Woman Andrews, Mary Maria

Anglican Missionary and Deaconess

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Mary Maria Andrews was born at Dry Plain Station, Cooma, New South Wales, Australia, in 1915, the oldest of five children of parents Ann Mackay and Albert Andrews, who separated when Mary was 11. Educated at Hornsby Girls' High School, Sydney, she obtained her Leaving certificate in 1932. At the Anglican Church she attended China Inland Mission meetings where she decided that God was calling her to serve in China. Unknown to her, she was fulfilling her mother's secret dream. Unable to afford teacher training, Andrews worked at Gladesville Hospital until 1935 when she attended the Sydney Missionary and Bible College. She excelled as a student and applied to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) but, given her age, was sent to undergo training at Deaconess House, completing a Diploma with honours.

Despite Japan and China being at war in 1938, Andrews, aged 23, was selected to serve in China as a missionary. She arrived in Shanghai in October 1938, and travelled to Tiensin and Peiping, which was later occupied by Japanese troops. As the Japanese army advanced, the missionaries had to relocate. Andrews escaped to Shanghai and this became the pattern of her life - joining other missionaries to teach English and Christianity to local communities, and then being forced to flee to safer regions. She saw her work as 'glorious' and wrote: 'The safe place is the centre of the circle of God's will' (Lamb, p.209).

Because of the danger, in 1944, after trekking over mountains with two missionaries, she was evacuated by the American airforce to Calcutta. She joined Deaconess Dorothy Harris working at a children's home and a home for destitute women in Lahore, until, at the end of the war, she was recalled to Australia. Here, she addressed large numbers of people and was encouraged to become a Deaconess. She was ordained in August 1945. In 1947 the CMS requested her to return to Shaohsing, China, to work in a school. By 1949 Shaohsing was occupied by the People's Liberation Army, who gradually increased control and surveillance of Christians and in 1951 she resigned and returned to Australia.

Andrews became Head Deaconess of the Sydney Anglican Diocese in 1952 and, the following year, Head of Deaconess House. The College enrolments increased substantially during her headship. She was very active in many organisations: for the church, missionary groups, hospital boards and Vice President of the World Federation of Deaconesses, 1972-1975. She also represented the Deaconess Council on the NSW National Council of Women for which she was elected a life member in 1994. Following her retirement from Deaconess House in 1975, a new wing was named after her. In 1980 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her work for religion in China and Australia. She retired as Head Deaconess in 1982 to continue working with her three chaplaincies and retirement communities.

Having enjoyed substantial independence during her Chinese years, Andrews strongly advocated for the church to recognise the full potential of women in ministry. An inspiration for members of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW), she was not always comfortable with their methods, believing that anything that could be read as aggression alienated both men and women from the cause. She lived to see women ordained as deacons in the Diocese of Sydney, and as priests elsewhere, and joined with MOW members in grieving over Sydney's continuing opposition to full ordination (Earnshaw, p.178).

Andrews's approach to leadership was to do whatever needed to be done, with courage: 'Adaptability is the need of the day and an adventurous spirit - a readiness to follow the leading of the Spirit' (Lamb, 1995, p.195). 'When God calls you he is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do '(Lamb, 1995, p.207). Of her personal journey to leadership she said: 'The measure of what you can do for the world will be simply what you let God do with yourself' (Lamb, 2005, p.215). Andrews revisited China in 1985 and 1986 reconnecting with old friends and witnessing a resurgence in Christianity. She died in 1996 and in 1997 Deaconess House was renamed Mary Andrews College in her honour.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Mary Andrews interviewed by Diana Ritch, 14 December 1987, ORAL TRC 2256; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Lamb, Margaret, Going it Alone. Mary Andrews - Missionary to China, Aquila Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995. Details

Book Sections

  • Bellamy, Sue, '"I Used to Quote St Paul", The Life of Mary Andrews', in Willis, Sabine (ed.), Women, Faith and Fetes: Essays in the History of Women and the Church in Australia, Dove Communications, Melbourne, Victoria, 1977. Details

Journal Articles

  • Earnshaw, Beverly, 'Deaconess Mary Maria Andrews AM, LPIBA, International Woman of the Year 1994', Lucas: An Evangelical History Review, no. 33-34, June - December 1996, pp. 167-179. Details

Magazine Articles

Newspaper Articles

See also

Digital Resources

Mary Andrews interviewed by Diana Ritch
14 December 1987
National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection