Woman Daly, Ann

Educationist and Religious Sister
Alternative Names
  • Mother Mary Berchmans

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Mother Mary Berchmans Daly was born in Ireland in 1860, the ninth child of blacksmith, John Daly and his wife Mary. Migrating to Australia with her family as a young child she was educated at home. In 1877 she was accepted as a teacher and followed this career until she entered the Sisters of Charity in 1881. Sent to Melbourne as part of the first Victorian foundation she continued teaching, however visits to the homes of the poor convinced her of the need for a hospital similar to the one the sisters had founded in Sydney.

Appointed Superior to the foundation in Melbourne in 1892 she was able to bring the hospital to fruition. Adept in attracting the support of influential people she began a period of intense fund raising to resource the hospital, despite the doubts of the then Archbishop as to the viability of the project. 'She was a lady', the Governor-General, Lord Denman suggested. 'who had a way with her which made it impossible to refuse any request she might prefer' (Argus, 1 July 1913). Beginning in temporary accommodation in 1893, St Vincent's grew to become a major public hospital and nurse training institute, attracting its first government subsidy in 1903 and in 1910 incorporating a clinical training school for the University of Melbourne. In 1910 Mother Berchmans undertook a study tour to Europe to observe the latest developments in hospital administration. Three years later she added a private hospital, Mount St Evin's, to her area of responsibility.

Elected Superior-General of the Order in 1920, Mother Berchmans returned to Sydney from where she oversaw the development of three further hospitals and undertook the negotiations necessary for St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney to affiliate as a clinical school for the University of Sydney building on the preparatory work undertaken by Mother Gertrude Healy.

Described as 'possessing incessant energy, tact and an exceptional charm of manner', (Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 7 March 1924) Mother Berchmans achieved her successes through the power of persuasion. 'She was able to persuade influential men and women to give time and effort to the causes of the hospital and to choose influential individuals who had the ear of even more influential people' (Egan, p. 11). The medical men with whom she worked remarked on her willingness to take advice, to step aside from the powers she held to allow a more democratic way of appointing staff (Argus, 31 August 1935).

She died in 1924. A wing of St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne is named in her honour.

Published Resources


  • Egan, Bryan, Ways of a Hospital: St Vincent's Melbourne 1890s-1990s, Allen & Unwin and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Sydney, New South Wales, 1993. Details
  • Skewes, Edna M and St. Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne, Vic.), Mother Mary Berchmans Daly, foundress of St. Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Spectrum in conjunction with The Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, 1989. Details

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