Friday, 05 April 2013 11:59

Walking in the Footsteps of Dr Mary Glowrey

Written by  Fr Dan Strickland MGL
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pilgrimageindia 250What a wonderful experience!  An unexpected pilgrimage to India to witness the declaration of the beginning of the Diocesan Inquiry for the cause for canonisation of the woman who may become Australia’s second Saint: Sr Dr Mary Glowrey JMJ.  A medical doctor, and founding president of what is now the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria & Wagga Wagga, Mary left her thriving practice in Melbourne in 1920 to serve as a medical missionary and consecrated women in Guntur, India.  Until 6 years ago, I had never heard of this woman who spent 37 years of her life in medical service to the people of India.  I certainly had no real idea of what I was becoming a part of at that time, when I was asked to contribute to the early stages of research and writing on her life and mission.  This culminated in a phone call I received shortly before Easter, with the question: “How would you like to go to India?”  It seems the Holy Spirit was moving mountains!  Mary Glowrey was to be declared a Servant of God, a significant step on the path to canonisation.  The declaration was to occur during Holy Week, in Guntur, India, and I was being asked to attend the historic event on behalf of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Thus began a crazy five days of preparation to get ready for the journey.  When myself and Jewell Start, current president of the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria Wagga Wagga, boarded the plane for India, in the late hours of Palm Sunday, we began what was to be a whirlwind week of events that would draw us more profoundly into the life of Dr Sr Mary Glowrey, and a deeper appreciation of the faith and love that led Mary to offer her life to Jesus in the way that she did.

After a long flight, Jewell and I were greeted in the hot and humid city of Hyderabad, a sprawling place of nearly 8 million people, by the beaming faces of Sisters Fatima and Alphonse Mary, sisters from the JMJ Provincialate.  JMJ, or Jesus Mary and Joseph, is the community of consecrated women that Mary Glowrey joined shortly after her arrival in India.  The sisters whisked us away to their convent, and introduced us to that beautiful Indian hospitality, food and warmth that was to become a hallmark of our time there.  

A good night’s sleep and our morning tour of Hyderabad over, we flew on the afternoon of our second day to Vijayawada,  a fast developing city in South-East India and the closest airport to the Mother House of the JMJ sisters in India.  Welcomed with a traditional Indian greeting ceremony, we joined the sisters for prayer at their home in the town of Mangalagiri.

Day 3 dawned bright and hot, and beckoned us to the pilgrimage part of our journey.  We made the hour and half drive past motorbikes, cows, trucks and cars to the city of Guntur, where nearly a hundred years ago Mary Glowrey had started a small clinic to begin the mammoth task of treating the medical needs of the people of that area, and in particular the needs of pregnant women. The tiny clinic is still there, along with the dispensary, lovingly maintained and still in use for the purpose that Mary originally intended it.  The furniture that Mary uses remains largely in place, and still stores medication, papers and instruments.  Her examining table too remains, and is still used to examine patients even today.  St Joseph’s General Hospital, founded by Mary, has of course grown and developed enormously since her time, but it remains solidly connected to its founder, her spirit and her love.  Our pilgrim journey encompassed the parish church she would pray in, and the same statue of the Sacred Heart that inspired her to take the name Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart.  It all evoked for me that wonderful tangible, distinctly sacramental character of our Catholic faith: the opportunity to connect in a physical way, to touch, smell, feel and hear the sights and sounds that Mary must have experienced as she woke each morning to the heat of the Indian sun, walked the dusty paths between chapel, clinic and home, struggled with the things that we all struggle with in our journeys of faith, and ultimately returned each evening to draw from prayer the strength and love she needed to continue on.

pilgrimageindia 350The evening of the 3rd day was the main event—the outdoor Chrism Mass, celebrated with the Bishop of Guntur diocese, the Most Rev Dr Gali Bali, in the town of Phirangipurum.  This mass formed the context within which the official declaration of Dr Mary Glowrey as Servant of God would occur, and the diocesan phase of her canonisation process would begin.  Thus it was that in the presence of some 7000 people, including over 400 JMJ sisters gathered from throughout India, that the declaration was made.  It was for me a deeply moving and humbling experience to be a part of, marked with the love and prayerfulness that I came to appreciate from the people I met during my time there, as well as that genuine joy that is always a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The final part of our journey involved a lightening trip on Day 4 to Bangalore, known at one time for its gardens but now perhaps more for its burgeoning IT industry.  Amidst ancient trees and a setting sun on that Holy Thursday, we gathered at the grave of Mary Glowrey.  Prayers were offered, candles lit and flowers gently laid in that place of peace, just minutes before we began the sacred liturgies of the Easter Triduum.  Mary spent her final months in the cooler climate of Bangalore, suffering from the cancer to which she finally succumbed in 1957.  There seemed something eminently appropriate about our connection with her at the place where her final ‘Passion’ came to its end at the time where liturgically, for us, the Lord’s Passion was about to begin.

The process of Dr Mary Glowrey’s canonisation will no doubt continue to unfold in these coming years.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to be present at the declaration Mass in Guntur, and for the opportunity to connect in a physical way with the places and people that formed her life and work there.  It is my own prayer that this will become a place of pilgrimage for many from Australia in the years to come: for people inspired by Mary’s medical work, those touched by her life of love, faith and generosity, and those looking for a deeper encounter with God’s love in the midst of the circumstances of their own lives.

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