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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Healy, Mary (1865–1952)

by Catherine O'Carrigan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Mary Healy (1865-1952), best known as Mother Gertrude, Sister of Charity and hospital administrator, was born on 24 July 1865 in Dublin, daughter of Francis Healy, ironmonger, and his wife Anne, née Carton. Mary accompanied her family to Victoria where she attended Loreto Abbey, Marys Mount, Ballarat, under Mother Gonzaga Barry and gained some teacher training. She entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity, Sydney, on 5 June 1889 and was professed on 2 October 1891 as Sister Gertrude. That year she began training at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst; she registered with the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association on 24 July 1903.

In 1910 Sister Gertrude was appointed mother rectress of St Vincent's. Keen to see the institution become a clinical school for the University of Sydney, she set out to expand the hospital and increase the number of specialties. In 1913 work began on new accommodation for nurses. The out-patients' division was extended, with improved X-ray facilities, and an enlarged electro-therapeutical and massage department provided rehabilitation for returned servicemen. Construction of a third storey was completed in 1918. By 1917 nursing staff under Mother Gertrude's direction had risen to thirty Sisters of Charity and eighty trainees. During the 1919 influenza epidemic St Vincent's admitted over 27,000 urgent cases and treated another 70,000 as out-patients. Her term of office ended in 1920.

Following three years managing the Order's adjoining private hospital at Darlinghurst, Mother Gertrude was appointed rectress (1924-33) of St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne. She expanded fund-raising activities and, in 1927, helped to establish an auxiliary movement. In 1932 she engaged Norma Parker, St Vincent's first qualified hospital almoner. That year Mother Gertrude toured Europe to study advances in the design and administration of modern hospitals. The results of her investigations were incorporated by (Sir) Arthur Stephenson in a new wing which contained the administrative offices, the X-ray and therapeutic equipment, four operating theatres and six wards. Opened in 1934, it was to be named the Gertrude Healy Wing.

Mother Gertrude came back to Sydney in 1934 to administer St Vincent's Private Hospital. She started a second term as rectress at the much enlarged public hospital in 1943. Her first task was to inaugurate a central surgical service complex. By the mid-1940s the hospital was a leading training school for professionals in related areas of health—physiotherapists (from 1914), almoners (1936), dietitians (1941) and occupational therapists (1946). With the end of World War II, Mother Gertrude planned a massive expansion of St Vincent's to encompass a maternity and a children's hospital, a new intermediate wing and a modern nurses' home. In 1924 she had raised the possibility of the Order running a maternity hospital, but it was not until 1936 that the Sisters were authorized to practise obstetric nursing. Delays and shortages held up construction of the maternity and children's hospitals. Meanwhile, in 1947 Mother Gertrude had again returned to manage the private hospital.

From the early 1940s Mother Gertrude had acted as councillor to the superior general in hospital matters. Her calm, dignified countenance, kindly eyes and gentle Dublin accent made her very approachable. Throughout her nursing life her efforts to achieve excellence in medical care were aimed at benefiting the 'sick poor'. She died on 28 April 1952 at St Vincent's and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. (Sir) Herbert Schlink, chairman of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, described her as one of the greatest hospital administrators in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Miller, Earlier Days (Syd, 1969)
  • B. Egan, Ways of a Hospital (Syd, 1993)
  • St Vincent's Hospital (Sydney), Annual Report, 1910-20, 1943-46
  • St Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne), Annual Report, 1924-33, Annals of the Sisters of Charity of Australia, vol 2, 1882-1938, and register of nurses, St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, 1882-1910 and other material in Sisters of Charity Archives, Potts Point, Sydney.

Citation details

Catherine O'Carrigan, 'Healy, Mary (1865–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mother Gertrude
  • Gertrude, Mother
  • Gertrude, Sister

24 July 1865
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


28 April 1952
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence