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Mater Pharmacy history

by Sr Mercia Mary

When Mater Public opened on 2 February 1911, there was no official dispensary. What is now the Matron's Office then served as a place where casualties could be seen. A few general stock mixtures were held under the direction of the matron and doctor. Mr W. Lenihan, senior chemist, Stanley Street, gave his service to the hospital and kept stock bottles filled. He usually spent Sunday morning on the job.

In 1914, when the casualty ward and outpatient building were constructed, a small room was set up by Mr Lenihan as a dispensary. He, or one of his shop assistants, gave three afternoons a week to the main dispensing. Various sisters—Sr M. Lucien, Xaviera, Augusta, Joachim and Sr M. Christopher—rendered assitance. When Mr Lenihan's son qualified as a chemist he took over his father's place until 1926, when a qualified chemist entered into religion.

This person was me—Sr Mercia Mary. I spent nearly 12 months as a postulant, going into AHC at night and working in the dispensary by day. For several years, while I boarded at All Hallow's, I had performed odd jobs during the weekends when not otherwise engaged. In 1927 I worked at the outpatients dispensary with Mr Lenihan.

During my canonical year (1928), Mr Lenihan Junior once more came to the assistance of the hospital and did the dispensing, with the help of Sr M Christopher.

I recommenced work at the dispensary after a further year of biochemistry laboratory work at Brisbane General Hospital Laboratories. Mr Lenihan handed over in May 1930.

In 1930 I continued to work at the dispensary doing part-time dispensing and part-time laboratory work. I had to go to All Hallow's two afternoons and on Saturday mornings to teach chemistry to the girls and sisters. Sr M Chanel came as a partner most times.

M Alban and I had been considering the opening of a pharmacy at Mater Private Hospital, but nothing was concluded. I had to travel to Ireland in the first half of 1930. The hospital's intentions, however, were leaked to the Pharmacy Board and immediate action had to be taken. Negotiations were begun under the direction of Sr M Callista, Superior. Since a pharmacy must, by law, be under the supervision of a qualified chemist, I signed the necessary documents. I was granted permission to open a pharmacy under my name. This happened on 1 July 1930 and was situated in what is now the top pantry, opposite lift 70. Margaret Kidner, who had just qualified as a chemist, took over the work at the outpatient's dispensary.

Initially there were only two pharmacy staff. I did the dispensing and M Pollard, a girl who had commenced pharmacy studies but had not taken her exams, did the counter work, bottles and helped with the books. Two years later Sr M Seraphim joined the staff to do the books and be there when I had to go to biochemistry and All Hallow's. During my absences, the pharmacy had to be closed for dispensing. Margaret Kidner came up and did any urgent work. I did the intravenous work—making all the blood transfusion solutions and intravenous fluids for the public and operating room—at night.

This state of affairs continued until the present Sisters' Refectory was built during M de Chantal's time, when the pharmacy was moved to its present location. A chemist, Lexie Forbes, was engaged to take my place while I was at All Hallow's. M Pollard had left a short time before this.

Work was increasing in both the pharmacy and biochemical fields. Sr M Chanel and myself paid another visit to All Hallow's, asking for sisters to train. After some time the request was granted for two sisters to be in pharmacy. On 18 January 1937 Sisters M Agnese and Conrad came from All Hallows to commence their apprenticeship. At this time, Margaret Kidner had resigned from the public to be married and another chemist, Ena Conolly, was brought onboard. She agreed to oversee Sr M Agnese's apprenticeship and signed articles to the effect. Sr M Conrad was apprenticed to me and served her time at the pharmacy.

Sisters Agnese and Conrad qualified after four and a half years and continued working in their respective pharmacies, allowing me more time for biochemistry. Sr M Alpheus was now in a position to take over the teaching of chemistry at All Hallow's, so I stopped going there. I sent Sr M Conrad to assist for a while, keeping on Lexie Forbes for times when she was absent. I taught practical advanced chemistry to Sisters M Alpheus, Conrad and Agnese on Saturday afternoons for about 18 months.

At this time there were no more sisters available for training. Secular apprentices were taken until January 1950 when two more sisters—Sisters M Margarita and Marie Therese—were sent to Mater to train as pharmacists. They completed their exams and gained their qualifications at the end of 1953. Sr M Margarita volunteered for a New Guinea mission and Sr M Therese took charge of the outpatient's dispensary. She did her fellowhship.

Carmen Coffey, who had served her apprenticeship under her father, MP Coffey, joined shortly after. Sr M Duschesne assisted at the outpatient dispensary. Mary Johnson, who served her apprenticeship at the outpatient's dispensary, qualified and entered. At the time of writing she is in her noviceship.

When Mater Mothers' Hospital opened a new pharmacy had to be equipped. This pharmacy only serves public patients. Preparations for private patients are sent to Mater Private Pharmacy, where Sr M Agnese directs the work.

At present, public work is serviced on clinic days from the laboratory under Sr M Conrad, or from the outpatient's dispensary under Sr M Duschesne. Assistance is rendered by unqualified help. 

Apprentices who have qualified:

  • Cladys Lee
  • Maric Murphy (entered Holy Spirit)
  • Pat Hitzke
  • Gene Ploetz
  • Justine Simmonds
  • Jeanette Trower
  • Jill Dyer (entered Fransciscans, left there)
  • H Dwyer
  • Mary Johnson
  • J Nolan
  • Joan Mortan