Canberra Citizen of the Year


Sister Stephanie Hayes (1930-2000)

Sister Mary Stephanie Hayes 

SOURCE: Sister Mary Stephanie Hayes, photograph from The Sisters of the Good Samaritan website, viewed 17 February 2016.

Joan Margaret Hayes, later Sister Mary Stephanie Hayes, was born in the crowded inner suburb of North Fitzroy on 1 October 1930, third child of John and Jean Hayes.  She grew up in Reservoir, a relatively new suburb of Melbourne on the northern railway line.

The area was named for the three reservoirs that had been built between 1864 and 1913 to supply water to Melbourne. Despite earlier attempts at encouraging settlement it did not become a suburb until the 1920s when post-war migration and a baby boom caused a sharp increase in population. Many of the newcomers were Roman Catholic, and the first school was opened in 1929 in St Gabriel’s church. The Good Samaritan Sisters arrived in 1930 to establish a full primary school, which all the Hayes children attended. In fact, Joan was to receive all her schooling from Good Samaritan sisters.

The Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of Saint Benedict was the first Australian ‘home grown’ congregation of Catholic religious women, founded by Australia’s first Catholic bishop, John Polding, in 1857. Keenly aware of the problems of colonial society’s outcasts, Polding invoked the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan and established the order to be a ‘neighbour’ to the convicts, the unemployed, indigenous peoples and particularly the destitute women of Sydney. Polding also laid the foundations of Catholic education in Australia.

Joan won a diocesan scholarship to St Ita’s Central School in North Fitzroy, which prepared girls for white collar jobs, then moved to Santa Maria College in 1945 and completed her secondary education. She was elected Head Prefect of Santa Maria in 1947, her final year.

Her first secretarial job was with R Collie & Co in Melbourne, one of Australia’s largest manufacturers of printing ink and a consistent supporter of charitable causes, including funding a six-bed ward of Melbourne Hospital in 1940. Joan was also active in Catholic welfare and youth activities. When the Young Christian Workers for Catholic Youth set up a cooperative housing society in late 1948, she left Collie’s and worked for the secretary of the new society, Frank McCann.

In July 1953 Joan, following the example of her older sister Marie, entered Mount St Benedict as a novice. As Sister Mary Stephanie she made her vows as a Good Samaritan on 6 January 1956, then studied at St Scholastica’s Teachers’ College in Sydney for her Certificate of Teaching. From 1957 to 1983 she was a teacher in various schools in Victoria and South Australia, and school principal at Crystal Brook, north of Adelaide. She was also a Superior of the communities at Gawler (South Australia), North Fitzroy and Groveley/Mitchelton (Brisbane).

In April 1985 the community nursing section of the ACT Health Authority began a three month trial of a scheme to allow terminally ill people to die at home. Eight part-time nurses and a supervisor were supported by volunteers from the newly formed ACT Hospice Society, later the ACT Hospice and Palliative Care Society. The volunteers offered practical and emotional support by undertaking household tasks such as cooking, washing and cleaning, shopping, child care, companionship and counselling.

The trial was successful and a palliative care service was based in Calvary Hospital, although it was funded by the ACT Health Authority. As yet there was no hospice in Canberra, and up to 20 patients could be cared for at home. Sister Stephanie, retired from teaching, in 1988 underwent a volunteer training course with the Society and until 1997 was a live-in carer for over fifty families. Sometimes she was in the home for a day or so, sometimes for more than six months.

Sister Stephanie was an inspired carer with a great zest for life. Her own interests encompassed walking, bridge, flying kites, hot-air balloons, Scottish and line dancing, concerts and theatre, crosswords, reading and gardening. These experiences were shared with her host families, often long after she had moved on to another patient, in conversations and letters. She is remembered as having a boundless capacity for making and keeping friends, a great talker with a quirky sense of humour, consistently happy and cheerful.

Caring for the terminally ill is emotionally exhausting and Sister Stephanie, like all the nurses and volunteers, relied on the support of friends, family and fellow members of her Order, as well as others in the palliative care service. She expressed heartfelt thanks to all these people when accepting her award as Canberra Citizen of the Year in 1995, for helping her to “simply respond to an identified need here in Canberra”. However, when her much-loved sister died in 1997 Sister Stephanie felt that a year of rest and renewal was necessary and travelled overseas.

On her return to Australia, much restored emotionally, Sister Stephanie found that she also was suffering a terminal illness – motor neurone disease. Although it robbed her of speech she continued writing cards and letters, living each day to her fullest capacity and remaining cheerful. Clearly her personal relationship with God was a sustaining force, but she also exemplified the conclusions of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a founder of the palliative care movement.

Elisabeth believed that those who face death in peacefulness are those who have been loved by and been of service to others. Sister Stephanie died very peacefully on 16 July 2000.

Awards and Distinctions

1995 Canberra Citizen of the Year for her volunteer work caring for the terminally ill in their homes

Select Bibliography

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan, viewed 13 February 2016,

2000 ‘A Life Of Achievement, Love And Service’, Jon Stanhope, Canberra Times , 4 August, viewed 13 February 2016,!?&_suid=145532186105104140077639066799

2011 ‘Sister Mary Stephanie Hayes (1930-2000)’, 14 February, Sisters of the Good Samaritan, viewed 13 February 2016,

See other Canberra Citizens of the Year.