Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Catherine Bruton (1862–1937)

by Catherine O'Carrigan

This article was published:

Mary Catherine Bruton (1862-1937), Sister of Charity, was born on 13 May 1862 in Sydney, daughter of Irish parents John Bruton, schoolmaster and customs officer, and his wife Johanna, née O'Callaghan. She was brought up in a religious family: two aunts and three sisters also joined the Charity Congregation. Mary and her sisters were educated by a German tutor at Tocumwal, then at the Loreto Abbey, Ballarat, Victoria. When their father returned to Sydney they attended St Vincent's College.

Mary joined the Sisters of Charity on 14 June 1886 and at her clothing ceremony on 9 October took the name Canice. She was professed on 13 October 1888. In 1900-13 she was mother superior of St Mary's Convent, Liverpool, and of Monte Oliveto Convent and School, Woollahra, where she directed the erection of a new building. In 1914 she became mother-rectress of the Catholic Ladies' College, East Melbourne. Under her guidance it made rapid progress: her girls achieved good results in public examinations and she widened the curriculum to include a science department.

As first assistant to the superior-general in 1920-24, Mother Canice took charge of the new foundation, St Vincent's Hospital at Toowoomba, Queensland. She was elected superior-general in 1924. During her term of office she founded convents at New Norfolk, Tasmania, and at Ashgrove and Kingaroy in Queensland. In 1925, at the urgent request of Bishop Barry, she permitted a team of Sisters of Charity to manage the Catholic hospital at Cootamundra, New South Wales, which was in danger of closing, and make it a sound establishment. In 1932 she represented some 400 Australian Sisters of Charity at a Congress in Dublin and visited Rome. At the end of her term of office in July 1936, she became superior of the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying which her aunt Mother Cecilia Bruton had conducted for twenty-nine years. Mother Canice died there on 15 October 1937 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Her sister Dorothy Josephine (1866-1938) was born on 28 March 1866 at Moama, completed her education at St Vincent's College and in 1887 studied arts at the University of Sydney for a year. She joined the Sisters of Charity on 26 January 1890 and was professed on 9 July 1892, taking the name Dympna. After training as a teacher at her old school, she eventually became principal of Bethlehem College and Convent, Ashfield. In about 1925-35 Sister Dympna was principal of St Vincent's College. She possessed in full the qualities of 'courage and endurance, cheerfulness and humour and, above all, the spirit of “help your mate”'. When the poet C. J. Brennan, joined the staff in 1930, she showed great compassion for his fluctuating health. She died in St Vincent's Hospital on 6 April 1938.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1934
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney, 24 May 1934
  • 21 Oct 1937
  • Sisters of Charity Archives and Annals of the Irish Sisters of Charity in Australia, vol 2, 1882-1938 (St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point, Sydney).

Citation details

Catherine O'Carrigan, 'Bruton, Mary Catherine (1862–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Canice, Mother

13 May, 1862
Moama, New South Wales, Australia


15 October, 1937 (aged 75)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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