Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary May Scollen (1887–1967)

by Sophie McGrath

This article was published:

Mary May Scollen (1887-1967), Sister of Mercy, nurse and hospital administrator, was born on 11 May 1887 at Redfern, Sydney, second child of Irish-born parents Patrick Scollen, a labourer who became a contractor, and his wife Susan, née Smith. Educated at Newtown Superior Public School, Mary entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy, North Sydney, in 1905 and took the religious name of Mary Justinian. She was professed on 26 December 1907 while training as a nurse at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, which at that time cared for women and children at premises in Willoughby Road, Crows Nest. On 5 May 1911 she was registered by the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association.

In 1919, aged only 32, Sister Justinian was appointed matron of the Mater. The hospital had been moved to Lane Cove Road (Pacific Highway) and extended to comprise private as well as public sections. The influenza pandemic reached Sydney that year. A ward at the hospital was set aside for the victims, and both Sisters and nurses volunteered to attend the sick poor. Of 262 patients admitted to the hospital with influenza, 228 recovered. During Sister Justinian's term of office the Mater was enlarged as the Sisters gradually acquired surrounding properties, despite the sectarianism that made some Protestant householders unwilling to sell to Catholic institutions. The Mater, however, provided for the sick and needy of all denominations; only about 27 per cent of its patients were Catholics.

Small and slightly built, Sister Justinian proved capable and competent, both as a nurse and an administrator. She was a dignified, wise and compassionate woman, with a direct but kindly manner, and it was said of her: 'The Matron is just by name and just by nature'. Yet, she never felt comfortable in the presence of dignitaries. Christian attitudes and values inspired her and informed her nursing practice. Her special concern was the training of nurses. She reminded them: 'To us who know Christ we have the obligation of seeing Him in our neighbour . . . To be kind, generous, just, thoughtful and fair in the name of Christ spells our Catholic hospital service for us'. She opposed what she considered to be a worldwide trend to remove the personal touch from nursing, being alarmed at over-specialization in the profession.

A founding fellow (1955) of the New South Wales College of Nursing, Sister Justinian was appointed M.B.E. in 1958. She relinquished the role of matron to become superior of her community and administrator of the hospital in 1963. Mother Justinian retired in 1967. When her health began to fail, she obtained treatment in the Mater's out-patients department, waiting her turn to see the doctor, though he had served under her. She died on 22 October 1967 at that hospital and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. One of her former medical colleagues described her as 'a great nun, a great nurse and a great woman'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Carey, In the Best of Hands (Syd, 1991)
  • Sisters of Mercy archives and Mater Misericordiae Hospital archives, North Sydney
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sophie McGrath, 'Scollen, Mary May (1887–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Justinian, Sister

11 May, 1887
Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 October, 1967 (aged 80)
Lane Cove, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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