book cover The Black Dress
by Pamela Freeman

Biography | 165 pp | Years 56

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[ Developing values | Overview | Author profile | Useful websites | Focus questions]

Developing Values

Each of us is part of a family that has a past, present and future.
Events of the past can affect the lives of the present.
Our lives are influenced by the times and places we live in.
Learning about others' lives helps us to understand them better.
Every human being has the right to live and die with dignity, regardless of personal, social or economic circumstances.
Reading non-fiction, such as biographies, provides us with opportunities to develop and deepen our understandings of people, places, times, events and ideas beyond our personal experiences.
Exposure to ideas and experiences in texts can enable us to understand ourselves and our lives, and develop a respect for differences in the beliefs and values of others.
Knowledge and understanding leads to tolerance and harmony.


Mary MacKillop is dying. As she lies on her deathbed in a little white room in which she has nothing to look at except a crucifix, she is bored rather than fearful.

Small groups of nuns come to her bedside to pray and say goodbye to the woman who has had such an influence and impact on their lives. Mary wants to comfort them, even make them laugh, but because her rheumatism and a stroke have paralysed her, all she can do is lie in her bed and remember.

She is not afraid of death and is prepared for it - indeed, at first she cannot understand why she hasn't been taken already. But as she reflects on her early life, she realises that she has some unresolved issues, particularly with her father, and she believes that God requires her to sort these out before He can receive her.

Although this is a biography, it is written very much as an autobiography, and Pamela Freeman brings a unique perspective to a story that could have been just a dry, episodic collection of facts. As well as providing an insight into the beginnings of what became an important life, it offers readers the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and to identify who they are and where they might be headed.

Author Profile

Pamela Freeman is an Australian author who has written many books for children. When she talks of her writing she says:

'When I'm writing a story, I aim for two things: that the reader should care about the characters, and that the story should be fun to read. "Fun" can mean funny, or exciting, or dramatic - but whatever style the book is in, I want the reader to be so caught up in the story that they would be annoyed if someone interrupted them.'

'Most of my books are fantasies. Fantasy stories deal with truth, justice, good, evil, love, courage and kindness - what more could you ask?'

Even though The Black Dress is not a fantasy, it does deal with truth, justice, good, evil, love, courage and kindness, and the author has used her expertise to really bring Mary MacKillop to life.

Useful websites

Blessed Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop's story

Mary MacKillop - faith hope and charity

Holy Cross Family Ministries - stages of canonisation

Catholic Encyclopaedia - beatification and canonisation

World religions

Six symbols

Focus questions

Before reading the book

  • Who was Mary MacKillop?
  • Why was her life so significant that Pamela Freeman thought it important to write her biography?
  • What is the significance of the book's title?
  • What would Pamela Freeman need to have done before she could write this book as if it were Mary MacKillop's autobiography?

During and after reading the book

  • How was Mary MacKillop's life remarkable?
  • How was it inspired and shaped by her beliefs?
  • What qualities did she have that enabled her to endure the hardships she faced?
  • Which quality helped her most when things got really tough?
  • How did the social and cultural conditions of the times impact on her work?
  • During her reflections, what did she learn about herself and her relationship with her father?
  • In reading this book, has Mary MacKillop's life impacted on yours? If so, how?
  • Do you believe Mary MacKillop should eventually be canonised as a saint?

© Curriculum Corporation 2006