challenges. Those who meet Kathleen Evans often assume she too is a saint and stroke her like a sacred relic.
She has become a celebrity in the Catholic world, but the attention makes her uncomfortable.
"I don't like strangers touching me or hugging me. That was something I had to get used to," she says.
Kathleen insists she is nothing special — just an ordinary woman who has been on an extraordinary journey.
Yes, she recovered from terminal lung cancer, but she is not alone; there have been other miraculous recoveries.
For Kathleen, the only thing different about her story is that it proved the influence of Mary MacKillop in heaven, thus elevating the Australian nun to the ranks of the saints.
Yet, after years of trying to insist she is nothing special, Kathleen has, in her humble way, come to understand that she is a little bit special.
For the Sisters of St Joseph, she marked the end of a decades-long campaign to convince the Vatican of their founder's saintliness. And to Australia's Catholics, she is confirmation of their faith.
This realisation has reconciled her to the role she has taken, somewhat hesitantly, as a living spokeswoman for Saint Mary of the Cross.
"I have had it explained in a couple of ways that have helped me," Kathleen, now 68, tells The Weekly. "One time, I was with a group of women and they said, 'Let me closer'. I said, 'Please, I'm not the saint. I am not really a holy person. I am just the messenger.'
"One of them said to me, 'God's messengers are angels and you are an angel to us.' It made me realise it was my problem. It is much easier now."
Putting aside any debate over the existence of God or miracles, the plain fact is that, in 1993, Kathleen Evans was preparing to die.
She had been diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer after years of smoking and had decided not to seek treatment because she would be unlikely to survive any operation and her condition was too advanced for chemotherapy.
The only question was how long Kathleen had left. She was growing weaker by the day, but tried to make the most of the remaining time; she prayed, spent time with her five children and second husband Barry, and planned her funeral.
She let go of the resentments she held throughout her life. She was at peace and ready to die.
At a friend's suggestion, she appealed to Mary MacKillop for the first time, asking the "blessed" but not yet sanctified Australian to put in a good word for her in heaven.
Not only did Kathleen keep living, but her condition began to improve. She didn't expect to be alive for her daughter's wedding, but not only was she alive, she was posing for photos.
Christmas rolled around, and Kathleen had her appetite back. Her GP began calling her "dead woman walking" and suggested she have more X-rays. The cancer might be lying dormant or moving, or, in the best case scenario, shrinking.
At first, Kathleen resisted. She was at peace with death and happy to let it come in its own time. After several months, she relented.
When the radiologist looked at her X-ray and said, "I can't believe it", Kathleen thought the tumour may have changed size. "I said, 'Has it shrunk?' He said, 'No, it has gone'."
"It was really marvellous," Kathleen remembers. "I believed him, but I don't think he believed himself. He sent me to have another X-ray."
When he asked whether she had had any treatment, she told him she had relied upon only prayer and Panadeine Forte.
Kathleen and Barry had no doubt they had Mary MacKillop to thank for their miracle. Kathleen had never prayed to saints, but while ill, a friend gave her a book on Mary with a tiny relic — a piece of cloth from the nun's wimple.
When Kathleen prayed and others prayed on her behalf, they were not asking Mary to cure her (under Catholic teaching, saints don't perform miracles).
They were asking Mary to intercede with God. "Miracles only happen via God, but I really think she put her two pence in, she was such a strong woman."
Read more of this story in the March issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
Video: Australia's first saint