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Mater convent to become nation’s largest Mother Baby unit for post-natal depression

New centre for women: Suicide is the leading cause of death for perinatal, post-natal women.”

PLANS to turn the former convent for the Brisbane Sisters of Mercy into Queensland’s largest centre for mothers suffering from postnatal depression should be completed by the end of 2022.

Former head of Mater Hospital Brisbane, the iconic Mercy Sister Angela Mary Doyle, said during a virtual event in Brisbane that work was underway to open the Mother Baby Family unit in November 2022.

“Mater will build a world class mother and baby unit, and change the future for thousands of Queensland families,” Sr Doyle said.

“Our mothers deserve nothing less.”

The update was shared during the Women’s Night of Spirituality, which has been hosted by the St Ignatius Parish, Toowong for 13 years but was livestreamed last month due to the coronavirus.

Sr Doyle said the centre would be the largest in Australia, and open to all mothers in Queensland, not just those who have given birth at the Mater.

She said postnatal depression was a silent but “tragic” problem in society, and quoting the Mater’s director of Mothers, Babies and Women’s Health “an epidemic of unrecognised sadness, pain and morbidity”.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for perinatal, post-natal women,” Sr Doyle said.

The legendary nun shared her joy at the plans to develop the centre on the site of her old convent, which she had called home since she was a newly-arrived 22 year old Sister of Mercy.

“Since 1927, hundreds of Sisters of Mercy have lived out their lives in loving devotion to their patients,” Sr Doyle said.

“Those who have lived there…are absolutely thrilled that our one time home is to become a loving, welcoming centre for families in need.”

Sr Doyle said the project would place the Sister of Mercy convent back to the original work of its founder, Catherine McAuley.

“It’s interesting that Catherine McCauley started off in Dublin looking after mothers, they were out in the streets, they had no skills, they had no money, no place to live and she started with mothers and children,” Sr Doyle said.

The project was tipped to cost the Mater Hospital $14 million, but Sr Doyle said with support from the community, $11 million had already been raised.

A generous donor has also given $50,000 to fund a research program that focuses on projects that would give parents and their newborns the best start to life.

Born in Ireland, Sr Doyle arrived in Brisbane in 1947 in what she presumed would be a life of teaching as a Sister of Mercy.

But six months after her arrival, she was called to train as a nurse for the Mater Misericordiae, a hospital founded by her congregation.

“I dreaded what my reaction might be should I see blood, but I spent six consecutive years in operating theatres, where I found that my focus shifted from myself to being as helpful as possible to the surgeon so that the unconscious patient there on the bed would receive the best attention and be returned well to her room,” Sr Doyle said.

She was 18 years a nurse when “there came another blow from the blue” – she was appointed as administrator of three mater hospitals.

“I protested but to no avail,” she said.

Sr Doyle went on to be the face of some of Queensland’s most important health pursuits, including the Mater Hospital’s contribution to research and care of HIV patients.

Today it is one of the leading centres for antenatal and perinatal care, including offering the country’s only fetal surgery for unborn babies with spina bifida.

While there are no Sisters working in the hospital now, Sr Doyle said the Mater continued to carry on the work of Catherine McAuley.

“The Mater exists to follow the example of Christ the healer, who could never walk past someone in need without stopping to help, often without even being asked,” she said.

“He healed simply because there was a need there and then.

“If we are sincere Christians, we have no choice but to follow his example.”

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