Woman Glowrey, Mary

Catholic Religious Sister and Medical Practitioner

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Mary Glowrey, was born in Birregurra, Victoria, in 1887. She was the third of nine children, and spent most of her childhood at Watchem in Victoria's Mallee. Her parents were of Irish descent. She attended the local primary school where she trained as a student teacher before winning a state secondary scholarship to attend the South Melbourne College. She boarded at the Good Shepherd Convent, Rosary Place, South Melbourne. Winning a University Exhibition she began an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, but transferred to medicine, graduating MBBS in 1910 and MD in 1919.

In 1911,Glowery became the first medical woman to be appointed as a resident in a New Zealand hospital, at Christchurch. On her return she, like several of the other early women doctors worked to improve the health and welfare of Victorian women and children, while maintaining positions at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, St Vincent's Hospital and setting up a private practice in Collins Street, Melbourne. She also established a baby health clinic in Camberwell to make information about the health care of infants freely available and, during some of the big strikes of the period, helped to establish soup kitchen for the strikers and their families as well as providing for their medical needs.

In 1916, Glowrey was appointed inaugural General President of the newly formed Catholic Women's Social Guild (now known as the Catholic Women's League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga) which sought to change society through prayer and social action. 'We owe a duty to our fellow-women and should help to ensure good conditions for them', she told Guild members (Krohn). In 1917 she helped to form a Nurses Branch of the Guild and a Pupil Nurses' Association so that Catholic nurses in training in the various hospitals could keep more closely in touch with each other (ACU).

'A chance reading in 1915 of a pamphlet about the appalling death rate amongst babies' was to change the direction of her life (Fahy and Strickland). Inspired by the work of Dr Agnes Mclaren, an English pioneer medical woman who went to India at age 72 to establish a Catholic hospital for women, she undertook further study in the fields of gynaecology, obstetrics and ophthamology to prepare herself for mission work.(AWR). In 1920, she left Australia to join the Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (a Dutch order) as its first nun-doctor missionary. Between 1927 and 1936, Dr Sr Mary cared for more than 637,000 patents. She played a pioneering role in the education of Indian doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists and established the Catholic Hospital Association of India in 1942 (Australian Catholic University).

Mary Glowrey died in Bangalore on 5 May 1957. (AWR). Glowrey House, the Catholic Women's League headquarters in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, is named in her honour, and preliminary steps towards canonisation.

Published Resources


  • Clinton, Ursula, Australian medical nun in India: Mary Glowrey, M. D. Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, Society of Jesus, Mary Joseph, The Advocate Press, The Advocate Press, Melbourne, Victoria. Details

Book Sections

  • McKenna, G, 'Doctor-Sister Mary Glowrey: An Impossible Mission?', in University of Melbourne, Department of History, Three-Four-Eight (ed.), Melbourne University Mosaic: People and Places, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998. Details

Online Resources