Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Gabrielle Healy (1908–1980)

by Ursula Trower

This article was published:

Mary Gabrielle Healy (1908-1980), Catholic nun, musician and liturgist, was born on 4 January 1908 at Toowoomba, Queensland, eldest of three daughters of Toowoomba-born parents Charles Healy, railway employee, and his wife Cecilia Clare, née McNamara. After primary schooling, Gabrielle won a scholarship which enabled her to enter Lourdes Hill College, Brisbane, in 1922. Having gained an associateship (piano) of Trinity College of Music, London, in 1927, she taught speech and drama in the Holy Name parish, Toowoomba. On 6 January 1929 she joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, at Pennant Hills, Sydney. As Sister Mary Gabrielle, she made her first profession of religious vows on 2 July 1931. She taught music at St Scholastica's College, Glebe, for six years, and then at Hamilton, Victoria (1937), Marrickville, Sydney (1938-41 and 1952-66), Gayndah, Queensland (1942), Canberra (1943-45), Wollongong (1946-51), Manly (1966-77) and Glebe (1978-79), New South Wales.

Meantime, Sister Gabrielle was awarded a licentiate (1932) of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, London, and a licentiate (singing 1943) and fellowship (1944) of Trinity College. She believed that liturgical music should move people to pray and specialized in the polyphony of the sixteenth century. While carrying out her daily teaching schedule, she embarked upon various musical projects. Gifted with initiative, energy and enthusiasm, she enlisted widespread support for her enterprises which included the spectacle for the Good Samaritan centenary celebrations, held in Sydney in 1957, a number of Passion plays and Gilbert and Sullivan operas, staged at Marrickville, and pageants 'to put Christ back into Christmas', performed at Hyde Park and Long Bay gaol in the 1960s.

In 1958 Sister Gabrielle took part in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's seminar on drama in education. She also helped to plan music education for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and was a member of the board responsible for introducing a diploma of sacred music at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. As president of the Singers of David—formed in 1963 by Sisters, Brothers, priests and the laity to promote liturgical music—she arranged Psalm festivals and musical performances (1964-70) at the Sydney Town Hall in which students from Catholic schools and colleges took part. From 1968 the choir regularly performed in the Mass that was televised each month on channel TCN-9 in Sydney and sang at two official Masses during the 1970 visit of Pope Paul VI.

Sister Gabrielle lectured part time at the Good Samaritan Teachers' College and at St Patrick's College, Manly, which conferred on her a diploma of theology (1968). A member of the Institute of Pastoral Liturgy (1970), of the Australian College of Education (1971) and of the National Liturgical Commission (1975), she was a consultant on the music sub-committee of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (1976). At Manly in 1977 she helped to organize a liturgical convention on worship.

Her expertise gained Sister Gabrielle the position of adjudicator (1978-79) in instrumental, vocal and choral sections at eisteddfods in Sydney, Darwin and Brisbane. In 1979 she attended the National Association of Pastoral Musicians' convention at Chicago, United States of America, and visited liturgical centres around the world. She died on 17 January 1980 at Lewisham Hospital, Sydney, and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Manly, 1881-1981 (Syd, 1981)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Dec 1963, 18 Jan 1979
  • Catholic Leader, 12 Aug 1979
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 27 Jan 1980
  • M. P. D. McKinlay, Vale, Sister Mary Gabrielle (typescript, Good Samaritan Generalate Archives, Glebe Point, Sydney).

Citation details

Ursula Trower, 'Healy, Mary Gabrielle (1908–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 July 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
  • Mary Gabrielle, Sister

4 January, 1908
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia


17 January, 1980 (aged 72)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.