On 23 June we commemorate the birthday anniversary of Dr Sr Mary Glowrey JMJ (1887-1957). The Victorian born and educated medical doctor travelled to India in 1920 to become a religious Sister where she spent 37 years serving the most vulnerable. In 2013 Dr Sr Mary Glowrey was declared a Servant of God. Inspired by her story and supported by Australian Catholic University, Melbourne artist Darien Pullen has created a number of small bronze maquettes of Dr Sr Mary Glowrey, with the hope of one-day creating a life-size statue in honour of this pioneering woman.
Darien Pullen is no stranger to creating historic Catholic figures in bronze. In 2015 the sculptor was commissioned by Australian Catholic University (ACU) to create a life-sized statue of St Patrick, the patron saint of its Melbourne campus. And in 2016 he created the bronze statue of Fr Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (Melbourne’s first Catholic priest), located in the grounds of St Francis’ Catholic Church in Lonsdale Street.
In being commissioned by ACU to make the St Patrick statue, he met Dr John Ballard, Associate Vice-Chancellor of ACU and Michael Lindell, a Melbourne architect and artist – both of whom ‘have a great appreciation and love for art, history and inspiring people’ as explained by Darien.
‘I came to know John and Michael, and there was much talk about how Mary Glowrey was going to be the next saint after Mary MacKillop and how unacknowledged she is,’ said Darien, ‘so Michael asked how I’d feel about doing a sculpture of Mary Glowrey.’
‘From what I’d heard, Mary Glowrey had an amazing back story, so I thought it was a great idea.’
Darien researched information and photographs on the Mary Glowrey Museum website and started ‘cobbling together’ different ideas. He first made some charcoal sketches, followed by a wax maquette.
‘Think of a maquette as a three-dimensional sketch,’ he said. ‘It could be made in clay or plasticine, but I chose to make it in wax. You can push the figure around into a different pose, you can get a twist or a lean, you can turn the head up or down; there’s a lot of freedom to move things around in a way that you don’t have if you’re making a large figure.’
Darien said he’d seen a number of different photos but the 'older Mary with the large round glasses seemed to be an interesting portrait head'.
‘And from what I knew about Mary and the time she spent in India as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, that led to ideas about a depiction of a newborn baby and that state of wonder you have when you see your child just born and how tiny they are and what a special experience that is. I have photographs of one of my own children where I’m holding his head cradled onto my hand, his feet barely coming up to my elbow. The tininess of them, wrapped up the way babies are, like a little papoose.
‘So, the idea was to have Mary Glowrey holding this very newborn baby, and to be really focused on the baby.’
Darien confessed he has ‘an aversion to standard generic images’ or ‘bland portraits’ so when creating the maquette, he was looking for a way to make it personal and human, showing Mary’s connection with children, but also ‘different and interesting’.
I thought it would be nice to have Mary with the baby to show that connection but also for her not be the mum and for her to obviously be a nun. So that you get that kind of disjunction in a way that it could be a misconception that would draw people in. It also gives a sense of her older age and experience, which leads into the story about her lifelong involvement with birthing mothers and childbirth and obstetrics.
‘I really liked the way that played into mother and child, but not mother and child; the whole Catholic tradition of Madonna and child and the idea that someone might look at that and go, “hang on, what's going on here?”’
Capturing other symbols of Mary’s life in the maquette, Darien included both a cross and stethoscope around Mary’s neck, and the white, cotton habit of her order, the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph.
As for Mary, she's twisting slightly. She’s got her weight onto one leg, so the other leg is slightly bent. She's got a twist as well as bending the shoulders down towards the baby. So there's a lot of movement that follows from her feet around to the shoulders and the hands. Those things are tricky to get right – the gestures of the pose – so that it feels like she's focused on the baby, that she's gentle and nurturing. It’s capturing those sorts of things, which is important.
Darien showed the wax maquette to Dr Ballard who ‘thought it was really striking and beautiful’. ‘It captured the focus, the intensity, the medical training and the spirit of Mary Glowrey as an aged woman looking at a beautiful newborn.’
Dr Ballard saw the potential of the maquette for the Catholic Women’s League and Mary Glowrey Museum in furthering the cause of Mary Glowrey. He commissioned Darien to make bronze maquettes with the aspiration that this would result at some stage in the development of a full-scale bronze statue of Mary Glowrey.
‘She’s such an eminent Victorian, an eminent woman, an eminent doctor, an eminent Catholic, an eminent Sister. She’s all of those things. She’s entitled to a statue for any one of them, let alone the combined impact of all of them. But any one of them would qualify her for public recognition. So I’m confident that a statue will emerge, whether it’s a statue of this maquette or something else, at some stage in the future,' said Dr Ballard.
Each solid bronze maquette weighs around 7kg and stands at 28cm high. ACU has gifted one to the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria Wagga Wagga, previously known as the Catholic Women’s Social Guild of which Mary Glowrey was its first president in 1916, with the remainder going to the Museum.
Fiona Power, Curator of the museum, said she was ‘delighted’ with the bronze maquettes. One is on permanent display in the museum and is used as ‘a provocation and stimulus’ in visitor presentations, helping students and teachers to engage more deeply with Mary’s story.
Another is on display at Raheen Library in ACU’s main building, also named after Mary Glowrey and two have been sent overseas—to the Roman Postulator for the Cause of Mary Glowrey, Prof. Fr Cherian Thunduparampil CMI and the External Collaborator who worked on the writing of the Positio, Sr Mary Karickakunnel JMJ.
In what Dr Ballard described as ‘providential’, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli was gifted a maquette the day after he had mentioned in his St Patrick’s Day Oration the idea of having a statue of Mary Glowrey in the forecourt of St Patrick’s cathedral in honour of the prominent lay Catholic.
Darien said the maquettes will go a long way in helping people to visualise the potential for a life-size statue of Dr Sr Mary Glowrey, whether it’s a replica of this one, or something different.
‘I find you can talk until you’re blue in the face about these kinds of things but once you can show people and they can hold it in their hands, it makes all the difference. They can pick it up, turn it around in their hands and can get an idea of what exactly you’re talking about and what it's going to look like. And most of the time that catalyses people to some sort of response, either way: I like this but I don’t like that or could we have a pose different or could we have a different gesture.’
As for this maquette, Darien is ‘really happy with the whole image of Mary and the baby and the way it’s turned out’. ‘I really enjoyed making it and hope it does come off as a full figure as I think it’d make a great sculpture.’
Time will tell.
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021