The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Auckland in 1850 and were the
first order of religious sisters to come to New Zealand.
Catherine McAuley, the order's founder, had a vision of one-to-one
care of the sick and the dying. In the beginning, a handful of
sisters with a few lay staff ran the Mater as a convalescent
hospital, with limited facilities for surgery. The hospital was a
place where the sisters took patients into their home and from
where they went into the homes of others. As early as the 1920s the
hospital was already a thriving surgical hospital, with more in
common with its present form, than with the small cottage hospital
of only two decades earlier.
In the second period from 1918 to 1936 the hospital grew quickly,
meeting an increasing demand from Aucklanders for private surgery
alongside a growing Auckland Public Hospital. This period of growth
led to the building and opening in 1936 of the large main
But by the mid-1960s, the hospital began to specialise and in
particular developed the first private cardio-thoracic unit in New
Zealand, under the direction of Sir Brian Barrett-Boyes.
The 1970s were years of crisis, as the Sisters of Mercy adjusted
to the new post Vatican II world. Social change reduced
recruitment. Religious life was also transformed as the order
reconsidered their ministries and embraced new forms of mission.
The hospital came under enormous financial pressure, until in 1979
it was forced to close its maternity ward. In the early 1980s the
hospital modernised its facilities, and dedicated itself to
becoming a high-quality private hospital. In the last decade the
Sisters of Mercy progressively withdrew from an active role in
managing and working within the hospital.