Our Parramatta Story

The first group of Sisters of Mercy to come to Australia arrived in Perth in 1846.

From then on, there was a succession of foundations of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia; Parramatta in 1888 was among the last. Parramatta was founded from Callan in Kilkenny, Ireland.

The foundation from Callan to Parramatta was a direct result of the close relationship between Cardinal Moran and the Sisters for Mercy in Callan. Cardinal Moran had a strong sense of mission and this spirit was shared by the Sisters at Callan. Mother Clare Dunphy was the leader of a group of nine sisters who responded to the Cardinal’s invitation.

It was said of Mother Clare:

" She was never haughty, there was always the kindly smile, the little pat on one’s head or shoulder. She always found an excuse for everybody.”

The relatively young group was ardently Irish, inspired with a spirit of adventure and missionary zeal; they were leaving their homeland for the ‘ends of the earth’ – never to return!

On Friday 12 October 1888 the Sisters, accompanied by Cardinal Moran, set sail on the ' Cuzco' and arrived in Sydney on 29 November 1888. By 5 December 1888, four of the Sisters had set up residence in Parramatta. The other five joined them a week later. The first Mass was celebrated on 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

From early records, we learn that the Sisters wasted no time in embracing their mission of Mercy wholeheartedly. On 9th December they took children for catechism after Sunday Mass and visited the sick in Parramatta Hospital. They also visited those who were in the Macquarie St Asylum. Before the end of the first year, the Sisters had prepared many Catholics at the asylums for Confirmation.

On 10th December 1888, the Sisters opened the primary school with 55 students and on 7th January 1889 opened the secondary school with seven girls. A few months later, there were 138 enrolled in the primary school and 24 in the high school.

Over the next 20 years, the Sisters established a further 11 schools from Woolloomooloo to North Parramatta, in addition to opening St Michael's boy's orphanage in Baulkham Hills and St Brigid's girl's orphanage in Ryde. This extraordinary response to need was replicated in each of the decades that followed with a further 33 schools opened and/or extended between 1908 and 1988.

The Sisters' ministry efforts were not limited to primary and secondary education. The Visitation of the sick, commenced on the first day after the Sisters arrived, continues to the present day and now incorporates residential aged care, nursing, physiotherapy, counselling, and pastoral care roles in various health and aged care facilities.

As ministry horizons of the Congregation began to change with increased lay teaching and leadership positions within the Catholic school system, there was greater freedom for Sisters to choose a ministry that suited their skills and gifts.

The Sisters became engaged in different roles in educational facilities and parishes; spirituality and retreat centres; adult education and faith formation ministries; advocacy and social justice groups and agencies; and in neighbouring developing countries such as Papua New Guinea.

Over the 125 years since the foundation of the Parramatta Congregation, Sisters have continued to respond to the changing needs of the local and global population. To see an iMovie presentation of some of the history and current activities of the Sisters over this time, please click here.