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Given for love - Rosie Hoban

Marcelle Mogg’s business card reads long. She is the Organisational Mission & Learning Manager, St Vincent’s Health Australia—the organisation that encompasses many health and aged care facilities including the St Vincent’s hospitals in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Sisters of Charity, the religious order founded by Mary Aikenhead almost 200 years ago, began these great health institutions. Marcelle’s job is to ensure Mary Aikenhead’s mission and spirit lives on.

While the story of the Sisters of Charity in Ireland and the beginnings of their work in Australia is compelling, driven by pioneering women and stories of courage and adversity, Mary Aikenhead’s mission was always clear. Marcelle believes her mission is as important now as it was when the Sisters first came to Australia in 1838 to serve the poor.

‘We strive for best practice care in our health facilities, but we do it as a Catholic ministry and as an act of faith. When we look after patients who are homeless or in prison, we do it because it is the humane way to act. But more importantly, we do it because each person is made in the image of God.’

Sounds simple, but it’s a challenging job in a largely secular workforce. Marcelle said most people of different faith traditions understand and respect the mission. All staff, board members and volunteers are asked to be open to the mission and to help it flourish in the care of people.

‘Many people who have been treated at one of our hospitals or aged care facilities tell us that there is something different about St Vincent’s and how we treat our patients. I think it is because our people understand why we do what we do and that the mission, handed down to us by the Sisters of Charity, is that difference.’

Measuring this difference is an issue currently occupying Marcelle. She is looking at how the mission and values are handed on to staff and board members and if these values make any measureable difference to a patient’s experience of St Vincent’s health and aged care services.

‘In one way, the outcome of these questions doesn’t matter to the patient: what’s important is that we are clear in our intention. We have to constantly ask ourselves why, as a Catholic ministry, we are in health care. Why, for example, do we still offer health care to prisoners? We do it, not because it is a profitable area of health care, but because we want to ensure that the quality of care is maintained and that these people, no matter what their crime, are treated with dignity because they are made in the image of God.’

Many Sisters of Charity are still involved in health care and work alongside lay staff to ensure the mission guides all decisions, from policy development and staff recruitment to clinical practice.

Marcelle’s past careers have provided the ideal training for her current work. She trained as a nurse at Australian Catholic University; worked at nearby St Vincent’s Public Hospital after her graduation; worked with the Marists on lay leadership formation then ran their Retreat Centre in Macedon before moving to edit Jesuit Communications’ Australian Catholics magazine, and Eureka Street. In 2006, Marcelle returned to St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne to head up the mission office. Along the way she has studied pastoral care and spiritual direction.

In her current role, Marcelle gets to ask those questions and is constantly inspired by the responses she receives. Witnessing staff argue passionately for a patient’s care often reveals a deep understanding of the mission. Regardless of a staff member’s faith background they are involved in a formation program. All programs, policies and staff orientation programs refer to the organisational mission and values as well as St Vincent’s history. ‘We have mapped all our formation programs and we work hard to make the programs realistic and to give them life. We realise that we do not have it all covered and that we can’t just talk about mission and values—we have to weave them into everything we do.’

Apart from influencing how patients are treated, Marcelle believes that the organisation’s Catholic identity and mission make it better able to advocate for the most vulnerable patients. This can sometimes mean ‘going in to bat’ for a service or program because the mission demands that it be provided.

Two examples are Tierney House in Sydney and Sr Francesca Healy Cottage in Melbourne. These two residences provide accommodation for patients being treated at a St Vincent’s hospital, but who are also experiencing periods of homelessness. They need specific care and can be supported by other hospital service teams while receiving this treatment. ‘Initially, our hospitals ran these two facilities at their own cost. We had to fund these places because these vulnerable people needed this particular model of care. This is an example of where mission and our history of care make it an imperative that we cannot ignore.

‘We have many rich stories from the Sisters that we can keep coming back to, stories that bring us back to the very heart of what we must do and to find the deeper truth.

‘Patients will walk out of here and they may not know or care about our mission and all that the Sisters of Charity have handed on. But it matters to us that we are faith based.’

Marcelle agrees that giving life to the mission can be challenging in a workplace that has such a diverse workforce. But she holds on to what Sisters' foundress Mary Aikenhead once said. She wanted her hospitals to be places ‘where the poor are given for love what the rich can buy for money’.