Celebrating Ursula Frayne – Jennifer Oaten
Catherine McAuley is our foundress to whom we give much credit for our legacy. However, Mother Ursula Frayne led the group of Mercy Sisters on a mission to Perth, arriving in 1846. She is credited with leading a group of courageous women to open the first Mercy school in Australia and for introducing secondary education into Western Australia. The Sisters of Mercy experienced great hardship and were shocked by the conditions under which they had to work and live but refused to abandon their mission.
We are very proud to be celebrating 175 years of Mercy’s Sisters in Australia and very proud that Mother Ursula Frayne has recently been posthumously inducted into the Western Australian (WA) Women’s Hall of Fame. The WA Women’s Hall of Fame was established in 2011 to recognise the Centenary of International Women’s Day.
There is also a bronze plaque in St Georges Terrace which honours Ursula Frayne for her contribution to education.
Mother Ursula Frayne was an Irish woman who crossed the world by sailing a ship to arrive in the newly colonised Australia after a sea voyage of 113 days. She was an extraordinary woman, a pioneer educator, welfare reformer, advocate and policymaker.
Clara Mary Frayne was born in Dublin in 1817 and died in Melbourne in 1885. She was trained by Catherine McAuley and became a professed Sister of Mercy.
In 1845 Mother Ursula Frayne had 21 days to prepare to sail for Western Australia with five other Sisters of Mercy and one Postulant. Together with Bishop Brady, his European missionaries, one Irish priest and seven Irish catechists, they sailed for Western Australia via the Cape of Good Hope.
The ship, Elizabeth’s journey was no pleasure cruise, and when they arrived in Perth, their arrival was unexpected, and they had no arrangements for sleeping quarters. To quote Mother Ursula Frayne: “We stood in the wilds of Australia on that midsummer night, and we could truly say with our Divine Model, we have nowhere to rest our head”.
Undaunted, the Sisters found lodging at the house of a Methodist lady, Mrs Crisp, who, despite her astonishment at the unusual apparel of her guests and her confusion when she discovered that they could not eat chops because it was Friday, made every effort to make the Sisters comfortable.
Mother Ursula Frayne opened the first Mercy school in Australia on 2 February 1846 with planks, bricks and packing cases as the furniture. Instead of the 4,000 children Bishop Brady had promised them in Dublin; only one child turned up. This did not discourage them; however, they began house to house visits. After a lot of work, they had 50 children in their school, and by 23 August 1846, they had 100 children. Further development occurred on the grounds of the present Mercedes College.
The demand for places grew until the need for boarding places increased, and Mother Brigid McDonald, the Mercy Superior in 1935, resolved to build another Mercy school in the bushland of Attadale. The Sisters of Mercy bought the land for 5000 pounds, and Santa Maria College was established and opened in 1938.
Ursula Frayne is a wonderful role model for our community as a woman of courage who was committed to her faith and lived our Mercy values of justice and compassion. I hope all our young Santa Maria College women will make a difference in our world, just as Ursula Frayne did.
‘Ursula Frayne, A Biography by Catherine Kovesi Killerby’