Archived News Item

Townsville Book celebrates 100 years of Mercy

Joan Neal, Gaye Lennon RSM and Bishop Tim Harris


A new book ‘An Ardent Desire to be United to God and to Serve the Poor, A Celebration of 100 Years of the Sisters of Mercy in the Diocese of Townsville 1878-1978’ has been launched in recently in Townsville. 


The book launch brought together a crowd of 40 including Bishop Tim Harris, Gaye Lennon RSM, Helen White RSM, Joan and John Neal, Sisters of Mercy, representatives of St Patrick’s College, the Mater Hospital and Mercy Community Services North Qld (MCSNQ), as well as friends of Joan and the Sisters.


Joan Neal gave thanks in her speech to the Sisters who contributed to this recording of history. She said:

“I am indebted to the Sisters who contributed to their story: Sister Cheryl Camp wrote Planting the Seeds around Cleveland Bay, Sister Benigna Desmond and Sister Aquinas preserved some of the story in the 1950s, Sister Marie Leonie Williams for the New Guinea story and her suggestions with the way the book is structured. Sister Annette Lowth spent many hours assisting and allowing me access to the archives.

Sister Mary Raymond (Hammond) told me the wartime story must be told. Sister Marie Melville walked with me through difficult decisions – we decided 100 years was best. Sister Carmel Ruddick got the manuscript moving again in 2016, and Sister Anita Ready read and re-read and if I have errors in the story of the Irish sisters it is certainly my fault as Anita spent much time going over it with me. Sister Carmel King walked, lived and breathed the story and the photos with me for the last two years, I ‘m sorry Carmel is not able to be here today. Finally, Sister Ros Carr persuaded me to take this on – for it not to be a chatty local history, nor to be an academic exercise alone but to situate the story in the story of the church, North Qld history and pioneering women. Thanks Ros.”



Officially launching the book was Institute Leadership Team member Gaye Lennon RSM who gave a beautiful speech to the Sisters and guests thanking Joan for writing a book which ‘holds the memories of our Sisters’ lives, their history and offers it to the world’.


Gaye Lennon RSM


Sister Gaye said:

“Joan, thank you for carrying the spirit of mercy and revealing it through your very readable words to bring to life the heritage left by Sisters of Mercy from 1878 til 1978. Your final paragraph captures the essence of the Sisters of Mercy of the Townsville Congregation:

‘In the midst of the changes observed by Sisters over time since their foundation in 1878, fidelity to their vows remains at the heart of their call to service in Mercy. The Townsville Sisters remain active in diverse ways: sharing with other community members or the world at large, living simply in a world overflowing with commodities, living ecologically, moving into new areas of ministry, ministering to one another, sharing worldly goods with those in need, speaking the truth about unjust structures, living non-violently, offering hospitality, and living a life dedicated to justice and peace.’

And so our lives continue.”



Messages to: Beverly Strong RSM


Bev Hickson RSM, Joan Neal and Sharon McCallum



Carmel Arnold RSM, Joan Neal and Paul Lucas


Helen White RSM


Joan Neal and Paulina Skerman


Joan Neal, Carmel Ruddick RSM and Aya Pellatt


Joan Neal


Marie Melville RSM


Marie Williams RSM