From the training grounds of country Victoria to an Irish university, en route to hospitals in Western Australia, Hong Kong and Pakistan and back to Australia again, St John of God Sister Isobel Moran has been a trailblazer in Catholic health and aged care for more than 50 years.

Her enduring contribution to the Catholic health and aged care community in Australia was last night recognised with her announcement as the fourth recipient of the Sr Maria Cunningham Lifetime Contribution Award at the Catholic Health Australia awards dinner in Melbourne.

St John of God Health Care Trustee chair Clive Macknay gave the citation outlining Sr Isobel's list of achievements. After training as a registered nurse at St John of God Hospital in Ballarat, Sr Isobel undertook medical studies at University College Cork in Ireland. She worked in Western Australian hospitals for several years before post-graduate studies sharpened an interest in diseases of the developing world, including tuberculosis. She conducted important research on tuberculosis while serving as senior medical officer at Ruttonjee Sanatorium Hospital in Hong Kong, working alongside the British Medical Research Council.

Sr Isobel was later asked to take over Bethania Hospital in Pakistan, helping turn it into a highly regarded hospital, and has in recent years been a key leader of St John of God Health Care, helped establish Catholic Health Australia, been a key adviser to Catholic organisations and been a leader within her religious order.

Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty said Sr Isobel's work on the front lines of health care have been exemplary, not least in answering the call to work in developing parts of the world like Pakistan.

"Sr Isobel took over a struggling 210-bed hospital in one of Pakistan's poorer areas, deftly handling the difficulties that would be obvious for a Catholic ministry – established by the St John of God Sisters – in a Muslim country, but also transforming it into a thriving hospital with an extra 50 beds, high standards of affordable care, the inauguration of surgical procedures, the development of obstetric services and improved anaesthetic and intensive care services," he explained.

But, Mr Laverty said, Sr Isobel's work as a leader in the establishment of two of Australia's first public juridical person will also have a long-lasting legacy for Catholic health and aged care services.

"Many Catholic ministries are still coming to grips with the complexities of the creation of public juridical persons, but Sr Isobel helped create St John of God Australia and a PJP for Catholic Healthcare, working in this space very early on and showing how the process can be followed."

Mr Laverty said Sr Isobel joins three other true pioneers in the area of Catholic health and aged care in Australia – Sr Maria Cunningham, Sr Helen Monkivitch and Sr Angela Mary Doyle – as recipients of what has become CHA's highest honour.

"Sr Isobel's contribution, and the contribution of the other three women to have been honoured in this special way, has paved the road for those of us who are now seeking to follow their vision, their commitment and their passion," Mr Laverty explained. "They are our models, and if we follow their example, Catholic health and aged care is in safe hands indeed."

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