Walk in the very same path He trod
The first group of sisters, led by Ursula Frayne, came from Dublin and settled in Victoria Square, Perth, Australia in 1846. A chance to extend the work of Catherine McAuley came when Bishop John Brady, visiting Dublin to recruit missionaries for the emerging colony, requested that Catherine send a group of sisters to assist him in his work there. Thus it happened that, after a long and arduous journey by sea, the small band of sisters under the leadership of Mother Ursula Frayne, arrived in the Swan River Colony on 8 January, 1846.
After initial difficulties in finding accommodation, Ursula and her community moved into a small cottage on what is now St George’s Terrace, near Victoria Avenue. On 2 February of that same year, the sisters opened their first school with one student! By the end of that historic day, however, five more students had joined them. Undaunted, the sisters went out into the community and searched for pupils. By the end of 1846 there were one hundred children in the school, which had by that time moved up to the present Victoria Square site.
To see them through early financial troubles, the sisters were forced to use money sent from Dublin which had originally been set aside for them to return home. This money was used to build the first Convent of Mercy in Australia. The building now known as Holy Cross, with its Foundation Stone dating from 1847, is still in use today and stands as a testimony to those dedicated pioneers whose love and faith in God inspired them to continue God’s work. Two years later, in 1849, the sisters began what was the first secondary school in Western Australia – the school now proudly known as Mercedes College.
Mother Ursula Frayne died in 1885. She is remembered as an outstanding educator of great vision and a warm, caring Sister of Mercy. Her work, and that of those early pioneers, has had a profound and lasting effect on the history of Catholic Education in this State.
Let us pause for a moment to examine the context into which those pioneer sisters had arrived.