Our founder

Sr. Dr. Mary Glowrey, JMJ

Sr Dr Mary Glowrey (1887-1957), was the first Catholic religious sister to practise as a doctor. The Catholic Church is investigating her Cause for Canonisation and declared her a Servant of God in 2013.

Mary Glowrey was born in the Victorian town of Birregurra on 23 June 1887. She attended the first year of the St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne Clinical School in 1910. She graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1910. Mary later returned to the University of Melbourne to undertake higher medical studies, graduating with a Doctor of Medicine in 1919 in obstetrics, gynaecology and ophthalmology.

Mary Glowrey was reported to be the first woman appointed as a residential doctor in New Zealand in 1911, and completed her residential year at Christchurch Hospital. She returned to Melbourne in 1912. Her medical appointments in Melbourne included positions at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital.

In October 1915, Mary Glowrey read a pamphlet about the life of Dr Agnes McLaren, a pioneering Scottish missionary doctor, and the need for women doctors in India, and felt called to serve as a medical missionary doctor there. Mary discreetly discerned this religious vocation over subsequent years with her spiritual director, Fr William Lockington SJ.

Mary left Melbourne on 21 January 1920. She never returned to Australia. She arrived in Guntur, India on 12 February. She joined Congregation of the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph and became known as Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart JMJ. In 1922, after the completion of her religious training, Sr Mary began practising as a doctor-Sister.

The basic dispensary where Sr Mary began her medical mission work in Guntur grew into St Joseph’s Hospital. She provided direct medical care for hundreds of thousands of patients, most of them poor women. Sr Mary trained local women to be compounders (dispensers), midwives and nurses. In 1943 Sr Mary founded the Catholic Health Association of India (then called the Catholic Hospital Association). Today, its 3500 + members auspice the care of more than 21 million annually.

Sr Mary died in Bangalore from cancer on 5 May 1957 at 69 years of age.

Two pioneers who inspired Dr Mary Glowrey

Dr Agnes McLaren

Dr Agnes McLaren (4 July 1837 – 17 April 1913) was a member for a Scottish household. She was admitted to the renowned Medical school of Mantpellier, where she took her M.D. in 1878. She was the first woman doctor to get her degree at this University.

Dr McLaren practised for the most part in France. She was untiring in the exercise of her professional duties, and in works of charity.

At the age of 72, Dr McLaren established a hospital for women and children at Rawalpindi in the northwest of India and put a medical woman in charge. Then she began a search for ‘vocations’. Medical student combining all the necessary qualities of heart and mind were difficult to find. Dr McLaren, therefore, tried to secure the service of nuns. That nuns should study medicine was regarded by many as a daring novelty, or at best an unpractical dream. In the course of her endeavours, Dr. McLaren gathered much evidence and made several journeys to Rome.

Dr. Agnes McLaren died in 1913 and was buried in Antibes, France. Her obituary in the British Medical Journal describes her as : ‘a woman of strong individuality and character, known to a large circle of philanthropic workers of many nations, many kindreds and many creeds.’

Dr Anna Dengel

Mother Anna Maria Dengel, S.C.M.M., (16 March 1892 – 17 April 1980) was the founder of the Medical Mission Sisters, which was among the first congregations of Religious Sisters authorized by the Roman Catholic Church to provide full medical care to the poor and needy in the overseas missions.

When Anna Dengel was in her mid-20s she heard that Dr Agnes McLaren was looking for women doctors for a hospital in Rawalpindi, India (now Pakistan). She was overjoyed and immediately wrote to McLaren of her interest, and a lively correspondence between them began. McLaren was already in her mid-70s at this time, however, and died before she and Dengel could meet, but Dengel followed the course of preparation for her mission in India which she and McLaren had set. Dengel took McLaren’s advice to attend medical school at University College in Cork, Ireland. In 1919, after graduating, she went to England for a nine-month internship. The following year she left for Rawalpindi to continue the work that McLaren had begun.

Dengel spent months of travel and meetings to make the needs of India known, including discussions with Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals, about how best to meet these needs.

After this experience, Dengel came to the conclusion that she needed to establish a new religious congregation dedicated to the cause. She drew up a Constitution for the congregation she had in mind and wrote that the members were “to live for God…to dedicate themselves to the service of the sick for the love of God and …to be properly trained according to the knowledge and standards of the time in order to practice medicine in its full scope, to which the Sisters were to dedicate their lives.

Mother Anna died in Rome, Italy, on 17 April 1980.

“It is up to Him to point the way and for me to follow”


Dr Mary Glowrey