Sister Mary Brady OP

RIP 5th December 2014


Recently we acknowledged Sister’s 90th birthday, a happy event that occurs reasonably often these days.  But Sister Mary Brady’s festivities included another dimension – a celebration of her life as a successful Australian artist. Mary is a woman of many talents. She was a champion golfer, an accomplished pianist, but her greatest love and most developed gift is for drawing and painting.

Mary doesn’t remember when she first picked up a pencil. Drawing was just something she did – like breathing. Born in Tamworth, in the midst of a loving and supportive family, Mary had no formal lessons of any consequence. The State Library’s country service provided her with ‘how to’ books, her golfing contacts brought her ‘interesting faces’ to paint, and friends such as Mother Margaret Mary, encouraged her and gave her contacts in Sydney.

Two of her earliest portraits, painted in her teenage years, were of her much loved, reluctant sitter, grandmother when she was asleep, and of a young aboriginal girl who used to walk by their home on the way to and from work.


By the age of 21 years, Mary was already submitting paintings for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes and having them accepted – no mean feat when she was ‘only a woman’, a country girl, who belonged to no art circle, and never exhibited – when the Archibald Trustees were severely curtailing the number of entries to be hung. Such was Mary’s talent that between 1946 and 1966, she was a finalist in the Archibald every year, sometimes with two entries accepted. Five times she appeared on the winner’s wall, and in 1959 the painting of her sister-in-law, Rosemary, was hung next to William Dobell’s winning painting.

In 1950 the family moved to Sydney, and Mary continued her painting, entering many competitions successfully, especially the Hunters Hill Art Competition, Toohey’s ‘Paint a Pub’ competition and the Women’s Weekly Art Prize. Her paintings included landscapes, streetscapes and her speciality – portraits.

In 1964 Mary, by chance heard that a new portraiture prize, especially for the neglected women artists, was to be established in memory of Miss Portia Geach. Mary was runner up with her portrait of the writer George Johnston in 1965. Mary would go on to win three Portia Geach prizes with portraits of public servant, Dr Graham Edgar, fellow artist and potter Mary Rooney, and the composer Larry Sitsky.

Mary surprised her friends by entering the convent in 1967. This move did not cramp her painting output. She now shared her gifts and her experience with young students in Canberra, Sydney and Maitland. Her painting continued – portraits of many famous Australians: historians, scientists, magistrates, pianists, dramatists and writers were painted, alongside the typically Australian landscapes and streetscapes. Mary’s painting of Miram Hyde, Australia’s foremost woman composer and pianist, now is part of the National Library Collection. The Larry Sitsky portrait has been gifted by the composer to the National Gallery of Australia. Other paintings hang in universities, libraries, town council chambers and private homes.

Mary says her proudest moments came when she was invited in 1993 to paint the young Mary MacKillop, for the beatification ceremony. A later portrait of Mary MacKillop has become the ‘official’ portrayal of Saint Mary of the Cross for all schools of the Sisters of St Joseph. She sees the paintings as a form of thanksgiving for her Josephite education.

Mary is a woman of great simplicity and humility, thrilled that her talent is recognized. Throughout her whole life she has delighted in depicting her ‘interesting faces’, has never sought fame, but has been very successful. We are very proud of Mary for the way in which she has shared her great talent, and we love her for being the strong and beautiful person she is.