Sister act

Brisbane's Mater Convent will be transformed into a wellbeing service for new mums.

When Sister Angela Mary arrived in Brisbane from Ireland in 1948 to join the Sisters of Mercy community in Australia, her purpose was clear: to provide educational, religious and social services to women and children in need.

More than 70 years later, at the age of 95, Sister Angela Mary is still fulfilling that purpose.

The Mater Convent, which was home to the Sisters of Mercy from 1927 until 2015, will be transformed into the world-class Mater Family Wellbeing Service dedicated to providing much-needed mental health services to new mothers.

“When Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin her concern was for women, and it’s extraordinary that in this convent we’re going to go back to where it all began – helping women in need,” Sister Angela Mary said.

“Myself, and the sisters who lived here, are absolutely thrilled it’s going to such an extraordinary use.”

In Australia, suicide is a leading cause of death of women during pregnancy and within a year of giving birth. 

Currently, there is just one public four-bed mother-and-baby mental health unit in Queensland at the Gold Coast University Hospital. 

The significant need for inpatient mental health services for women with a diagnosed perinatal mental health disorder, as well as services to support new parents, has been long recognised by the Mater Mothers’ Hospital team. 

Siser Angela Mary, Greg McGahan and Lesley Ray.

Sister Angela Mary, Greg McGahan and Lesley Ray overlooking plans for the Mater Family Wellbeing Service. Photos: JAKE RYAN

“Mater has a long history of working with mothers, babies and families,” Mater Mental Health and Young Adult Senior Manager Greg McGahan said.

 “Mater delivers about 10,000 babies each year and is Australia’s biggest birthing hospital by far, and we know from talking to the mothers and families that come through our service that in Queensland we’re underdone when it comes to mothers who might have post-natal depression or anxiety. 

“Around one in five mothers develop a post-natal disorder of some sort – not all of those will require hospitalisation, so we’re trying to develop a spectrum of care here where we’ll have outpatient models and parent support models, right through to acute inpatient type facilities as well.”

Work will begin on transforming the Heritage-listed Mater Convent into the Mater Family Wellbeing Service in 2021. The original part of the convent, built in 1927, will be restored into a contemporary facility to support families, mothers and babies. 

Mater Foundation Director of Philanthropy Lesley Ray said the same architectural firm that refurbished the original Mater Public Hospital – Conrad Gargett – had been commissioned for the project which has been funded by generous philanthropists.

A further $6 million, however, was needed to complete the first phase of development, she said.

Click here to support the development of the Mater Family Wellbeing Service visit 
materfoundation.org.au.

If you or someone you know needs support: PANDA 1300 726306, Parentline 1300 301300, Beyond Blue 1300 224636.