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Two Marys united by family and faith


One doctor and one nurse with the same name whose lives have crossed two continents and two centuries – it’s a story of two Australian women who responded to God’s call.

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Dr Sr Mary Glowrey is a saint in waiting as her cause for canonisation proceeds in Rome, but to her niece, also Sr Mary Glowrey, she is simply Aunty Mary or Bubs.

The Victorian-born missionary and the world’s first Sister-doctor left Australia in 1920 and spent the next 37 years as a doctor and health administrator in India where she died in 1957 at the age of 69.

Dr Glowrey visits the sick in Guntur, India, in the 1920s. (Image courtesy of the CWL of Victoria and Wagga Wagga Inc. All rights reserved.)

The founder of the Catholic Health Association of India, whose members today care for more than 21 million people, Dr Glowrey was declared a Servant of God in 2013.

The Diocese of Guntur, where she became a religious Sister with the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph and worked as the sole female Catholic doctor in the region, is currently working through the next phase of the canonisation process.

If her cause is successful, none will be happier than 92-year-old Sr Mary Glowrey, a Little Company of Mary Sister who has lived in Adelaide since 1993.

Sr Mary’s father, Gerard, was the youngest of six children and about 12 years younger than ‘Babs’ who was the second oldest. Their father ran the local store and pub in the Mallee town of Watchem. Bubs was an outstanding student and won a secondary scholarship at the age of 13. She moved to Melbourne in 1901 and continued to win academic prizes, including a scholarship to attend the University of Melbourne, graduating from medicine in 1910.

Dr Glowrey worked in three leading Melbourne hospitals and had her own medical rooms in Collins Street, while also holding community leadership positions including as the first president of the Catholic Women’s Social Guild (now the Catholic Women’s League).

In 1915 Dr Glowrey felt called by God to use her medical skills to assist the poor in India. Five years later after completing her MD – a rarity for a woman at that time – she left her homeland and never returned. She joined the Sisters of Jesus Mary Joseph and in what is believed to be a first, obtained permission from Pope Benedict XV to practice as a religious Sister and a doctor.

Gerard became a farmer near Swan Hill and had four children, the eldest named Mary after her famous aunt. Born in 1928, she never met ‘Dr Mary’ who by then had been in India for eight years. But she remembers the many letters from her that circulated throughout the family.

“We never ceased to hear about her,” said Sr Mary.

“The letters would come to Grandma and Grandpa when they were alive and then to Aunt Eliza (another of Gerard’s sisters) and they’d go all around the family.

“She wrote quite frankly about everything, we were given a lot of information. India in those days was devastation, and they were desperate for doctors.”

Sr Mary and her siblings did their primary schooling at the Josephite school in Swan Hill and then the girls boarded at Brigidine College, Horsham.

Mary returned to the farm but a yearning to be a nurse stayed with her and at the age of 20 she came across a pamphlet about Venerable Mary Potter in the back of the local church.  She began to make inquiries about joining the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary.  Her parents were “a bit stunned at the time” especially her dad who was worried about how the nuns would treat his daughter.

“I worked hard at home on the farm and I told him I’ll be working hard when I go to the convent so what’s the difference,” she laughed.

Asked if Dr Glowrey was aware of her calling, Sr Mary said: “Aunt Mary was in the story all the time, she was well informed, God knows what the rest of the family told her.”

Sr Mary’s own very successful career as a nurse, midwife and pastoral carer was recognised when she celebrated her 70th anniversary of Religious life last month.

She took her first vows at Lewisham in Sydney where she did her nursing training and then undertook her midwifery and child health certificates in Hobart, rising to the position of Sister-in-charge of medical and surgical wards.

From 1966 to 1969 she studied theology in Rome, residing at the mother house established by Venerable Mary Potter.

She came to Adelaide to nurse for 18 months in the 1970s and returned in 1993 to undertake a pastoral care program at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She pursued this ministry at Calvary North Adelaide and the Mary Potter Hospice until retiring in 2007.

Sr Mary said it was not always easy but there were “very special times too”.

“God is very powerful in the hospice,” she said.

At her platinum anniversary celebration, Sr Mary was described as “a country girl at heart, down to earth, caring, and compassionate with a great awareness of others”.

“An honest woman with a deep faith who has a listening ear and open heart, she tells it like it is,” said region leader Sr Kathleen Cotterill.

“Mary has always enjoyed being with people and has shown a great interest in the lives of her family and the people with whom she has ministered and indeed the wider world.

“Her encouragement of others especially when they might be going through difficult times has been very much appreciated as are her regular undertakings to pray for people who might have a special need.”

Sr Mary (left) and Sr Anne Sheridan at the anniversary Mass.

Sr Mary celebrated her milestone with the only other remaining LCM Sister in Adelaide, Sr Anne Sheridan, who took her first vows on July 1 1970.

Born at Calvary Hospital and educated at Mercedes College, Sr Anne was twice called to the role of Province councillor and played a vital role on the order’s leadership teams including attending several global meetings.

Sr Kathleen said Anne had a “strength of character” that has been reassuring in times of difficulties and an “openness and graciousness in always welcoming others”.

“Her spirit of being there for others has been exemplified in her living out the spirit of the LCM and in her sharing of the mission to members of the greater Company of Mary. She has continued to be involved and is currently chair of Calvary Ministries Member Council,” she said.

Both Sr Mary and Sr Anne have been staunch supporters of the Calvary Auxiliary and Calvary Past Nurses groups.



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