Perth principal reflects on mercy ethos
To understand and appreciate the richness of the Mercy ethos you have to use your imagination, writes Theresa Gibson, Acting Principal of Mercedes College, Victoria Square Perth. Established by Ursula Frayne and the Sisters of Mercy in 1846, Mercedes College has the distinction of being the oldest girls’ school in Australia on the original site of foundation and the oldest secondary school in Western Australia.
Ask a Sister of Mercy, a student or a staff member in a Mercy College what the Mercy ethos means to them and you will get a range of answers. From ancient origins of the words to Gospel stories of Mercy, each one tells part of the story. To understand and appreciate the richness of the Mercy ethos you have to be able to use your imagination.
Close to the centre of the Mercedes campus a bronzed image of Catherine, created in the late 90s, is seen in the garden named after her. Catherine McAuley is depicted in secular dress. Her gaze is outward and she appears interested and confident in what is going on around her.
If that really was Catherine I believe she would be very interested in what is happening at Mercedes College in 2008. From her garden vantage point she would be frequently aware of those passing through the College grounds. From the weekend skate-boarders and the occasional homeless person taking shelter nearby, she would also see young women challenged to live lives where Mercy values are lived not just spoken. She would notice the ex-students who feel welcome to return, whether it be for a Mocktail Party or with their new lifelong partner on their wedding day. She would notice parents bringing their daughter for the first time for their interview and leaving happy that they had made a wonderful choice for her.
Catherine’s confidence would come from knowing that the Sisters of Mercy, who took on the education of young women as their main work, continue to inspire others to also make this their life. She would know that when the mantle of leadership passed from the last Religious Mercy Principal to the first Lay Mercy Principal in 1996 that the 150 years of history would continue to be honoured as having created a tradition and a Mercy standard to be the gauge of achievement into the twenty-first century.
Catherine could be confident that people of goodwill would find the Mercy ethos of love and service for others, based on the example of Jesus and her own life, to be a practical foundation on which to ensure a college such as this remains true to its intent to be Catholic in a mercy way.
Catherine needs to be looking outward to see all the good that flows from Victoria Square. The goodness in the graduates who seek to make their way in the world by holding on to the understanding and experience of Mercy they had at Mercedes. The goodness that started with her idea to make the world a better place for those forgotten in nineteenth century Ireland and which continues to be necessary into the future.
As we all look outward with Catherine we become increasingly aware that it is only by developing all we have to offer that we can truly make a difference as she did.
If I imagine myself standing with Catherine in the garden I am strengthened by her central and solid presence on campus. The spirit of Mercy she awakened in me is tangibly present at Victoria Square. Across campus both the first convent building, Holy Cross, and the 1871 convent still echo the lives and stories of the pioneer sisters who first brought Mercy here. Our girls absorb Mercy values just by being on this sacred ground where the Mercy ethos literally had its foundation in Australia. They are fortunate to be able to pray in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, pause in the Memorial Garden near the Lourdes Grotto and visit the convent as they learn the story by being where other women of Mercy have been. They are able to reflect on the Mercy story and find it resonating in their own lives.
No matter what changes lie ahead, it is my fervent hope that Mercy will always be the animating ethos for the future of Mercedes College. In my view the Mercy ethos is completely aligned with the Bishops’ Mandate for Catholic schools to be communities of faith that share a common vision and outlook on life. Evangelisation and ethos are closely linked and everything that strengthens the ethos also strengthens the College in its basic mission to be a place of evangelisation in the Catholic Church.
Messages to: Sister Joan Smith RSM (Local Communications Facilitator, Perth)