Sister Mary Glowrey

Founder of Saint Joseph Hospital

The Servant of God, Mary Glowrey, J.M.J, was born in Birregurra in the state of Victoria, Australia in 1887 to Catholic parents of Irish descent, the third of nine children. She was brilliant in her studies and excelled in many subjects, in particular in languages and humanities, but she ended up graduating in medicine. She began studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 1905, but after a while in prayer and encouragement from her father, Mary switched to medical courses and graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery degree in 1910. Mary later deepened her understanding of obstetrics, gynaecology, ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology. She then worked at St. Vincent's Hospital and the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne. On October 24, 1915, Mary read a pamphlet on the life of Agnes McLaren, a Scottish doctor who had converted to the Catholic faith later in life and was a pioneer in missionary medicine. The pamphlet spoke of the terrible mortality rate among children in India and the desperate need for missionary doctors. This radically changed the direction of Mary's life. Later, Mary Glowrey wrote that she began to read that pamphlet out of curiosity but ended up on her knees convinced that God was calling her to India. In 1920, at the age of 33, Mary put an end to her flourishing career as an otolaryngology specialist and completely surrendered herself to God's will, setting sail for India to become a missionary doctor. There she joined the Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph, a Dutch order that was introduced in India to improve women’s health care. During the years of her religious formation, she never worked as a doctor but, rather, helped in the clinic while studying two new languages: Dutch, the language of the congregation, and Telugu, the local Indian language. Sister Mary Glowrey returned to medical practice after her temporary religious vows, receiving special permission from the Pope to do so, for religious were not allowed to operate as doctors until 1936. Sister Mary dedicated her life to care for the sick and bring comfort to the afflicted. She received countless patients who came to her for medical treatment, and even those without any means of transport would often come long distances from the farthest villages to see her. Even the sick huddled in small huts were reached by Sister Mary's indomitable zeal.

In 1925, Sister Mary founded St. Joseph Hospital and, within a year, records state that there were 90 patients and 44,180 outpatients with Sister Mary working as the only doctor. She founded clinics and trained midwives and new nurses, both nuns and local women, in order to visit villages to bring health care to those who could not travel. She also continued to teach and write articles, deepening her understanding of traditional remedies.

In 1943, Sister Mary Glowrey founded the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) which serves over 21 million people in India every year. She was a model of faith and abandonment to God, of sincere humility and serene simplicity, for she chose to serve the poor people and the incurable patients who had a special place in her heart. Her life was like a holocaust, a disease that led to her death. She left her earthly life on May 5, 1957 with the words, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph and my Jesus, I love you." Her mortal remains were buried in Bangalore. Monsignor Ignatius Mummadi, the then Bishop of Guntur, said: "Sister Mary was a special creature of God and a great soul who embraced the whole world."

Today, Sister Mary Glowrey is venerated by many and her legacy continues to bear fruit in India. Her life was marked by extraordinary humility, the desire to do God's will and devotion to the Holy Spirit. It is only through reflection on these three aspects that her missionary commitment, the great works she accomplished, the challenges she faced and overcame, and also how she had both zeal and detachment in her missionary commitment can be understood. While she faced seemingly impossible obstacles, including famine, drought, difficulties caused by World War II, inadequate finances, and impenetrable bureaucracies, Sister Mary always remembered that the work she was undertaking was not only her work, but God's work.