1911 - 1940

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Mater’s healthcare moves into the public sector

On 2 February 1911, five years after the Sisters of Mercy opened the first Mater Private Hospital at North Quay, Mater Public Hospital opened. The 40-bed hospital was opened without fanfare or special celebrations and it was supported by fundraising and the proceeds generated by Mater Private Hospital. Many doctors volunteered to serve at the public hospital. In its first ten years, Mater attracted many of Brisbane’s distinguished doctors to its honorary staff. The hospital remained in operation until 1981, when the new Mater Adult Hospital was opened.

The following year, Mater was registered as a training school for nurses and the first 14 secular probationers entered the formal training school for nurses in 1914, with the completion of St Mary's Nurses Home, to ensure an adequate supply of nurses with appropriate qualifications. The Sisters of Mercy nurses were trained separately at Mater Private Hospital.

In July 1912 the Mater Public Hospital outpatient department opened in its own specially built brick building. The service treated 1440 people in its first six months. The influx was partly a result of the closure of the government’s South Brisbane ‘depot’ where needy people were able to access both medical care and other necessities.

Two years later in 1914, extensions to the surgical ward at Mater Public Hospital were completed, just in time to care for soldiers returning from World War I. Twenty beds were made available for soldiers, as Mater worked to provide healthcare during a time of financial strain. During the war, appeals to the public were suspended and many of Mater’s staff were on war service; all contributing to, as Mother Patrick Potter stated ‘slender resources.’

Tags: Mater Adult Hospital, Mother Patrick Potter, World War I

Securing financial assistance

In its first three years of operation, Mater Public Hospital provided care to more than 3000 inpatients, without any financial support from the government. The Sisters of Mercy set out to change this situation, and after much work, in June 1913 Mother Patrick Potter secured a £1000 grant for Mater. By 1916, funding for the hospital came from patient fees, donations, government subsidies and community contributions.

The government’s annual £1000 subsidy did not increase, despite the increasing number of patients cared for at Mater. Mother Patrick Potter would again appeal for further funds, and again, she proved successful—securing £2000 to support patient care at Mater.

This funding would be stretched by the Spanish influenza, which would result in St Laurence’s School (adjacent to Mater) becoming a special flu hospital to help cater for the outbreak. Only three of Mater’s trainee nurses avoided the illness, which took a significant toll on staff, but also finances. Some relief came in 1920, when the State Labor Government announced that Mater Public Hospital would receive part proceeds from the Government’s Golden Casket Art Union on the same basis as other public hospitals.

In the midst of the Spanish Flu epidemic, Queensland’s first hospital laboratory was established at Mater by Dr J. Duhig and Sr Mary Chanel England. During the 1920s, the laboratory was essential in aiding diagnoses of many conditions, prompting Sr Mary Chanel to highlight the importance of scientific work saying that while it is ‘costly and shows no immediate cash return’, medical science is worthy of ‘generous endowment.’

Tags: Mother Patrick Potter, Spanish influenza

Expansion on Mater Hill

On 15 August 1925, Archbishop of Brisbane James Duhig laid the Foundation Stone for the Mater chapel and convent building. The slightly easier financial climate of the 1920s enabled the Sisters to build a permanent chapel which was to be at the heart of the Mercy Mission at Mater. Highly regarded architectural firm, Hall and Dods, which designed the Mater Private Hospital building, was consulted, even though they had moved from Brisbane to Sydney. The following year, in December 1926, Mater Private Hospital chapel and convent building opened. The building was attached to the western end of Mater Private Hospital. 

Tags: Mater Convent, Mater Private Hospital

Meeting the healthcare needs of children

By the mid-1920s, the Sisters of Mercy were providing healthcare services to adults via Mater Private Hospital and Mater Public Hospital.

However, Mother Patrick Potter was determined to build a children’s hospital to meet the healthcare needs of Brisbane’s growing population. A contract to build the hospital for 50 000 pounds was signed with F.J Corbett and Sons.

Hall and Prentice —the architectural firm who designed the original Mater Private Hospital—were again called upon for the children’s hospital, with a proviso by the Sisters that every effort be made to source building materials and equipment locally.

The dream of Mother Patrick Potter, after whom the hospital was eventually named, was to build an 80-bed modern public hospital, complete with medical and surgical beds, a nursery for ill babies and an operating theatre.

On 24 May 1926, Mother Patrick Potter watched the foundation stone being laid, before construction commenced the following year. Because of financial constraints, construction of the building was limited to one-half of what had been intended, with provision being allowed for completion at a future date. Sadly, Mother Patrick Potter passed away in November 1927, and would not see Mater Children’s Hospital open.

On 10 May 1931, almost five years to the day after the foundation stone was laid, Mater Children’s Hospital officially opened, dedicated as a memorial to Mother Patrick Potter. On 6 July 1931, Mater Children's Hospital opened its doors to patients. Every bed was immediately occupied, and more than 8200 patients were treated in its first year of operation.

Tags: Mater Children’s Hospital, Mother Patrick Potter

Expanding the provision of care

In 1928, Mater Public Hospital installed Queensland’s first deep x-ray therapy machine to treat cancer patients. In 1930, the new unit treated 94 cancer patients by radiation therapy and a further 122 by deep x-ray. This same year, the first Mater Pharmacy opened. At the time, Queensland law required pharmacies to be owned by pharmacists so the pharmacy was registered in the secular name of Sister Mercia Mary Higgins—the Sisters’ only qualified pharmacist.

In 1937, the Mater Private Hospital eastern wing was officially opened and blessed by Archbishop of Brisbane James Duhig. The following year, in 1938, Brisbane Lawyer, John P Kelly, was appointed as Chairman of the newly established Mater Public Hospital Medical Board. This was a position he would hold for more than 40 years.

Mater Health Services would like to acknowledge Helen Gregory, author of Expressions of Mercy. Mater has used information, as appropriate, from this publication to support the creation of this website.