Descendants of three siblings of pioneering medical missionary Dr Sr Mary Glowrey JMJ and their cousins came from interstate and across Victoria for a unique family day in Fitzroy on 12 November.

‘History came to life for the Glowrey family in Cathedral Hall at the ACU Melbourne Campus,’ said Joseph Connellan, who organised the event with his sister Pauline Adams and cousin Louise McGrath. ‘It was wonderful to gather with over 100 family members to explore the life and achievements of a great Catholic Victorian woman, our Aunt Dr Sr Mary Glowrey.’

Angela Burt and Joan Hoare were among the attendees. Joan, the daughter of Mary Glowrey’s brother Gerard, travelled from Swan Hill for the event. Angela, who lives in Melbourne, is the daughter of Mary’s brother Harold. Neither of these nieces was born when Mary Glowrey left Australia in 1920 to devote her life to medically caring for women and children in India, but they grew up hearing about their aunt’s service and seeing donated goods sent to the mission.

‘Some of these were medical instruments, some of them food items and, on one occasion, a refrigerator,’ Angela shared in one of several video recordings screened on the day. ‘It was returned to Australia because it had been sewn up in calico, and at the time it was sent, there was a calico ban in India.’

Family played a foundational role in Mary Glowrey’s life and mission. She saw only two siblings after she left Australia, and she never returned to her homeland, but she maintained her connection with her loved ones through letters, photographs and mementos. After Angela became a nurse and midwife, her aunt wrote to her from India.

‘She sent me a letter about the protocol for the treatment of mothers to avoid early losses in pregnancy, and we found that to be very similar to the practices at the Women’s [Hospital] at the same time,’ Angela said.

Family played a foundational role in Mary Glowrey’s life and mission.

In India, Mary Glowrey joined the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph. With permission from the Pope, she became the first sister doctor. She medically treated and oversaw the health care of countless people for 37 years, supported by her congregation, European and Australian donations, and the skills she had gained through two medical degrees and a decade’s professional medical experience. The facilities, training and networks she established in India continue to benefit millions. Mary Glowrey is just the second Australian-born person to be officially considered for canonisation.

Michelle Cornelius, one of Mary Glowrey’s great-great-nieces, came to the event with her mother Sue Connellan (who helped assemble the vast family trees on display) and her young daughters, to connect with her extended family and to learn more about her amazing relative.

‘Both my daughters loved hearing about Mary and are proud to be part of her family,’ she said. ‘As a nurse, I’m truly inspired by the work that she has done. I love hearing about her role as a female leader in medicine so many years ago. I have attended other events, such as the Mary Glowrey Building opening [on the ACU campus in 2015], and I always come away feeling motivated and inspired by Mary’s work.’

Michelle said she also enjoyed learning more about her great-grandmother, Lucy Connellan.

I was invited to give a presentation about Mary’s life in the context of her relationship with her family and about the significance of the Mary Glowrey Collection. As part of the presentation, Mary’s great nieces Louise McGrath and Mary O’Shaughnessy read extracts from letters she wrote to her family. I also spoke about the role of family members—particularly Mary’s sisters Eliza and Lucy—in developing the collection, and highlighted recent significant family donations to it.

Gerard Glowrey was a baby when his sister Mary left home to attend secondary school in Melbourne. Mary O’Shaughnessy said her grandfather, Gerard, was helped by Mary Glowrey when he came to the city for his schooling.

‘Somehow, in the midst of her busy professional and volunteering roles, she made time to look out for him and take him out to dinner,’ Mary said. ‘He was so grateful. What a responsible and caring big sister she was!’

Mary O’Shaughnessy said her mother, Margaret, spoke of listening to the latest letter from her aunt in India when she visited her grandparents and her Aunt Eliza in Swan Hill.

‘These precious messages were shared widely amongst the family and gave an insight into her life and conditions in a country so far away. Aunty Mary was never too busy to pen a letter offering advice and solace to various family members, and this memory was one of comfort to my mother.’

Mary Glowrey’s siblings Harold Glowrey and Lucy Connellan each visited Mary in India. Lucy’s travel diary for 1952–1953 was among treasured items recently donated to the collection and mentioned at the gathering, and transcripts were made available for family to read. One family member brought two more donations to the collection: a crucifix and a box that are believed to have been owned by Mary. Descendants of Mary’s parents’ siblings, from the Danaher and Hannon families, also participated in the day.

Joseph Connellan and his wife Jen met members of the Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph (as the society is now known) recently in Rome. Joseph shared a recorded greeting to the family from Superior General Sr Innamma Yeruva JMJ.

These precious messages [from Mary] were shared widely amongst the family and gave an insight into her life and conditions in a country so far away.

When Mary lived in East Melbourne during her tertiary study and time as a doctor at the Royal Melbourne Eye and Ear Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital, Cathedral Hall was a new facility and well utilised by the Catholic community. On 1 October 1916, it was the venue where the Catholic Women’s Social Guild was formed. Dr Mary Glowrey became the first general president, leading the guild’s governing committee of 12 women, which included leaders in medicine, education, the law and health.

She served as president for two years during the busy war years and while undertaking post graduate study. It was during this time that Mary was privately discerning her medical missionary vocation. The guild is now known as the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga, which is the owner of the Mary Glowrey Collection.

Family members visited the Mary Glowrey Museum on Level 2 of the hall to view exhibits and items from the collection.

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Mary Glowrey Family Day commemorative bookmark. (Photo by Fiona Power.)

Banner image: Glowrey family attendees in Cathedral Hall. (Photo by Joanne Adams.)