Sisters of Charity celebrate 100 years in ToowoombaPrint
In 1920, the Sisters of Charity of Australia established a community in Toowoomba with the one goal in mind: To build a hospital for the community.
Overcoming extraordinary challenges, the Sisters initiated a fundraising campaign and purchased a 1.6 hectare (four acres) estate facing Herries and Mackenzie Streets. It was a community effort – inclusion was a part of the story of this hospital from the very beginning.
The initial building fundraiser appealed to the entire community “regardless of creed and nationality.” People from all walks of life contributed to the building of the hospital.
On May 22, 1921, almost a year to the day after the arrival of the Sisters of Charity in Toowoomba, the Foundation Stone was laid and blessed by Archbishop James Duhig from Brisbane.
The building phase did not continue without its own challenges. Half-way through the build it was realised that there was not enough money for it to be completed. Sister Mary Bruton, the first Superior of the hospital, was recalled to Sydney and there was very real doubt that the dream would become a reality. St Vincent’s Toowoomba, which has been a cherished part of the community of the Darling Downs, very nearly did not happen.
But… The Archbishop of Brisbane and architects pleaded that the building continue, and Sister Mary Bruton returned to Toowoomba to continue her fundraising work at a local level.
It is interesting to note the workers on the very first building site made donations to the Toowoomba St Vincent’s Building fund. On November 19, 1922 St Vincent’s Hospital Toowoomba was officially opened with a gala ball and huge community gathering.
Mary Aikenhead Ministries, through St Vincent’s Health Australia, continues this legacy built by Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity.
Mary Aikenhead would be delighted to see what her ministry has become up on the Downs, where the Sisters and the staff have for a century been in touch with so many people and made such a difference to their lives.
Members of the Congregation, including Srs Kathleen Doohan, Regina Millard, Marie Haran, and Anthea Groves – and the current Congregational Leader, Sr Clare Nolan – ministered here. many others. They all have such fond memories of the patients, their families, the administrators, the nursing staff, the doctors, and the people of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs.
The local community was, from the very beginning, so supportive of the hospital, to which people came from everywhere for a broad spectrum of health care.
On Mary Aikenhead’s feast day, July 22, the local community celebrated again, with a liturgy to celebrate the Sisters who had ministered at the hospital during the past 100 years.
As part of the celebrations, the Sisters’ graves were refurbished, and a plaque honouring them unveiled.
Following the grave side service, a group of Sisters and supporters went to Emerge, a local Social Enterprise supporting young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. As part of the St Vincent’s Private Hospital Toowoomba’s Preferential Option for the Poor, $10,000 was donated in June towards purchasing a car so that young people are able attend their programmes.