BIRTHDAY presents are a yearly occurrence so it was an “amazing” surprise when Mercy Sister Angela Mary Doyle received a belated gift worth $1 million last week.
The first and former administrator of Brisbane’s Mater Hospital for 21 years turned 95 in August and, to celebrate, her close friends and philanthropists Maha Sinnathamby and Bob Sharpless gave her a late gift worth $1 million.
Mr Sinnathamby and Mr Sharpless are the pair behind the fast-growing development of Greater Springfield, and already donated a record $6.5 million to the Mater in honour of Sr Doyle’s birthday on August 19.
That donation, which was the largest received by Mater Hospital, was given to spearhead medical research at the hospital.
This time, the pair marked Sr Doyle’s birthday with a further $1 million to put towards the cause closest to her heart at this hour – turning her former convent into a “sanctuary” for families battling postnatal depression.
That was on top of the “wonderful” donation she received the week before.
“A week ago, somebody else gave me $500,000 for the same thing,” Sr Doyle said.
“I’m very conscious of the need to do something about what one of our obstetricians called ‘an epidemic of unrecognised pain, sadness and morbidity’.
“(It’s) something which makes a mother … feel that she’s a bad mother.
“She’s not able to cope, she doesn’t sleep at night, she doesn’t eat, and she gets more and more depressed and she begins to think that she’s a bad mother and that the baby would be better off without her.
“And that’s a dreadful situation and it’s something that we want to prevent happening.” Despite having retired as leader of the Mater years ago, Sr Doyle’s faith and the witness of Christ helping those who don’t even ask won’t let her stop caring for others.
When she learnt of the rising rates of postnatal depression, she and other health professionals at the Mater wondered what could be done to support mothers in need.
The solution brought her to tears.
“When the chairman of the board said one day, we are looking at the Mater convent to look after these mothers, it brought tears to my eyes,” Sr Doyle said.
“I thought, what a wonderful place.”
The Mater Family Wellbeing Unit will be built in a section of the heritage-listed convent that can be demolished.
It will be for all mothers, not just those admitted to the hospital, with access to professional and medical support, and in serious cases, a livein option for husbands and children.
“We want to make it a warm and loving place with the best professionals, psychological help, psychiatric help if needed, and really the purpose of it is to convince the mother that she is a good mother and just to restore her self-confidence and give her any help that she might need and encourage her on the way,” Sr Doyle said.
“It will be a very pleasant situation for her, as pleasant as can possibly be made.”
Former Mater nurse Krystal Lording knows how important a sanctuary can be for mothers.
Six years ago she gave birth to twins, becoming a mother-of-three overnight.
She was exhausted and deep down she knew something wasn’t right.
“It got to the point where life was very, very hard and it was really a visit by a child health nurse that came to see us one day and she did the screening tool with me, and my mum was there,” Mrs Lording said.
“She said, ‘You need to take Krystal to her GP today’.
“That prompt got me to see my GP and a referral to a social worker and starting on medical treatment as well, which really helped me feel better.”
Mrs Lording said while she was formally diagnosed with postnatal depression after the birth of her twins, she suspected she had the condition with her first-born son.
“It’s very, very hard to make that first step; I think that’s why a lot of women go undiagnosed,” she said.
“Being a mum is sometimes not the easiest job in the world and with the added complexities of post-natal depression sometimes we just need that extra support.
“I think a service like this just gives mums, and I guess families as a whole, just an opportunity to get the support and the guidance that they need.”
Motherhood is close to Sr Doyle’s heart.
Although she’s never had children, she’s been a spiritual mother since the age of 21, when she first sailed out to Australia to join the Mercy Sisters.
For decades she lived out her spiritual motherhood with tens of other women at the Mater convent, located at the top end of the Mater hospital.
“We were a nurturing group,” Sr Doyle said.
“We lived here under very simple conditions, very simple.
“We got up at 5.15 every morning, and we mightn’t get to bed until about 11 or 11.30 at night.
“We prayed for the patients always, that they would get better, because they stayed in a long time in the early days, for weeks and weeks.
“We got to know them, we got to know the husband and the wives and the families.
“We had no outside interests, whatsoever – we never went anywhere except to see the eye specialist or the dentist, that’s about all.
“We were concentrating totally on the patients.”
God willing, by the end of 2022, the nurturing life that once lived within the walls of the Mercy convent will live on in the Mater Family Wellbeing Unit.
“It’s for the family because it affects everybody, and ultimately it affects society because family makes up society,” Sr Doyle said.
“We never, ever thought this would be its purpose, but actually Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, began in Dublin by looking after mothers and women in trouble.
“And all the sisters that ever lived in the Mater convent are absolutely thrilled, to think that’s the new use.
“We could never have imagined it.” Finances were always going to be a battle for the project, which is expected to cost the hospital more than $15 million.
There are lights to be fixed, not to mention the plumbing works required, so every donation counts.
So far the hospital has raised more than $11 million, and the latest million-dollar gift has given Sr Doyle great hope for the future.
“A million dollars – it’s amazing,” Sr Doyle said.
“What a million dollars will do for us is that it gives us heart; we know that we will have enough money.
“One of the doctors here had said that it can be a sanctuary.
“I would love to think that it can be a sanctuary for these mothers that need help, so much, to be welcomed and to be cared for.
“That’s what a mother does, she cares.”