Archived News Item
CELEBRATING 170 YEARS OF MERCYMarch 9, 2016
When Mother Ursula Frayne and companions arrived at Barrack Street Jetty in January 1846, little did they know that their order of the Sisters of Mercy – notable for achievements in education and social service – would go on to have a 170 year presence in the colony and throughout Australia.
With this in mind, a group of 80 school principals and teachers, representatives from MercyCare and Mercy Health, came together last month at two meetings at Ursula Frayne College, Victoria Park and Aranmore College, Leederville to discuss planned events to celebrate the anniversary. Those gathered for the occasion were all linked to the Sisters of Mercy through their ministries of education, health and child care.
Those assembled first saw a slideshow of events in the life of Ursula Frayne, including the struggles she and her companions faced in the early years of the Perth Diocese, where finances were scarce and plans were uncertain. A very moving video was presented showing Ursula’s early life in Ireland; the sadness of the little band of young women setting out to establish a convent in the bush; the Sisters’ first impression of the majestic aboriginals and the concern for the fact that no accommodation had been prepared for them when they arrived. In spite of the hardships, the first Mercy school in Australia commenced on the Victoria Square site (Mercedes College) on the 2nd February 1846 with one student.
Sister Kerry Willison rsm, who spoke at the meetings, informed the groups that Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be an “Extraordinary Year of Mercy” – an ideal time for the Sisters of Mercy to celebrate 170 years since Ursula Frayne and her companions arrived in Perth on the 9th January 1846.
Sister Kerry said she was inspired by the dedication and resourcefulness of these women. “What really struck me was their courage in stepping out of their comfort zone and travelling across the Atlantic to Australia,” she said. “It’s also important to look at what they experienced when they got here, with no preparations for their arrival. They weathered all these storms and still survived – the Sisters of Mercy still have an important presence in Australia many years later.”
Perhaps the best indication of this presence is in the educational facilities which the order set up, starting with Australia’s first Mercy school in 1846, followed by WA’s first secondary school three years later at the current Mercedes College site.
In 1857, Ursula Frayne moved to Melbourne where she repeated this success, founding a boarding and day school for girls, two primary schools and a domestic training school for orphans, beginning from a site in Fitzroy.
Those present were presented with a programme of events marking the 170th anniversary which includes:
9th April – A Pilgrimage walk from where the first Sisters landed at the Barrack Street jetty up to Victoria Square Heritage Centre, where the Holy Door will be blessed.
The pilgrimage walk will begin from Barrack Street Jetty, where the sisters first arrived in Perth and make its way to Victoria Square’s Heritage Centre for the blessing of the Holy Door of the Year of Mercy.
“The event is for anyone interested in walking in the footsteps of Ursula Frayne,” Sr Kerry said.
26th May – The 120th anniversary of the foundation of the former West Perth Congregation.
24th September – The Feast of Our Lady of Mercy.
There will be Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral to be followed by the blessing of the new Mercy Cross on the graves of the early Sisters buried on the site.
12 December – Unveiling of bronze sculpture outside the Mercy Heritage Centre. This sculpture is designed to preserve the memory of Mother Ursula Frayne, the sculptor is Gael O’Leary. There will also be a bronze Ursula Frayne plaque designed by Gael O’Leary, which schools and other institutions with a link to the Sisters of Mercy can obtain.
Messages to: Kerry Willison rsm
Story source: Caroline Smith, Mollie Wright rsm
Top L-R: Sr Joan Buckham rsm, Tamara (McGougan Principal – Whitford Catholic Primary School), Assistant Principal Whitfords Catholic Primary School, Catharine Hughes (Assistant Principal Whitfords Catholic Primary School), attended the celebratory meeting on 27 and 28 January 2016.
Bottom left: Sketch for bronze statue of Mother Ursula Frayne.
Bottom right: Bronze plaque by sculptor Gael O’Leary commemorating the arrival in Australia.