The Culture of Life and Dr Mary Glowrey

Written by Anna Krohn, National Bioethics Convenor

On the Feast of St Francis Xavier (3rd December once the patron saint of Australia and now the Missions) the Archbishop of Melbourne announced the preliminary phase of the cause for canonization of the extraordinary Dr Sister Mary Glowrey.

When Pope Benedict XVI declared last week during his homily: "Love for all, moreover, if it is sincere, tends spontaneously to become preferential attention to the weakest and poorest. This explains the Church's concern for the unborn, the frailest, the most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the clouding of consciences." Here he seems to have potted the life and vision of Dr Mary to precision. The timing of this news for the League is surely both providential and a sign of its role as a movement of the Holy Spirit.

In his luminous and comprehensive essay on Dr Mary's life (published in Annals April-May this year) Fr Dan Strickland MGL writes that she was "A woman of profound faith and brilliant achievement..." who seems to have prefigured the "culture of Life" mission by over 80 years!

Not only was she a devoted and remarkably gifted Doctor of Medicine, one of rare and first women of her time to become such, she was also a prophetic leader. She organized her fellow medical students against practices she describes as "contrary to natural law": such practices included sterilization of the poor and the "benign neglect" of disabled babies. She also wrote a booklet for Archbishop Carr (Melbourne) against infanticide.

Fr Dan points out "her service for human life... would find particular expression in her medical care of woman and children." She realized, decades before, what Pope John Paul II would write in his Letter to Women and his Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae: that it would be the "genius" of women which would lead in the building up of a culture of life.

Despite her spiritual humility and reticence, Mary Glowrey was elected the Founding President of the Catholic Women's Social Guild in the midst of the social upheaval and carnage of World War I.

As we all know the Guild later became the Catholic Women's League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga. As today, at its inception the Guild became a remarkable force in actively and concretely working for the social, intellectual and spiritual dignity of women and children.

Dr Mary Glowrey and her members worked to improve the working and living conditions of soldiers' families, the industrial action of female workers and submitting research and publications which promoted the inherent dignity and well being of women and their families. Mary along with Dr Eileen Fitzgerald (another Guild member) founded an infant welfare clinic and a respite care home for the children of struggling families. This is exactly the sort of practical, sleeves rolled up type of service that continues in the CWL all around Australia.

Dr Mary believed that God had called her to take the Gospel via the service to life to the women and children of India. She became a consecrated apostle of "health and life" a "Sister Doctor" as she was called by the people.

Her daily work and suffering as a Doctor was in portrait form delineated by Pope John Paul II's call to "respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!" (EV #5). This meant she practiced the principles of palliative care, long before it was named as such. She denounced the patronizing principles of the Marie Stopes clinics, she incorporated Indian traditional medicine with her own practice. More boldly still from her tiny and poorly equipped dispensary in Guntur, India, where she cared for countless hundreds of thousands of patients, she founded the Catholic Hospital Association of India (CHAI) and she wrote papers in 1936 to the International Medical Congress in Vienna denouncing Euthanasia and Eugenics – against those forces of death which would swallow up and annihilate both the consciences of Europe and whole populations of Jewish people.

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