Celebrating 60 years of St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Brisbane


In September, those who helped create the campus now known as St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane in Kangaroo Point were celebrated with Mass to mark 60 Years of Compassionate Service, followed by afternoon tea.

Those who left a significant mark on the hospital’s history were honoured with the naming and blessing of hospital floors after them. The seven floors of the hospital, education centre, and the boardroom overlooking the Brisbane River, are named in honour of three Religious Sisters of Charity and six former prominent Brisbane individuals.

Floor 1 – Mother Mary Magdalen Burke
Floor 2 – Sister Mary Agnes FitzGerald
Floor 3 – Sister Nola Riley (Image shows Fr James O’Donoghue blessing the Plaque of Sr Nola Riley)
Floor 4 – Dr Alban Lynch
Floor 5 – Professor Teresa (Tess) Cramond
Floor 6 – The Hon. William (Bill) Carter
Floor 7 – Isidore James (Jim) Josephson
Education Centre – Dr Lilian Cooper
Boardroom – The Honourable James A Douglas

There were nine Sisters of Charity at the event on September 8: Srs Kathleen Munce, Mathilde Harnischfeger, Margaret Mines, Patricia Heenan, Carmel Coyle, Judith Clark, Jeannie Johnston, Cate O’Brien,  and Margaret Beirne (pictured left).

Sr Margaret Beirne responded on behalf of Congregational Leader, Sr Clare Nolan, and the whole Congregation, thanking those present for the inspiring way in which they and many others continue to carry the candle lit by Mary Aikenhead, our pioneer Sisters, and all those who have ministered within the hospital during the past sixty years.

During the morning,  Mary Bedford’s Corner on Kangaroo Point Cliffs was also blessed and named.

In connection with the naming and blessing of Mary Bedford’s Corner, Sr Jeannie  spoke of Mary Josephine Bedford and her vision for the original hospice on the site now included in the St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane campus:

This remnant of a brick stone wall is all that we have left of the original gift of Mary Bedford. It marked the boundary of Old St Mary’s, the shared property of Dr Lilian Cooper and Mary Bedford (black and white image), and, more importantly, Mary Bedford’s ” Meditation Seat.”

In 1951 when the Sisters from Ashgrove accepted the invitation to visit Mary Bedford’s beautiful house, they were very surprised to see in her bedroom a prie-dieu placed before an open window from which there was a glorious view of the Kangaroo Point Reach of the Brisbane River. On this prie-dieu was a well-used Prayer Book containing the Divine Office.

At that time, the Sisters of Charity did not recite the Psalms that comprised the Divine Office or, as we know it today, The Prayer of the Church. We recited a host of Litanies instead.

Mary Bedford was a very devout Anglican and a parishioner of St Mary’s Church next door. Her personal library was stocked with theology books and books on sacred scripture which was another thing which stunned the Sisters. Mary Bedford was up to date in theology and scripture studies.

While the Sisters were standing there admiring the view from the prie-dieu – an item sourced from a medieval abbey in the north of England, Mary Bedford pointed out to them the corner of the garden from where everyday, weather permitting, she would spend time seated in prayer. This corner was her meditation seat.

Where we are standing now is the very spot on which Mary Bedford spent time praying to God and thanking God for the beautiful view which she had the good fortune to share.

Mary Bedford and Lilian Cooper met in their 20s in Rochester, Kent. Mary Josephine Bedford was visiting her aunt and uncle who lived not far from Rochester Cathedral. Lilian Cooper’s family lived in Rochester. Mary was visiting from Notting Hill in London.

She and Lilian Cooper shared a burning desire to go to university. Mary Bedford’s parents would not allow her to leave the family home and Lilian Cooper was determined to become a doctor, a profession not readily accessible to women.

It was Mary Bedford who aided and abetted Lilian Cooper in achieving this ambition. The two of them moved to London and lived at 21 Guilford Street, Russell Square. Lilian studied medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women and the Royal Free Hospital. Mary Josephine enrolled to do an art course at the Slade School, University College, just behind the British Museum. Her parents approved of her choice of study – it was befitting a lady.

After completing her course, Mary Bedford became heavily involved in Coram Fields, a home and hospital for foundling children which featured a playground for children. Adults could only enter this playground if accompanied by a child.

In 1891, Mary Bedford and Lilian Cooper sailed for Brisbane. Their first home was in Russell Street, South Brisbane; six years later they moved into The Mansions on George Street. Later the pair  moved into Auckland House further along George Street, on the corner of Mary Street.

World War I found them serving behind the front lines in Serbia as part of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals teams. While Lilian Cooper handled the surgical side of things, while Mary Bedford was in charge of the transport column ensuring that the ambulances were kept running. She was known as “Miss Spare Parts.”

Dr Lilian Cooper, however, was not well. They travelled by train to Le Havre and caught the boat back to England, arriving in London, Sept 7, 1917. They travelled to Edinburgh and gave their report to the Scottish Women’s Hospital Board.

Both women spent time with their families before embarking for the sea voyage back to Australia, arriving just in Brisbane in April, 1918 just in time to take part in the Anzac procession on the 25th.

In 1926, they purchased Old St Mary’s, 421 Main Street, Kangaroo Point, a house built as the Rectory of the first Anglican Church in that area.

Lilian Cooper died on 18 August, 1947 and Mary Bedford wished to perpetuate the memory of her great friend by establishing a hospice for the incurably ill and the sick poor especially those in their twilight years.

She offered Old St Mary’s to the Sisters of Charity, saw the Foundation Stone laid and watched Mount Olivet grow up around her.

Mary Bedford died on 22 December 1955. Her funeral service was held on Christmas Eve and was attended by the Sisters of the Charity. Always, Mary Bedford was adamant that her property with its magnificent view of the Brisbane River was not to be used for the high-end of town – it was to be for the sick poor only.


Caption for group shot: Sr Kathleen Munce, Sr Margaret Beirne, Sr Cate O’Brien, Sr Jeannie Johnston, Sr Judith Clark, Sr Patricia Heenan, Sr Mathilde Harnischfeger, Sr Carmel Coyle, and Sr Margaret Mines. In the rear, SVPH Brisbane CEO Daniele Doyle and Peter Williams, Director of Clinical and Support Services.

For more on the establishment of the hospital which would become St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Brisbane, click here. http://www.sistersofcharity.org.au/what-we-do/sisters-stories/mother-giovanni-ackman/

St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Brisbane: 60 years of compassionate service media release here.

When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
What we do ought to be done well.

The Sisters of Charity acknowledge the First Peoples and traditional custodians of this land where we live. We respect, value and honour their history, culture and spirituality. We are committed to standing in solidarity and to actively working for justice, peace and harmony in this land.

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