Life On The Job

Mary Glowery (23 June 1887 - 5 May 1957) Catholic Religious Sister and Medical Practitioner


Mary Glowery
Mary Glowery 1926 - University of Melbourne
The Woman who changed the lives of millions



Mary was born in Birregurra in regional Victoria, winning a scholarship to the University of Melbourne and graduating in medicine in 1910. Mary worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital and the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital, giving up her career as a doctor in Australia in 1920 to go to India to minister to the poorest women and children. She became a religious sister with the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph in Guntur. For many years she was the only doctor in her area and ministered to thousands of patients who would not otherwise have received care. Along the way, she founded the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) whose members today provide care for 21 million people a year. Mary died in 1957. (Source: ACU)

A humanitarian, advocate for women’s rights and a systems thinker, Mary devoted her life to improving healthcare in India, where she expanded a small mission into a full hospital that cared for 637,000 patients between 1927 and 1936. She went on to establish health care systems and institutions that now look after more than 21 million people annually.

Inspired by the church’s teachings on social justice, Mary sought to change society not just through prayer but action. Her profound faith, compassion for others and brilliant intellect, juxtaposed with a humble and shy nature, led her to push the boundaries of the roles that women could play in society.
(Source: University of Melbourne)


Born on 23 June 1887 in Birregurra, Victoria - about 135 km west of Melbourne - Mary Glowrey was the third of nine children. (Source: Sydney Catholic News)

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. (Source: Women Australia)



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.  (Source: Women Australia)

In 1904 she was awarded a scholarship to Ormond College to study for a Bachelor of Arts. But she switched to medicine in early 1906, a time when there were few female medical students at the University of Melbourne.

In her autobiography Mary writes that when she first thought of switching courses a doctor warned her “the study of medicine would deprive me of all womanly dignity”.

Before studying medicine, her favourite subject had been Greek poetry and she fondly remembered the enthusiasm of her tutor at Ormond College.

“In the strength of the breeze he himself created, his University gown used to float behind him as he strode to and fro before us, exclaiming ecstatically: ‘Shakespeare could not have done better; he could not have done better’,’’ she wrote.

Mary began her medical career at the newly-founded Clinical School at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1910. However, at the time, no medical residency positions were available for women in Melbourne so she moved to New Zealand, where she was the first woman to be granted a medical residency.

When Mary returned to Victoria, she focussed on improving the health of underprivileged women and children and founded the Catholic Women’s Social Guild. She supported this work herself through her appointments at St Vincent’s Hospital, the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and her private practice. Long before bulk billing she was treating the unemployed and impoverished free of charge.  
(Source: University of Melbourne)

Opportunities & Experiences 

Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital 1916(Source: Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney)

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.  
(Source: Women Australia)

'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 patients. 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.  (Source: Women Australia)
Mary leaving Australia
(Source: Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney)
Map of India
Dr Mary Glowrey became a religious sister with the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph in Guntur, India.
See where Guntur is on this map
Did You Know?

One of the first hurdles Mary faced [in India] was that neither priests nor nuns were permitted to practise medicine at that time.

Fortunately, Pope Benedict XV granted special permission for Mary to practise medicine, making her the world’s first nun-doctor missionary.
(Source: University of Melbourne)

Her Legacy

But it was her work in global health which is perhaps most inspiring and is one of the key aspects of her life which is being explored as part of her cause for canonisation [being declared a saint by the Catholic Church].

Mary’s approach to global health was ahead of her time and was more consistent with a contemporary health-development paradigm. She was what we today would call a systems thinker, in that she developed processes and structures to promote efficient and sustainable healthcare delivery to the poor.

For example, perhaps inspired by the sheer size of the task in improving health care for India’s burgeoning and needy population, she pioneered institutions to educate Indian doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists. She was instrumental in establishing St John’s Bangalore, one of the most respected medical colleges in India, which today trains thousands of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who work across India.

One of Mary’s most important contributions to developing a more efficient and effective system was her work in establishing networks and collaborations. Those of us in global health now take this for granted in healthcare planning in low and middle-income settings.

In 1942 she established the Catholic Hospital Association of India (CHAI), which stands as perhaps her most enduring and impacting legacy. CHAI was created to promote the health of the marginalised across India. It has now become the world’s largest health network, boasting 3518 member institutions, including 2263 health centres, 417 secondary care hospitals, 183 tertiary care hospitals, 200 social service societies, five medical colleges and 120 nursing schools.


There are now over a thousand sister-doctors across CHAI following in Mary’s footsteps.

In recognising Mary’s tremendous contributions to health, St Vincent’s Health Australia and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne have established the Sr Dr Mary Glowrey Scholars Program to support health professionals from CHAI to gain training and skills in Melbourne. CHAI director Rev Dr Father Mathew Abraham is currently in Melbourne to inaugurate the new program.

Mary was recognised by the Catholic Church as a “Servant of God” in 2013, the first of four official approvals towards sainthood.  (Source: University of Melbourne)



bullet.gif (981 bytes)University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Mary Glowrey Scholars Program

Scholars Program

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Mary Glowrey Museum

Mary Glowrey Museum
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Leader 16 December 2014

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in 20th C Australia

Mary Glowery EWL
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Catholic Hospital Association of India [CHAI]

bullet.gif (981 bytes)St Columbans Mission Society

St Columbans
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Melbourne Catholic

Melbourne Catholic

bullet.gif (981 bytes)YouTube: Dr Sr Mary Glowrey JMJ by Fr Paschal Corby OFM

bullet.gif (981 bytes)YouTube: Dr Sr Mary Glowrey

bullet.gif (981 bytes)YouTube: Mary Glowrey - Doctor for India


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Aboriginal Kids Health - Creating a Social Media Campaign around preventing school sores

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

Literacy Australian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures


1. Mary Glowery went to India to solve the health problems amongst the poor. She was a visionary who worked around the Indian health bureaucracy to achieve better health outcomes across India that still can be experienced today.

You are to help with the antibiotic shortages for Aboriginal kids at risk with school sores by creating a social media campaign.

As a class, read the following article from The Conversation 18 April 2019 Reading

The Conversation

2. In pairs, think of one question for each of the Question Quadrant from this article:

Question Quadrant

3. Collate all the "Use your imagination question" and "Questions for Thinking" to think of ways of solving the problem presented in the article.

What ways do you think you could solve the antibiotic shortages for Aboriginal kids at risk with school sores?

4. Gather all your ideas and now put them into a social media campaign.

How will you be assured that your campaign will work? What is your target? [$, people, drugs?]





side 5

side bar 

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side



side 5 

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5