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Anne (Mother M. Berchmans) Daly (1860–1924)

by Margaret M. Donovan

This article was published:

Anne (Mother M. Berchmans) Daly (1860-1924), founder of hospitals, known as Mother Mary Berchmans, was born on 28 May 1860 at Tipperary, Ireland, ninth child of John Daly, blacksmith, and his wife Mary, née Cleary. About 1865 the family migrated to New South Wales, settling at Jembaicumbene, near Braidwood, but on 4 March 1867 John Daly died.

Annie was educated at home by tutors. As soon as she was old enough she applied to the Department of Public Instruction and in May 1877 was appointed assistant at Braidwood Catholic School. After further training she was appointed to Newtown Girls' School and later Grafton Primary, but she probably gained most of her experience at St Mary's Cathedral Girls' School, Sydney, run by the Sisters of Charity. In May 1881 she entered the Sisters of Charity at St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point; as Sister Mary Berchmans she continued to teach at St Mary's.

In December 1888 Sister Berchmans was appointed to the first foundation of her Order in Melbourne. Next year, on 21 January, she took charge of St Patrick's School in Victoria Parade. Under her guidance the school made rapid progress and the number of pupils trebled. In 1892 she was appointed superior of the Sisters of Charity in Melbourne and was responsible not only for St Patrick's but for four other primary schools established by the sisters between 1891 and 1897.

Meanwhile, on her visits to the sick poor in the inner city area, she had become convinced of the need for a hospital administered by the sisters, similar to St Vincent's, Sydney. She received practical encouragement and in 1893, as a temporary measure, she established the first St Vincent's Hospital in a 'low roofed, old-fashioned boarding house' at 3 Albert Terrace. As rectress, she helped to prepare the young trainee nurses for examinations and arranged their practical work. When the building fund raised £10,000, she planned the new hospital (opened in 1905) and the re-siting of what became known as the Catholic Ladies' College. The hospital had been granted its first government subsidy in 1903, and that year its training school for nurses was established and affiliated to the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses' Association.

In 1910 Mother Berchmans successfully completed negotiations for the establishment of St Vincent's Clinical School in association with the University of Melbourne. That year she visited Europe to study ways of increasing the hospital's efficiency. She arranged to buy equipment and furnishings for the outdoor department, the nurses' home and a new private hospital. She continued to look for further land for expansion; Mount St Evin's private hospital was opened in 1913 on the site of a disused church.

In 1920 Mother Berchmans was elected superior-general of the Sisters of Charity, returning to St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point. She was now responsible for almost four hundred sisters in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Her powers of leadership and organization were clear to all. Equally obvious was the decline in her health; but she responded with courage to needs as they arose. In 1920 St Vincent's Hospital, Toowoomba, Queensland, was established. In 1921 she founded a hospital at Lismore, New South Wales, and another in 1922 at Bathurst. Her last great contribution to the care of the sick was her part in the recognition of St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, as a clinical school in 1923.

Mother Berchmans died in Sydney on 4 March 1924. Her work as foundress of Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital and of the clinical school is commemorated by a bronze bust by Paul Montford; at its unveiling in August 1935 tributes were paid to her vision, intuition, courage and charm. Sir Thomas Dunhill described her as 'unique in her day and generation or in any day and generation'. Her memory is perpetuated also in the Berchmans Daly wing of St Vincent's, opened in October 1960.

Select Bibliography

  • St Vincent's Hospital (Sydney), Annual Report, 1923
  • St Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne) Annual Report, 1893-1900, 1903, p 6, 1905, p 7, 43, 1910, p 7, 1919, 1920
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Mar 1924
  • Sisters of Charity Archives, (St Vincent's Convent, Potts Point, Sydney)
  • information from Royal Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch (Melbourne).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Margaret M. Donovan, 'Daly, Anne (Mother M. Berchmans) (1860–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Daly, Mother Mary Berchmans
  • Daly, Sister Mary Berchmans

28 May, 1860
Tipperary, Tipperary, Ireland


4 March, 1924 (aged 63)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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