Mary Glowrey – Part 1 The Story of her Life

For some, Mary Glowrey needs no introduction, but for many, they have never heard of this pioneering woman who  is on the road to becoming Australia’s next saint. We will be presenting a three part series on her life based on the talk given at an Anima event in October 2017 by Helenka Pasztetnik. Thank you so much to Helenka for such a wonderful insight into the life of this most inspirational women and also to the Mary Glowrey Museum who does so much to promote her life.  

Dr Sr Mary Glowrey tending a patient circa 1920s. Image used with thanks from the Mary Glowrey Collection

Mary Glowrey was born in Birregurra in 1887. She moved to Melbourne
when she was 13 years old on a scholarship to attend South Melbourne
College. In high school, she excelled in the humanities, and won a
scholarship to study arts at Melbourne Uni. During her first year of Arts, her
father encouraged her to consider changing to medicine. After careful
consideration and prayer, she applied and was accepted to study medicine.
She graduated in 1910.

After completing her residency in New Zealand, Mary Glowrey
worked as a doctor in several Melbourne hospitals and had her own private
practice. In 1916, she became the first president of the Catholic Women’s
Social Guild. During this period of very active professional and social life,
Mary received a vocation to be a medical missionary in India.

The date was the 24 th of October 1915. She had returned to her
rooms late at night after work and picked up a brochure on Dr. Agnes
McLaren, which had been sent to her by a priest. The brochure expressed
McLaren’s concern for the desperate plight of Indian women, who would not go
see male doctors, and thus were often suffering and even dying
from treatable conditions. McLaren herself had become a Catholic at the
age of 61, and at the age of 72 had travelled to India and set up healthcare
facilities for women in Rawalpindi. She lamented that there were not many
Catholic women medical missionaries, as this was a fruitful field for working
for the salvation of souls. Mary Glowrey recounts that she began reading
this booklet out of curiosity, and finished on her knees, convinced that God
was calling her to India.

She sailed for India at the beginning of 1920. There, she joined the
Society of Jesus Mary Joseph, and did not start working as a doctor
straight away, as she had to receive her religious formation. She also had
to learn two new languages – Dutch, as the community was a Dutch order,
and Telugu, which was the local Indian language in Guntur, where she
lived. After her profession, she began medical work with very basic
facilities. In 1925, she established St. Joseph’s Hospital. That first year the
number of patients was recorded as 44, 270. She was the only doctor. In
the following years, patient numbers continued to rise.

Mary also trained midwives, dispensers, and later nurses, both from
among the Sisters and local women. She travelled to villages to bring
healthcare to those who could not travel. She taught for a time at the high
school. She researched traditional remedies and wrote articles. She also
established the Catholic Health Association, which continues in operation
today and serves over 21 million people in India annually. She died at the
age of 69, in 1957.

~ By Helenka Pasztetnik