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Eileen Mary Healy (1888–1966)

by Anne Forbes

This article was published:

Eileen Mary Healy (1888-1966), best known as Mother Bonaventure, Sister of Mercy, was born on 22 September 1888 at Ballarat East, Victoria, second of five children of Victorian-born parents Michael John Healy, railwayman, and his wife Mary Helena, née Costello, a teacher. Eileen was educated at St Alipius's Primary School and Sacred Heart College, Ballarat East, and at the University of Melbourne (Dip.Mus., 1909; Dip.Ed., 1916). Her three sisters became music teachers. One of them, Gertrude (1894-1984), achieved prominence as a violinist. After studying in Berlin (1914) and London (1914-20), in 1923 Gertrude was appointed principal study teacher in violin at the Albert Street Conservatorium, Melbourne. She later ran a music school at the Sacred Heart Convent, Ballarat East.

At the age of 20 Eileen entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy, Ballarat East, where she was professed three years later as Sister Bonaventure. Working under the noted educationist Mother Mary Xavier Flood, founder of the Aquin (later Aquinas) Training College for Teachers, she helped with the pioneering work in this field. In 1928 she was appointed assistant-superior. As mistress of method (1951-66) Mother Bonaventure prepared hundreds of nuns and other trainees for the apostolate of teaching. From 1952 to 1966 she was also principal of Sacred Heart College, Ballarat East, which offered a full curriculum of humanities, science and commerce. She became mother general in 1956 and a member of the Australian College of Education in 1963.

The establishment of Patrician House (a hostel for undergraduates of the training college), as well as the construction of an increasing number of buildings at Sacred Heart College, four large primary schools in Ballarat, and convents and schools in thirteen Victorian country towns, brought Mother Bonaventure the sobriquet of 'The Builder'. No aspect of school life was overlooked in her endeavours. To expand sporting facilities at Sacred Heart College, she planned a nine-hole golf course on an unused piece of convent property at Mount Xavier—said to be the first public golf course built and owned by a convent—which was opened in 1949. The culmination of her efforts was a senior secondary college at St Martin's in the Pines, Mount Clear; almost on her deathbed, she completed the plans and launched the project for a large day- and boarding school on the 52 acre (21 ha) site.

As a Sister of Mercy, Mother Bonaventure vowed her life to the service of the poor, the sick and the ignorant. In responding to the social needs of Ballarat, she rearranged and systematized the traditional visitation of the poor by the Sisters and inaugurated the Mercy Home Care and Nursing Service. She was a foundation member of the Australian Federation of the Sisters of Mercy. Mother Bonaventure died on 26 May 1966 at the Sacred Heart Convent, Ballarat East, and was buried in the new cemetery at Ballarat.

Select Bibliography

  • Light, July 1966
  • Courier (Ballarat), 27 May 1966
  • M. P. Welsh, Mantle of Mercy (manuscript, Convent of Mercy Archives, Ballarat East, Victoria)
  • Catholic Education Office records (Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission).

Citation details

Anne Forbes, 'Healy, Eileen Mary (1888–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mother Bonaventure
  • Bonaventure, Mother
  • Bonaventure, Sister

22 September, 1888
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


26 May, 1966 (aged 77)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.