Mary Pretty, Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga
Melbourne will soon have a new museum to celebrate the life and legacy of Victorian woman Dr Sr Mary Glowrey JMJ, the world’s first nun-doctor missionary.
The Australian Catholic University is renovating the museum space in Cathedral Hall in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy and sponsoring the development of the museum’s content jointly with the Archbishop’s Charitable Fund and Catholic Education Melbourne.
The Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga has made available its extensive collection of Mary’s correspondence, largely contributed by family members.
The museum will open to the public in the middle of the year, and school and parish groups will be welcome.
Mary Glowrey was declared a Servant of God in 2013 and her cause for canonisation is currently under consideration in Rome. Her story is not as well known as that of Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint, as she spent most of her working life in India caring for the poor and sick.
Glowrey was born in 1887 in Birregurra in south-west Victoria. She earned a scholarship to school in Melbourne and graduated in Medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1910. After completing her residential year in New Zealand she returned to Melbourne and worked at St Vincent’s, the Royal Eye and Ear and the Queen Victoria hospitals.
She became the founding president of the League in 1916. Archbishop Thomas Carr provided the newly formed women’s league with office space in Cathedral Hall, where the museum will be located.
In 1920 Mary sailed to India to join a Dutch order of religious sisters, the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph, who were running a small clinic in Guntur. She received special permission from Pope Benedict XV to serve as a nun-doctor. This was followed by a blessing for her work from Pope Pius XI.
Mary followed this difficult path after reading about the need for women doctors in India to help care for poor women and children in particular. She believed this was what God wanted her to do: ‘I knew it was the voice of God for me.’ In India Mary treated thousands of patients, established a hospital and trained dispensers, midwives and nurses.
Mary spearheaded the development of what is today known as the Catholic Health Association India (CHAI) to strengthen the Catholic contribution to health care in India. CHAI remains active today and its members care for over 20 million patients annually.
Mary died of cancer in Bangalore in 1957. Although she never returned to Australia, she kept in close contact with her family, who provided considerable support for her work.