Archived News Item

ISMAPNG Archives and Heritage Grafton Collection: Dolls and the Progression of Adaptions of the Religious Habit


The ISMAPNG archives and heritage collection consists of many dolls of various sizes in an assortment of garments and made from different materials.


Our Grafton collection holds a series of fourteen dolls that are a part of a compilation previously titled ‘The Progression of Adaptions of the Religious Habit’. These dolls are dressed as sisters and were used for display purposes to illustrate the change of religious dress during certain periods of time and to demonstrate particular occasions of a sisters professed life.


From Left to Right: An earlier style habit with long sleeves and round guimp; Black traditional habit with wide pleat and train with a white church cloak; Black habit with white veil indicating novice attire; Black habit with pleated dress, white coif, and dimity with black guimp.


The Mercy habit was designed by the Sisters of Mercy foundress, the venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, in 1831. During the second half of the nineteenth century, and up until the middle of the twentieth century, sisters in their habits were typically seen in Australian schools and throughout the community with only minor and subtle modifications. The habit then began to be simplified and the Mercy habit went through adjustments until sisters adopted the secular fashion that is worn today with the unique Mercy cross.


From Left to Right: Doll dressed in a bridal gown representative of the type worn on one’s reception day prior to receiving the religious habit; Doll dressed in postulant attire with black habit and tulle veil; Doll sporting a shorter tunic and veil; Doll dressed in white tunic with veil.


Each doll is a true delight to look at, with detailed clothing from pleats to miniature crucifixes. These artistic creations were dressed by Sr. M. de Chantal Egan RSM whilst at St Catherine’s Villa Grafton in 1977 and 1978. Born Mary Phyllis Egan on the 25th of November 1913 to parents Michael and Alice Egan nee Daniher, Mary entered at Grafton, NSW on the 2nd of April 1932. She spent four decades as a teacher in many areas in and around the Lismore Diocese, in addition to congregational bursar, local superior, and hospitality before she died suddenly whilst on holiday in 1982.


Pictured Above: Sr. M. de Chantal Egan


These dolls provide the viewer with a visual framework with which to understand the shifts in religious attire whilst allowing us all to reflect on the rich history of the Sisters of Mercy.


N.B All information and provenance sourced from the ISMAPNG Grafton archives and heritage collections.

Messages to:

Follow us on Facebook @ismapngcollections

Click here to return to Just Mercy