Archived News Item

More Mercy contributions to the National Museum of Australia exhibition

Objects from the Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta, Perth and Singleton Congregations of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy are featured in the current exhibition at the National Museum of Australia titled “NOT JUST NED – A True history of the Irish in Australia” (17 March – 31 July 2011)

Dr Richard Reid, Curator, paid tribute in the exhibition to the many women who brought religious orders to Australia, to the many more who subsequently joined them in their dedicated lives, and to their significant influence in spheres of Australian life, particularly education and health. 

The phrase “the scattered children of Saint Patrick”, attributed to Mother Mary Stanislaus Kenny, who brought a foundation from Ennis to Singleton, had some years earlier struck a chord in him, and so he visited Singleton in August 2009. He chose several items for the exhibition which would suit his theme and be representative of the many such items to be formerly found in convents all over the country: a small cedar prie-dieu on which the early Sisters pronounced their vows; several silver profession rings, some clearly still engraved with a personal motto; a photo of a novice celebrating with her family on Reception Day; a Novices Guide hand-written by Mother Stanislaus.  A short video display based on the BBC/ABC documentary “God’s Girls” (1991) added life to the display.  Among the several descriptive panels, one headed “A generous prayerful spirit” refers to Mother Stanislaus, and displays a copy of the plan of the Singleton Convent she designed in collaboration with the German architect Frederick Menkens.  There is also a photo of the grand opening of the Convent in 1909.

On his visit to the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, Dr Reid was struck by the 19th century shamrock-patterned Irish Belleek tea set brought from Callan to Australia by some of the Sisters.  He was aware of the Mercy tradition of the “comfortable cup of tea” that Catherine urged her Sisters to have after she had died, and decided it should be in the exhibition. 

A large oil portrait of Venerable Catherine McAuley from the collection of the Sisters of Mercy, Melbourne, by an artist, whose name is lost in the mists of time, appropriately completes this section of the exhibition. 

From Melbourne were also chosen objects that reflected the place music played in the education offered by women religious: a beautifully restored Grecian ladies’ style harp (Frederick Grosjean, London 1820-1850) used as early as 1907 in the Academy of Mary Immaculate, Melbourne; and an ingenious 1900 Watkin adjustable liner for marking music lines on blackboards.  Most significant among the Melbourne exhibits is the artistically illuminated register entry (1857) dedicated to Sr Clara Mary Frayne, Australian foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

The Sisters of Victoria Square Perth contributed a fine Mother-of-pearl cross brought to Australia from Argentina late 19th century.

The Brisbane Sisters exhibited Sr Angela Mary Doyle’s Office of the Order of Australia Medal 1994 and also her Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame award 2009, tributes to her outstanding contribution to health services.  The exhibition also featured Sr Brenda Browne, aged 103, and a photo of the large group of Irish postulants, ‘the 49ers’, of which she was a member when she came from Ireland in 1924 to join the Brisbane Sisters.

Dr Reid said he was amazed at the collections held by religious women around Australia, and commented particularly on the excellent collection of the Sisters at the Mercy Heritage Centre, Brisbane. 

The emu egg clock originally gifted by Mother Vincent Whitty from Brisbane to Baggot Street is featured in the display and in Mercy e-News 21 March 2011.

Messages to Monica Sinclair RSM