Celebrating the Sisters of Mercy in WA – Jennifer Oaten

Ursula Frayne and the Sisters of Mercy were women of courage who lived the Mercy values and who, even today, continue to be wonderful role models for our community. We remember and give thanks to all who have been part of this heritage. This year, we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Ursula Frayne and the sisters’ arrival in the Swan River colony.

The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Fremantle on 7 January 1846 and on 2 February opened the first Mercy School in Australia in a rented cottage on St George’s Terrace. When only one student turned up on the first day of school, when 4000 had been promised, the sisters were not discouraged and began house visits to recruit more students. Within a month, 100 children were enrolled at their school, constructed of bricks and planks, with packing cases for desks. Although the sisters experienced great hardship, they refused to abandon their mission.

In response to the growing need for places to educate young women seeking a Mercy education, especially girls from the country, Santa Maria College opened in 1938. We began with 13 day students and 60 boarders, and today there are many Mercy schools nationwide.

Mary Retel, a former Mercy student, principal and a board member of Mercy Education, was our keynote speaker and facilitated an opportunity for staff to explore what Mercy looks like for us as a community and for us as individuals

"Mercy is a moral virtue founded on compassion. It is the willingness to help anyone in need."

What does Mercy look like?

  • Our Cook Up girls are preparing meals for the Homeless. 
  • The Uthando Dolls group are sewing dolls to send to Africa.
  • Our Year 9s are supporting young women through actions such as ‘Period Poverty.’
  • There are new plants as you enter the College highlighting our Acknowledgement of Country. 
  • We see girls of many cultures within our community, and they are planning for our Diversity assembly.
  • Our Eco-sisters are meeting to plan their next initiative with a focus on sustainability both in learning programs and in efforts to recycle and make a difference to our planet.
  • Year 5 students are developing ideas to increase the biodiversity of birdlife.
  • Year 7 students are focussing on preservation and sustainable water use.
  • Year 11 students are reflecting on their Action group who planted 12,800 trees in the holidays.
  • We see symbols throughout the College, such as crucifixes, pictures of Catherine McAuley and our Mercy Values displayed around the jacaranda tree and on the walls. 
  • Students are included and happy in their school environment and are feeling they belong and are valued.

What does Mercy sound like?

  • Students are speaking with warmth and kindness, asking if they can help.
  • We hear staff and students valuing others by seeking their opinions and using inclusive language.
  • Songs of Mercy fill our ears, and there is a passion for music. Music meant so much to the sisters.
  • There is enthusiasm and busyness that demonstrates a commitment to being a Mercy girl and contributing to the community.
  • The word ‘we’ rather than the word ‘I’ is heard.
  • Students say, I forgive you, sorry and ask, are you okay?
  • Thank you is often heard at the end of classes as students express their appreciation to their teachers

What does Mercy feel like?

  • We feel a common purpose and focus. We all work together to preserve our heritage and make a difference in the lives of others.
  • A safe, welcoming environment where all individuals are accepted, supported and feel empowered to have a voice.
  • Care for others and sharing in the joys of belonging to a community committed to the same values.
  • Being valued as a unique individual where you feel ‘I matter and you matter’.
  • A peaceful, calm, safe place that feels like home.

It was a joy to see that Mercy is alive and thriving here at Santa Maria College. While young adolescents may not always appreciate it during their time at school, it is often once students have graduated that they truly realise the impact Mercy has had and how it has shaped their lives forever.

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