SVHT_external-building-image_2011The sprawling St Vincent’s Private Hospital Toowoomba is, these days, a bastion of the Darling Downs community.

This is a far cry from earlier times when the Sisters of Charity struggled to find the necessary funds to finance the hospital’s construction.

The first Sisters of Charity arrived in Australia on December 31, 1838. It was 82 years later, after the order had founded hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, that Mother Mary Berchmans Daly inquired whether Toowoomba would be a suitable resting place for invalid Sisters of Charity.

Right Reverend Monsignor Dennis J Fouhy, who became a legend during 27 years at St Patrick’s, replied positively and added that there was a “great need” for a Catholic hospital in Toowoomba.

001553Fouhy donated generously to the project and encouraged the townspeople to follow his example only to find that, after 12 months, just 3000 of the 20,000 pounds needed to construct the first wing of the hospital had been raised.

Yet with Mother Berchmans skillfully handling negotiations, land was purchased, architects and a building constructor were engaged and the hospital’s foundation stone was laid on May 22, 1921. Within three months, the funds were nearly exhausted and building was in danger of being terminated until Monsignor Fouhy guaranteed a bank advance of 10,000 pounds. This enabled construction to continue and a three-storeyed section of the eastern wing, facing Scott Street, was officially ‘opened’ on November 19, 1922 by Dr Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne.

With finance continuing to be a major concern, the hospital remained closed until Mother Mary Canice Bruton, who was said to be overconfident, admitted four patients on March 1, 1923. Her action was a surprise to her superiors because the hospital was still in dire financial straits, with the constructor, among others, demanding back payments. However, increasing patient numbers and enthusiastic fundraising endeavors enabled new nurses’ quarters to be opened in 1927 and a steam laundry followed two years later.

Although the depression of the 1930s and World War II were most challenging, the hospital went through a period of consolidation. This led to a growth phase in the 1950s when a maternity wing, a children’s ward, additional nursing accommodation, a new chapel and operating theatres where constructed.

In April 1965, when a new surgical block was commissioned, the then St Vincent’s Rectress Sister Mary Paul Diamond stated that the hospital was debt free. Over following years, the hospital’s facilities were upgraded and improvements featured the erection of a five-storeyed wing, which included four operating theatres and a day surgery unit. There was another significant development in the mid-1990s when a new western wing was completed at a cost of $28 million.

Around that time, the hospital’s land and buildings were transferred from the Sisters of Charity to Sisters of Charity Healthcare Australia and then, in 2009, came under the ownership of Mary Aikenhead Ministries. The hospital’s services now include medical, surgical, maternity, paediatric, intensive care and emergency along with pathology, radiology and pharmacy, which are available onsite.

Words by Graeme Kelly | Images by Alexandra Lawson