Catherine McAuley built the first Convent of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin, which became the home of the Sisters of Mercy. They were often referred to as the ‘walking nuns’ as they moved about the city tending to the poor and the sick. Destitute women and girls were given protection and taught skills to help them gain employment.
The congregation grew and by the time of Catherine’s death in 1841 there were 9 additional Convents of Mercy in Ireland and 2 in England. To escape poverty and unemployment, many Irish people migrated to countries overseas and the Sisters of Mercy followed to continue their welfare work.
A large group of Irish farmers and their families had fled the poverty of Ireland and migrated to Argentina, but the vastly different climate and living conditions meant life wasn’t easy for the new settlers. When news reached Ireland that many Irish people were suffering from disease and a lack of nursing facilities, 7 Sisters of Mercy responded by sailing to Buenos Aires, Argentina to establish a Convent . They set up schools, hospitals and orphanages to support the Irish migrants.
Political instability was common in Argentina but a violent uprising in Buenos Aires threatened the safety of the Sisters and led to a temporary closure of the Convent. Mother Evangelista Fitzpatrick and Sister Mary Claver Kenny visited Dublin from Buenos Aires to discuss the future of the order in Argentina. Here they met Bishop Christopher Reynolds from Adelaide who was looking for teachers for Catholic schools in Adelaide. He invited Mother Evangelista to bring her Sisters to Adelaide.
March 17, 1880
24 Sisters from the Argentinean Convent sailed from London with Adelaide as their destination.
May 3, 1880
The Sisters arrived at Port Adelaide with the mission to establish a Mercy foundation in Adelaide and in other parts of South Australia as the need and opportunity arose. They were welcomed by the religious communities already established in South Australia – the Dominican Sisters in Franklin Street and the Sisters of St Joseph in Kensington. Until the Cathedral School became available, the Sisters taught in the Russell Street School, vacated for them by the St Joseph Sisters. A house in Gouger Street was rented to accommodate the Sisters, but due to the cramped conditions it was decided that 12 Sisters would stay in Adelaide and 12 would move to Mt Gambier to set up a Mercy foundation there.
1980, Centenary: The Sisters of Mercy South Australia 1880-1980, Sisters of Mercy, Adelaide.
Mother Evangelista Fitzpatrick n.d., St Aloysius College Archives,St Aloysius College, Adelaide.
St Aloysius College Centenary Journal 1980, St Aloysius College, Adelaide.
2013, Short history of SAC, Document, St Aloysius College, Adelaide.