Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ackman, Amy Vera (1886–1966)

by Edna M. Skewes

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Mother Giovanni Ackman, n.d.

Mother Giovanni Ackman, n.d.

Amy Vera Ackman (1886-1966), Sister of Charity and hospital administrator, was born on 3 July 1886 at Randwick, Sydney, only child of native-born parents Michael Ackman, furniture-dealer, and his wife Annie, née Conway. The family returned to Melbourne where Michael died before Amy was 3 years old. Annie later opened a needlework shop at Kyneton. Amy was sent to St Mary's Convent School, Malmsbury, run by the Sisters of Mercy, with the stipulation that—as her family was Jewish—she should not attend classes in religion. Having matriculated, she qualified as an optometrist by completing a London correspondence course. In 1912 she set up practice at 151 Collins Street, Melbourne, and also attended out-patients at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy. Having been received into the Catholic Church when she was aged about 21, after the death of her mother Amy was admitted to the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity on 15 August 1914. She made her vows in April 1917 and, as Sister Giovanni, trained at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney; from early 1922 she worked in its admissions office.

Sister Giovanni was administrator and superior of the Order's hospitals at Bathurst (1932-37) and at Lismore (1938-41); she went in 1942 to St Vincent's Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, and in 1947 transferred to the Order's main hospital next door. As Mother Giovanni, she was elected in 1949 to the general council of the Sisters of Charity. After it was decided to found a hospice at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, on land formerly belonging to Lilian Violet Cooper and Mary Josephine Bedford, Mother Giovanni was asked to oversee the project.

When she arrived in Queensland in March 1953, Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig inquired how much money she already had towards the building. The reply was, 'Nothing'. Serene, humble, but immensely capable, she established a city office and negotiated with the banks; fund-raising committees were formed, and she began door-to-door collecting in the city, suburbs and country towns. Wearing her long, black, serge habit, she endured fierce summer heat, sometimes receiving only a few shillings, but the little, smiling woman with a keen sense of fun enlivened these 'begging days' for her companions.

So successfully did she organize the appeal that the Mount Olivet Hospital for the incurably sick and dying was opened on 8 September 1957. The 176-bed building cost £428,000, to which the State government contributed £176,000. The need for further funds was met by a one-day house-to-house appeal held on 8 March 1959 that provided £57,000. Mother Giovanni was appointed first superior and administrator of the hospital. Indefatigable and practical, renowned for her sewing-box of tricks and her fund of well-told stories, she recovered her remarkable vitality through an occasional, solitary day of fishing on Bribie Island.

At the end of her term of office in 1963, she volunteered to go with a missionary group to New Guinea. For a year after her arrival in August, she helped to care for the health of three hundred children at Bundi, before returning to take charge of a convalescent home at Darling Point, Sydney. In 1966 Mother Giovanni returned to Mount Olivet where she died on 23 August and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Skewes, Life Comes to Newness (Brisb, 1982)
  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • Catholic Leader, 1 Sept 1966
  • Memoirs of Mother Giovanni Ackman, manuscript and typescript, c.1963, and Ackman papers (Archives of Sisters of Charity, St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point, Sydney)
  • Annals and records of Mount Olivet Hospital, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane
  • private information.

Citation details

Edna M. Skewes, 'Ackman, Amy Vera (1886–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ackman-amy-vera-9306/text16329, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Mother Giovanni Ackman, n.d.

Mother Giovanni Ackman, n.d.