Sr Mary Bernice Elphick

Alice Nolan Elphick was born on 4 August, 1921, in Foster, South Gippsland, Victoria to Herbert and Sarah Elphick. Her father was a farmer and a railway engineer. Alice had three brothers and two sisters.

In 1938, she completed her Leaving Certificate at University High School, Parkville, Victoria and then proceeded to undertake her General Nursing Training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. At the completion of this time, she entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity on 2 July, 1943 and was professed on 14 January, 1946.

Bernice was appointed as Ward Sister in 1946 at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and then moved to St Vincent’s, Launceston, Tasmania, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne and then St Vincent’s Maternity Hospital in Melbourne where she completed her midwifery training. Her administrative ability was soon evident and she was appointed once again to Launceston, Tasmania from 1957-1962 as Mother Rectress. While there, she attended a post graduate course at the College of Nursing in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. She became a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing at this time. In 1963 she was sent to St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney as the Mother Rectress, managing the hospital as well as the Convent.

Sister Bernice achieved much at St Vincent’s Campus including her interest in and assistance with the building of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research (1963), the rebuilding of St Vincent’s Private Hospital (1977), the opening of St Vincent’s Clinic, the brainchild of Dr John Roarty (1990), and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (1994) after Victor Chang’s tragic death in 1991.

In 2002, a fund raising rose for the Victor Chang Institute was named after Sister Bernice and her photograph with this rose was placed on the front of her Mass Booklet.

Sister Bernice was recognized not only within her Congregation and within the St Vincent’s Campus. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List (1977) she was awarded an O.B.E. and then, when the new Australian Orders were introduced, an AM (1986). Not long before her death, Sister Bernice received the award of Officer of the Order of Australia (AC), the highest award given in Australia. All of Bernice’s awards were for her service to health.

Sister Bernice was a faithful and gracious member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity. She was a woman of prayer with a generosity of spirit which extended to both the poor and the rich. She was dearly loved by the Sisters, her family and friends, the staff, her colleagues and the many benefactors of the hospitals served by the Sisters of Charity in Launceston, Sydney and Melbourne.

Sister Bernice retired in 1997 to the West Street Community, Darlinghurst and then later moved to St Joseph’s Aged Care Facility, Kensington where she still exerted her caring influence. She died there on 20 June, 2008.