St Aloysius College Adelaide Celebrates their Mercy Beginnings
COVID upset many plans in 2020. For St Aloysius College, Adelaide, and the Sisters of Mercy in South Australia, it meant the cancellation of the greatly anticipated celebration of the 140 Jubilee of their beginnings in South Australia in 1880.
Although other States have still been unable to do much in the way of gathering to celebrate in 2021, SAC took a gamble on organising a professional development day on 3rd September to focus on their “Mercy” beginnings, and invited all the Sisters to join in and contribute to the day.
It was a wonderful day. It started with a quiz which brought out the competitive spirit and some interesting responses. There was a time for looking back and an opportunity to hear about some of the projects initiated by the Sisters with which the school remains involved. Speakers from Catherine House for Homeless Women, (begun by Sr. Anne Gregory,) and the Adelaide Day Centre for Homeless Persons, (begun by Sr. Janet Mead,) talked about the work that continues to draw on the generosity of staff and students at SAC. Craig, a teacher at SAC, spoke of the school’s past involvement with its ‘sister’ school in Argentina, St Ethnea’s. This school was founded by the Mercy Sisters who returned to Argentina from Mount Gambier in 1890, and with whom the South Australian Sisters of Mercy have had a continuing bond.
After viewing a video that traced the history of the school through the buildings, starting at the present and moving backwards through the years to the beginning, Sr Patricia Feehan gave a brief history of the Sisters of Mercy, focussing on the Adelaide founding superior, Mother Evangelista Fitzpatrick, who, in 1845, joined the fledgling group founded by Catherine McAuley in Dublin in 1831. Evangelista was chosen to lead a small group to Argentina in 1856. She was still the leader when, for their physical safety, they left Argentina and came to South Australia in 1880, and opened the school that became St. Aloysius College.
Sr Judith Redden shared parts of her PhD thesis, which focused on the influence of the Mercy ethos in St Aloysius College. Her thesis looked at the experience of six students, all ‘school card’ holders. (Students from poor families unable to pay full school fees.) She discovered in her search of the available literature, that it was generally accepted that rarely did children from poor backgrounds do well at school, and in fact that they were often considered less intelligent. Through her interviews with the leadership of the school, with the teachers, and finally with the six students, she was able to show that aspects of the Mercy ethos – respect, encouragement, acceptance, support, belief that everyone could succeed, all contributed to amazing outcomes for these randomly chosen former students, with all able to form friendships, have close relationships with teachers, grow in confidence, have the ability to internalise values instilled at the school and to form a desire to contribute to society using their gifts. All succeeded academically, with most going on to university.
Judith’s message encouraged all the staff present in choosing to teach in a school that not just promotes these Mercy values but assures them that if they ‘get it’ – the mercy ethos – they will succeed in helping their students become part of a force for a better world – especially for the poor.
(For anyone interested in reading the whole thesis, please go to the following link: https://flex.flinders.edu.au/file/b68f1256-ef2f-4ebe-9bd6-9d6b1fb0af11/1/Redden_School_2019.pdf
Sr Mary-Anne Duigan introduced the banners, planned for part of the display for the 140th Celebration, and displayed in the gathering area of our meeting. They document the works the Sisters engaged in over the past 140 years. Eight banners focussed on different aspects – shelter; spirituality; aboriginal ministry; refugees, Landmines and ACRATH; Church; PNG; Pakistan and East Timor; and finally education – which was always the main focus of their work in South Australia. Many of the Sisters were involved in suggesting the content of each banner but the design was the work of the SAC graphic designer, Alexandra Gonzales-Salas, whose wonderful talent created such beautiful work. Neville Stapleton, SAC Archivist, was also a generous contributor in the area of researching information. In the early stages of the preparation of banners, John Rochester (ISMAPNG) was also very supportive and helped with ideas and in searching out suitable illustrations.
What is evident in the eight banners is a pretty impressive story of an amazing contribution of the Sisters of Mercy to the Church and State of South Australia over the last 140 years and continuing. Education was their ‘thing’ up until the 1970s, when they diversified in their ministry and became forerunners in changes to the way they lived their Religious Life and in the ministry they engaged in.
The formal part of the day ended with a beautiful prayer prepared by the staff that brought together all the different themes of the day. The sisters were all presented with a gift prepared by the Junior School. This was followed by a meal where we were able to enjoy catching up with old friends or getting to know new people.
To view the 140th Anniversary banners – Click here
Article written by Mary-Anne Duigan RSM