When Catherine was 18 her mother died. The children were left without money and James and Mary were taken to live with relatives who were Protestants. Catherine went for a short time to live with a Catholic uncle but eventually she, too, went to live with the same relatives. Catherine McAuley was born in County Dublin in Ireland in 1778. Her father died when she was very young. He had been a strong Catholic and their mother made sure that Catherine and her brother and sister, James and Mary, were taught the Catholic faith.
Some time later a Mr and Mrs Callaghan took Catherine to live with them. They were not Catholic but they admired Catherine. They saw her unselfishness and caring manner towards others. They decided to become Catholics too.
When Mr and Mrs Callaghan died Catherine was 41 years old. They left her hundreds of thousands of pounds which was a huge amount of money in those days. As well as this she inherited their mansion. With all this wealth Catherine could have lived a very easy life. She could have travelled and spent a lot of money on herself. Instead she decided to use her money to help others. She realised that many people were poor and sick. Many people had no homes and could not get an education.
The poor people in Ireland at this time were the poverty-stricken peasants in the country areas and the poor workers in the cities. Many of them were Catholic. They often had very little food and depended on the potato crop. Potatoes were their main food and when crops failed many people faced starvation.
Many people lived in one-room cabins with walls made from mud. Families (often with eight or ten children) would sleep on rushes placed on the floor.
People who lived in the slums of Dublin could be even worse off than country people. Sometimes three or four families shared cramped, dirty houses or flats.
Disease was a big problem because of the poor living conditions and many children died. Cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis were dreaded diseases which spread easily and killed many people. Unhygienic living conditions and inadequate nutrition led to many poor people dying.
Many people turned to petty crime simply to survive. They chose to steal food to feed their families and clothes to provide warmth. When they were caught they were treated very harshly. Some were flogged, others were hanged and transportation to overseas colonies such as Australia was a regular occurance.
For people struggling to survive, education was an impossibility. Many people were illiterate and parents could not see how to provide better futures for their children.
On the 24th September 1827, Catherine opened the House of Our Lady of Mercy in Dublin . This provided a place for poor women and children to obtain shelter and food. The children could attend school as well. Mercy College celebrates this day with a Mercy Day Mass. Catherine was using her wealth to help the poor and needy.
12th December 1831, was a very important date. It was on this day that the Sisters of Mercy formed their new congregation. Soon after this Mercy Houses were opened in Ireland and England.
Catherine McAuley died in 1841. However, the Sisters of Mercy continued to do her work in Ireland and England, providing care and education for the poor and needy. In 1846 it was decided that the Sisters of Mercy would expand their work to the colony of Western Australia and six Sisters travelled from Ireland to Perth. They settled in a bush cottage in the middle of Perth. This area is now known as Victoria Square.
In 1896 a new congregation of Sisters was established at St Brigid's, West Perth . St Brigid's School became one of the leading schools for girls in Perth .
In 1969 the West Perth Sisters decided that it would be a good idea to leave the area which by then was in the middle of a busy city. They bought some land in Koondoola and in 1972 Mercy College was opened for girls.
Mercy College has two important things in common with its Alma Mater (Founder School). Both schools were built in bushland which was to eventually become heavily populated. Both schools attracted students from many different ethnic backgrounds.
Indeed the devotion shown by Catherine McAuley to caring for others has been a fine example for others to follow. Today her work is still being done by the Sisters of Mercy and lay people who also believe in her values.
Mercy College has a rich and proud history which began soon after the settlement of WA. The Swan River Colony (Western Australia) was founded in 1829. In 1843 the first Catholic priests arrived and Governor Hutt welcomed them and granted three allotments of land for a school, a church and presbytery. The church became the Cathedral and the school is now Mercedes College.
The Mercy Sisters arrived in January 1846 and promised to give service to the poor, the sick and the ignorant.
In 1846 the Sisters lived in three rush-thatched cottages and the students sat the public exams. There were sixty students in 1847, two thirds of these weren't Catholics. Within a few years the Sisters had built a convent, three schools and two orphanages (one for aboriginal children).
St Brigid's School in West Perth was founded in 1888. By 1896 there were about 500 pupils. St Brigid's had a great reputation as a school and won many government scholarships. In 1928 there were forty Sisters of Mercy at St Brigid's and 600 pupils. The Sisters from West Perth began new schools in Leederville (Aranmore), Lesmurdie (St Brigid's), Osborne Park (St Kieran's) and Wanneroo (St Anthony's). St Brigid's students transferred directly to the new Mercy College in 1972.
The city and the freeway were taking over West Perth and few people lived in the area. A new school was needed as people began to settle in Balga and Girrawheen. Mirrabooka Avenue and Beach Road stopped well short of this school in the bush. Buses dropped off students 200 metres from the entrance and they walked along a limestone track. There was no telephone or postal service and school began at 9.30am and finished at 4.15pm as the school was at the end of the track.
Sister Joan Flynn bought the land and built the first buildings and Sr Paula McAdam was the first Secondary School Principal.
Many of the first students (all girls) came by bus from St Brigid's, West Perth. The first buildings now form part of the current Middle Learning Centre.
In their first year (1972), Mercy girls won their section of the athletics and performed the operetta "Suzanna and Figaro" so the girls were enthusiastic and busy. The school expanded rapidly from the first Year Eight to Ten classes in 1972. The Primary (Year Five) began in 1974. In 1973/74 the two-storey block was built containing eight classrooms, two science laboratories, toilets and change room.
In 1976 the school was divided into Primary and Secondary with Mr Dick Finucane the Principal of Secondary. Boys were admitted to Year Five for the first time. Judge Dan O'Dea was the Chairman of the College Board and O'Dea House is named after him.
In 1994, through a directed rationalisation of the surrounding area, the Primary School commenced taking Pre-Primary students.
In 2002 the Primary and Secondary Schools were amalgamated to form a new Mercy College. The Primary caters for students from Kindy to Year six. The Secondary caters for students from Year Seven to Twelve.
At present we are a large school with over 1600 students. More than twenty Mercy Sisters have been part of the Mercy College staff over the years and we continue the traditions of these Sisters and their foundress, Catherine McAuley. We continue to strive for excellence in a caring Christian environment.