December 10, 2019

Celebrating 160 Years of Mercy in Geelong

I go with courage and complete confidence in God M. Xavier Maguire

Editor: On Tuesday, 3 December, Feast of St Francis Xavier, the Sacred Heart Geelong community celebrated joyfully, 160 years to the day, the arrival in that city from Dublin of the first Sisters of Mercy. In 1859 the then Archbishop of Melbourne, James Goold, was in Ireland when the brave band - M. Xavier Maguire and her five companions: M. Gabriel Sherlock, Sisters Mary Margaret Mullaly, Mary Regis Manley, Mary Rose Lynch and Mary Aloysius Ryan (novice) left for Australia. He confided to his diary: 'I have secured a community of Sisters of Mercy – able, active and well educated…' And so they proved to be, establishing schools, an orphanage, a shelter for homeless women, the Children of Mary Sodality, as well as engaging in other traditional works of Mercy in what is today Victoria’s largest provincial city, located 75 kilometres south west of Melbourne. Income was generated from funds earned from lending books from their public library, fees from teaching music and from their needlework- hand sewing gentlemen's shirts for a firm in Melbourne.

The anniversary celebrations took a number of forms:

  • Eucharist celebrated in the Heritage Precinct in front of the College Grotto;
  • A blessing and rose ceremony held in the Sisters of Mercy Cemetery;
  • Afternoon tea shared in the Dining Room;
  • Launch of the book, Mother Xavier Maguire – A Women of Faith and Vision, written by Helen Delaney rsm

Christina Aitken rsm, Community Leader South B welcomed all to the gathering on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy. 'We have come', said Sr Christina, 'because we have experienced at this place aspects of the Mercy of God made possible because of the courage, dedication and passion of the first Sisters of Mercy to set foot in Geelong.' 

Text of Welcome: Christina Aitken rsm

Bishop Mark Edwards was principal Celebrant, assisted by Fr Jim Clarke, College Chaplain, and 8 priests of the diocese. In his homily Bishop Mark spoke of his admiration for Mother Xavier and her companions: 'Their ambition and vision astounds me.  Starting with a 4,000 pound debt, they changed Geelong.  Their hearts were in their work and, over the next 20 years, 47 young women, largely from their students, applied to join them, of whom 20 became sisters.  God did bless these strong, brave, intelligent and articulate women of faith on their journey.' He continued, 'We gather today not only because something happened 160 years ago but also because it means something to us today.' Calling on the gathering to reflect on what they each personally had to be grateful for as a result of the contribution of the Mercy Community to Geelong, he posed the challenge: 'We have to discover who we are for and to be true to that and to them... And these early sisters ask us, as does St Francis, Is our ambition big enough?'

The theme of the Mass, appropriately, was We are standing on the shoulders’. This song by Joyce Johnson Rouse, sung with great feeling by the College choir, was the accompaniment to the powerpoint Reflection after Communion in which the 1800 students, staff, Sisters of Mercy and guests saw the years roll back and the generations roll by. 'Imagine our world if they hadn't tried', the choir sang, 'We wouldn't be here celebrating today'.

Following the Eucharist, Bagpipers led the procession of Sisters, celebrants and special guests through a student guard of honour to the Sisters of Mercy cemetery on the site. Anna Negro, College Principal, carried the Mercy cross. Spontaneous applause broke out as the procession moved off, recognition of the contribution of the Sisters present in all they, too, had contributed to the education, health and welfare of the citizens of Geelong.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, Sisters Paula Anne O'Connell and Ellen Dunn led the singing of 'Holy Ground'. Bishop Mark prayed: 'We come to this sacred place to honour those who have gone before us. God of Mercy we ask your blessing on the souls of all who are buried here.  These sisters served God faithfully whilst on this earth and we pray today that they now enjoy the eternal peace and love of God.' The graves were incensed and students placed individual bunches of roses, including Maguire roses, on the Sisters' graves.

The singing of the Suscipe concluded the blessing and rose ceremony with guests then moving to the Celestine Moran Hospitality Centre for afternoon tea in the dining room known as 'Celies'. The Centre and Dining Room are named in honour of Sr. M. Celestine Moran who ran the College junior school for more than 40 years (1932 -1973). Sr. Celestine, affectionately known as ‘Celie’, is remembered for her great love of all children. The building, which is now the Celestine Moran Hospitality Centre, was originally the College Junior School.

Mother Xavier Maguire

Mother Xavier Maguire

Mother Xavier Maguire: Woman of Faith and Vision
by Helen Delaney rsm
Illustrated. 127 pps including endnotes, appendices and bibliography.

The launch of the book 'Mother Xavier Maguire – A Women of Faith and Vision' written by Helen Delaney rsm, followed on from afternoon tea.

Kath Tierney rsm launched the book, tracing in her address the courage, resourcefulness and pioneering work of Mother Xavier. 'Mother Xavier’s legacy, this magnificent site and College, is a tribute to her vision, her hard work, her leadership and her sacrifices, all for the Glory of God, in whom she placed her trust', said Sr Kath.

Text at Book Launch: Kath Tierney rsm

'Mother Xavier Maguire was quite some lady!' responded Helen Delaney rsm and she proceeded to share 'the privilege and pleasure' it was for her to research Mother Xavier's life and her contribution as a woman religious to the Church in Australia, as a founder and for her lasting impact on the city of Geelong. 

'However it is seen', said Sr Helen, 'there is no doubt that Mother Xavier was an influential figure in the Sisters of Mercy, both in Dublin and Geelong, and particularly in the latter convent her influence would have contributed greatly to its culture, ethos and ways of living religious life. It might also be argued that her influence in Australia extended beyond the convent she founded all those years ago.'

Sr Helen concluded, 'I hope you enjoy reading about her and come, as I have, to have a lasting admiration for such an important and influential person'.

Text at Book Launch: Helen Delaney rsm
In 1859, six women set sail from Ireland to Australia. They settled in Geelong on Newtown Hill. They carried our inheritance with them, they laid foundations for realities they would never know or dream, they gave voice to the song of Mercy in our lives. We are the generations they could not foresee, we are the custodians of their legacy. Sacred Heart College

Messages to: Catherine Middlemiss - Director of Development, Marketing and Communications

Back to All News