April 24, 2021

164th Anniversary of Melbourne Mercy Foundation Sees Convent Entrusted to College

Entrance to the Convent

Editor: On 20 April 2021, the first Convent of Mercy on Australia’s East coast- the Nicholson Street Fitzroy, (Victoria) Convent - was entrusted by the Leadership Team of the Institute (ISMAPNG) into the care of Mary Moloney rsm, Principal, and Staff of Academy of Mary Immaculate, ‘for the furtherance of the Ministry of Education’.

The date chosen for the event marked the 164th anniversary of the opening of the Academy - the first Catholic fee-paying secondary school for girls in  Melbourne- by M Ursula Frayne, leader of the first community of Sisters to settle in Melbourne (1857) and the first Sister of Mercy to set foot on the shores of Australia (Perth, 1846).

A ritual handover was held at the college and live-streamed across the Institute to mark this significant occasion. The handover event commemorated the history of the foundation, celebrated the Mercy legacy and created possibilities for the future at the College.

Welcomes and Acknowledgements at the event were given by Marie Ralph rsm, Community Leader South C, Mary Moloney rsm and Mark Hyland, Academy's Director of Faith And Mission.

The scene for the ritual was set by Mary Dennett rsm, herself a past pupil, who gave an account of the arrival of the first group of Sisters in Melbourne and the early years of their mission. Kath Tierney rsm then outlined the process by which the convent came to be offered to the College.

Invited to reflect on the Mercy heritage, Eileen Ann Daffy rsm – past pupil, past teacher and former principal- said ‘we leave behind both tangible and intangible signs of our lives and ministry as Sisters of Mercy’ – the college itself, the founding sisters, Ursula Frayne and Anne Xavier Dillon buried in the chapel, and the two chalices given to the Fitzroy Community by Archbishop Goold at whose request the first Sisters of Mercy came to Melbourne.

A plaque unveiled by Eveline Crotty rsm, Institute Leader, and Mary Moloney rsm, to be permanently affixed to the convent building; ongoing access to the chapel for the Sisters of Mercy, and the establishment of a heritage area inside the convent with items reflecting the life and ministry of previous Sisters in Melbourne, will remain visible links with and witnesses to this first Victorian Mercy foundation.

In her Scripture reading Eveline Crotty rsm articulated the responsibility that now rests on the leadership of the College: ‘Guard the good treasure entrusted to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us’ (2 Timothy 1:14). In her Address she continued that theme: 'Buildings are only available to us to enable the mission of the Gospel to continue. They are not our personal property, but always a means to enable something that we are being called to as Sisters of Mercy to take place. It doesn't mean that we don't feel regret or sadness, but we know - particularly in this instance- that there is a future to enable not only something new but something important to continue - the education of young women.' Referencing Sr Mary Wickham's poem, Sr Eveline concluded 'Eras begin, new history is ready for the making'.

Mary Wickham rsm, a past teacher, had been commissioned to write a reflection for the occasion. Entitled ‘There will always be Voices in this place’, Sr Mary’s composition was dedicated to the generations of Sisters who had lived at the Convent since its founding in 1857. ‘I will sing new Songs’ sang staff members Mirelle Morris and Marsali Slocombe in response. On a day that honoured memory and blessed opportunity, these alternating texts were heart-warming and life-giving.

Photos by Peter Casamento.  Used with permission

Among the Sisters and many guests in attendance were Leonie Glennon rsm, a member of the last Community at Nicholson Street Convent; Academy students of the 1940s including past pupils Madeleine Duckett rsm and Marie Kehoe rsm, each of whom read prayers of blessing; current student representatives and alumni, the entire College staff, former College principals, members of the current and previous Advisory Councils as well as Mercy Education Executive and Board Directors.

Sylvia Williams rsm, Chair, Mercy Education, which is responsible for the governance and operation of the Mercy colleges owned by ISMAPNG, received from Sr Eveline the original key to the convent and a camellia tree, an evergreen shrub symbolising strength and revitalisation. In thanking Sr Eveline, Sr Sylvia assured those present that the current leadership of the Academy 'and all who follow them will care for the Convent in the best possible way'.

A rousing rendition by the Gathering of Sr Jeannette Goglia’s 'Circle of Mercy' concluded the formal events.

In the front page of a bible found as items in the Convent were sorted out and packed up was an inscription from M Ursula Frayne to Anne Xavier Dillon, her faithful companion. The dedication included a blessing. ‘As we go forward’, said Eileen Ann Daffy rsm,  'we pray Ursula’s prayer for Mary Anne Xavier Dillon: “May the word of God be a light to thine eyes and a guide to thy path”’

Messages to: Mary Moloney rsm - Principal

Watch the video of the Handover Event

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