Mercy Sisters in Australia

We can never say “it is enough”

The Melbourne to which Ursula Frayne arrived was vastly different from the Swan Colony. It was an established city with a population of more than 450,000 and a reputation for elegance and culture. But it was not all polish and opulence. The gold rushes had brought wealth to some but on the other hand had left many families deserted and destitute.

Ursula arrived in Melbourne in March 1857 and within six weeks had raised loans to pay off the mortgage on her convent in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Rapid expansion followed. As early as 1860 she had established in Nicholson Street Fitzroy a House of Mercy for unprotected girls of good character, in particular unsupported Irish immigrants. Each week the Sisters would go to the wharves to find girls in need of care. They would offer them accommodation and training in the skills necessary to enter domestic service. In her first ten years in Melbourne Ursula is said to have assisted more than three hundred ‘girls at risk’ to find employment in ‘respectable’ establishments.

Large building programmes were undertaken for educational and social work, culminating in the erection of the first wing of the present ‘Academy’ in 1870 at a cost of £6000, which is approximately $1.5 million today. The Sisters of Mercy were the first teaching nuns in Victoria and under the vigorous leadership of Mother Ursula their establishment included a boarding and day school for girls, together with two primary schools and a domestic training school for orphans. She also founded the St Vincent de Paul’s Orphanage at South Melbourne and managed it until the Christian Brothers took over the boys’ section, leaving the girls under the care of her Sisters. Although the 1872 Act caused temporary cost-cutting in Catholic education, it resulted in expansion for the Nicholson Street community, and Sisters replaced lay teachers when salaries could not be met. Ursula Frayne’s first Victorian country foundation was at Kilmore in 1875 and especially dear to her for its rural setting.



Why is the basket a symbol that continues to represent the Mercy Charism today?