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Growing Campaign For Young Nurse To Be Named Australia's Next Saint

An Australian woman who served the poor is about to take another step toward becoming the country's second Catholic saint.

The Catholic Church on Thursday will formally announce the members of a commission to oversee the possible beatification and canonisation for Eileen Rosaline O'Connor, who died 99 years ago aged 28.

A mass to mark the formal opening of the cause for her eventual canonisation will be held at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday evening.

After being declared a "Servant of God" by the Vatican in 2018, this marks the second stage of the path to canonisation for the woman known as Little Mother.

O'Connor could be Australia's next saint. Image: AAP

For years O'Connor's been regarded as Australia's next "saint-in-waiting", following the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of The Sacred Heart, in 2010.

The pair have many similarities. O'Connor was also born in Melbourne and she, too, formed a spiritual partnership with a priest who helped her co-found a female order.

As a result she suffered the suspicions of the local church hierarchy, clashed with Rome and was threatened with excommunication.

O'Connor suffered a lifelong painful affliction that left her bedridden or in a wheelchair.

Australians are pushing for the Vatican to recognise O'Connor as a saint. Image: Getty

In 1897, when she was five O'Connor was diagnosed with curvature of the spine -- later determined to be spinal tuberculosis -- which stunted her growth so she never grew taller than 115cm.

When her father died of cancer in 1911 after the cash-strapped family had moved to Sydney and was living in Redfern, she met Father Edward McGrath, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart serving in Coogee in Sydney's east.

McGrath helped the family find cheaper housing in Coogee and it was during one of these moves that O'Connor became unconscious from the pain and -- according to her writings -- began to have visions of Mary and Jesus.

Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor was co-founded soon after by O'Connor and McGrath with the aim of creating a community of nurses to help the sick in the homes of the poor who could not pay.

O'Connor died in 1921 after helping establish an order of nuns. Image: AAP

However, the Brown Nurses, as they were known because of the colour of their habits, weren't formally approved as a diocesan congregation of sisters until 1953, decades after O'Connor's death in 1921.

But their numbers have dwindled over the years and the order is now under the governance of the Sisters of Charity, who established Sydney's St Vincent's hospital and girls college.