From a medical missionary to Servant of God

P. Samuel Jonathan
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Declaration will take Sister Mary, who served the poor in Guntur hospital, a step closer to canonisation

A portrait of Sister Mary Glowrey at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Guntur.— Photo:T. Vijaya Kumar
A portrait of Sister Mary Glowrey at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Guntur.— Photo:T. Vijaya Kumar

A portrait of Sister Mary Glowrey hangs at the entrance of the outpatient block of St. Joseph’s General Hospital. Flowers are strewn around and a set of lights creates a halo around her face. A plaque on the wall calls her a “pioneer of medical service to women and children.”

The visitors are drawn to a poster that announces she would be declared a Servant of God on Wednesday at the Chrism Mass by Bishop of Guntur Gali Bali at Infant Jesus Cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Guntur at Phirangipuram, 15 km away from Guntur.

The declaration is the first in a series of steps towards canonisation, and some representatives from the Catholic Women’s League in Australia are attending the special mass.

“We are really elated, and at the same time humbled, at the honour. Sister Mary has always been a source of inspiration for us, and we will continue to work for the poor and the needy,” the provincial counsellor of the Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph (JMJ), Guntur Province, told The Hindu on Tuesday.

This is the hospital where Sister Mary of The Sacred Heart began serving the poor and the sick in 1920, leaving a thriving career as an ENT specialist in Australia.

After graduation in medicine and surgery, Dr. Mary was just building a successful private practice when a chance reading of a pamphlet describing appalling infant mortalities and the desperate need for medical missionaries changed her mind. She knew that God had called her to serve in India.

Dr. Mary became a medical missionary with the Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph in Guntur, and Pope Pius XI bestowed a special blessing on her and she began to be called Sister Mary of Sacred Heart, becoming the first nun-doctor missionary in the JMJ Congregation.

For 37 years, Sister Mary served in St. Joseph’s Hospital, transforming a small clinic into a general hospital. She was the lone doctor, training local women to be dispensers, nurses and midwives.

She often visited the sick and dying in villages, treating patients on earthen floors in small huts. In 1957, Sister Mary was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away in Bangalore.

“We have a health centre at Vejendla named after St. Mary as a remembrance of her work,” St. Joseph’s Hospital superintendent Sr. Jayasheela.

The memory of Sr. Mary is still etched in the heart of one woman, whom she loved deeply. N. Elizebeth, then 8 years old, was embraced by Sister Mary to be her maid.

“She always wished me pleasantly, putting her arm around me and asking me to sit beside her. I had the habit of spitting blood in bouts of cough, but the touch of Sister Mary helped me recover completely. She was always kind and generous to the poor,” recalls Elizabeth.



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