An inspiring woman

If you or someone you know has benefited from a women�s health service in Victoria, New South Wales or the ACT, chances are you have Sister Helen Monkivitch to thank for it.

Reading her litany of achievements, it seems implausible one person could contribute so much to Australian women�s health. But the evidence is all around us, not only in the state-of-the-art facilities that house, heal and nurture thousands of Australian women every year, but in the compassion, purpose  and respect that inform the care Mercy  Health staff deliver. 

So the only surprise in Sr Helen�s induction  into the 2014 Victorian Honour Roll of  Women, held to coincide with International  Women�s Day in March, is that it has taken  fifty years of remarkable service to the  community to find its way to her.  This year�s International Women�s Day  theme, Inspiring Change, perfectly  encapsulates Sr Helen�s towering  achievements in helping reshape the  landscape of women�s health services. 

Mercy Health Chief Executive Officer  Stephen Cornelissen is delighted with  Sr Helen�s recognition. �The  Honour Roll recognises and  celebrates the contributions,  leadership and excellence  of inspirational women and  their work in the Victorian  community. In her fifty years of  all-encompassing commitment to  the health and care of Victorians, I cannot think of a more worthy  recipient than Sr Helen. 

�From her roles as a nurse, midwife, Chief Executive and  Director, Helen has been a  trailblazer for Catholic health care  services across Australia. She  has been instrumental in shaping  Mercy Health through her  compassionate and thoughtful  leadership, delivered with grace  and spirit of which our foundress  Catherine McAuley herself would  be proud. We are so fortunate  and I am personally grateful to  have such an inspiring woman  still giving her time and wisdom  so generously to us today.� 

Typically, Sr Helen attributes her  powerhouse career and latest  award to the generosity and  support of others: most notably  to the Sisters of Mercy.  �In many ways the freedom I�ve  had to pursue my dreams has  been because I�m a Sister of  Mercy. Through them I�ve been  given so many opportunities,  and I�ve seized them and run  with them. I think the Sisters  gave me a freedom that  perhaps others don�t have. 

�If you go back to my early  days with the Sisters, I was  very well educated. I became  a triple certificate nurse, I was  supported to do an arts degree  after I�d finished nursing, then  was encouraged to do my  Master�s degree, when I didn�t  want to! All those things were  essentially given to me.� 

Armed with her education  and encouragement from the  Sisters of Mercy, Sr Helen quickly  proved herself a natural leader  in each area she entered.  But perhaps the achievement  of which she is most proud is  the formation of Mercy Health  in 1997. 

�I think that was the biggest  thing I did in terms of ensuring  we have a future,� says Sr  Helen. �It has meant that  instead of a whole lot of  disparate pieces of Mercy  work going on, there was  a much more strategic and  unified direction for us.� 


 Sister Helen 

Sister Helen Monkivitch 



Offering a culture that rewards  women for driving change,  Mercy Health has never lost  sight of its origins as a vehicle  for compassionate visionaries  like Catherine McAuley to  succeed on their own terms.  �Through Mercy Health, I�ve b een able to exercise my  leadership very freely,� says  Sr Helen. �It�s enabled me to  realise my absolute passion for  and love of serving those in need,  enriching my life immeasurably.� 

Always focused on the next  challenge, Sr Helen hopes her  work continues to inspire change  in key areas of women�s health.  �I think there�s still a lot of work  to be done in multicultural  services, women�s health, mental  health, and Aboriginal health  in acute care,� she says. �Our  ageing population will also  bring challenges, predominantly  for older women. If you go  to an aged care facility it�s pretty much 90% women. It�s  something we have to think  creatively about.� 

If there�s one clear message  Sr Helen would like women �  especially those just starting  out in life � to draw from her  own inspiring example, it�s to  seize the day without fear.  �I think that�s the key, that  women feel free to have a  go,� says Sr Helen.  �We�ve got to let them fly.� 

Sister Helen Monkivitch:  timeline of achievements 

1964: begins training in midwifery  at Mercy Private Hospital. 

1968: after taking vows, rejoins  Mercy Private Hospital. 

1971: joins Mercy Maternity Hospital  as charge nurse in postnatal ward  before running the delivery suites. 

1975: becomes Deputy Director  of Nursing Services. 

1983: completes Masters of Health  Administration and gains experience  in general and finance administration. 

1984: returns to Mercy Maternity  Hospital as Sister Administrator. 

1986: Is appointed as CEO  of Mercy Hospital for Women,  joins the leadership group  for the Sisters of Mercy and  becomes Director of Catholic  Health Australia. 

1994: Leads in the development  of Werribee Mercy Hospital. 

1995: Co-founds Caroline  Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics. 

1997: In conjunction with the  leadership group, steers the  formation of Mercy Health and  Aged Care as Director, Mercy  Health Services. 

2000: Becomes Mercy Health  Executive Director, Leadership  and Mission. 

2005: Co-founds Gabrielle  Jennings Centre in Werribee. 

2014: is inducted into the  Victorian Honour Roll of Women. 


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