Archived News Item

Blessing of Mater centenary artwork: Embrace

Brisbane Sisters of Mercy celebrated Catherine McAuley’s anniversary of death on Tuesday November 11, 2008 with the blessing by Bishop Brian Finnigan of the Mater centenary artwork – Embrace – which acknowledges the contribution of the 263 Sisters of Mercy who have ministered in the Mater Hospitals since the first hospital was opened in 1906.

As we stood in the grounds of today’s Mater Health Services for the blessing these words of Mother Patrick Potter, who was Reverend Mother in 1906 when the first Mater was opened in Brisbane, stood in stark contrast to what the Mater has now grown to – four private and three public hospitals, a medical research institute, specialist medical suites and a number of ancillary health and community services:

“You heard, I daresay, that we opened a private hospital at North Quay in the beginning of the year and so far it is doing well. Sister Mary Felix is in charge of it and she has with her six Sisters for nursing and two certificated secular nurses. This, I hope, is the beginning of a big work that will do much good…” (Letter of Mother Patrick Potter, February 27, 1906)

The artist, Madeleine Browne, in her words at the blessing, sums up beautifully the contribution that the sisters have made to the Mater over the years:

"As a product myself of a Mercy education, I have a great respect for the strength of the sisters. As young women at All Hallows, we were educated to become women with a strong sense of charity, fairness, intelligence and independence. These strengths were so obvious to me as I began to read at the beginning of this year about the establishment of the Mater Hospital.

"When I was commissioned to design this work I began to write a list of words that I wanted to be reflected in the piece. On my list were: strength, femininity, calm, shelter, dignity, embrace. The final title of the work, ‘Embrace’, came from what to me was the most striking aspect of the work that the Mercies set out to do with the establishment of the Mater: to provide care for all who needed it, regardless of race, religion or wealth.

"To take this attitude at this time in history, in the early years of a colony where so much depended on wealth or lack of it, where women weren’t supposed to be leaders anyway, shows a strength that goes above and beyond the fashion of the day. The Mercy sisters who have been involved ever since the hospital’s inception followed in those very courageous footsteps.

"I wanted the work to be similarly welcoming, to draw the viewer in and envelope them, to invite touch and further exploration. It was also important to me to retain a ‘handmade’ feel, to correspond with the sisters’ hands-on approach. Each of the 263 names in the piece has been handwritten on paper in my best estimation of copperplate, laid into place and rewritten to create the links that hold the piece together."

After the blessing the celebrations continued with afternoon tea being served by Mater Health Services to all the guests on the veranda of the Mater Medical Research Institute which overlooks the artwork.

From: Sister Elizabeth O’Keefe RSM (Local Communications Facilitator, Brisbane)