Earlier this week, the first Convent of Mercy on Australia’s East coast – the Nicholson Street Fitzroy Convent – was entrusted by the Leadership Team of the Institute of Mercy (ISMAPNG) into the care of Academy of Mary Immaculate, led by Principal Mary Moloney RSM, ‘for the furtherance of the Ministry of Education’.

The date of the event, 20 April 2021, marked the 164th anniversary of the opening of Academy, which was the first Catholic fee-paying secondary school for girls in Melbourne, by Mother Ursula Frayne RSM. Sr Ursula was the first Sister of Mercy to set foot on the shores of Australia in 1846 and in 1857, travelled to Melbourne at the invitation of then-Archbishop James Alipius Goold.

A ritual handover was held at the college and streamed live 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.

Speakers at the event included 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, spoke of the 'tangible and intangible signs' left behind by the Sisters of Mercy – the college itself, the founding sisters (Ursula Frayne and Anne Xavier Dillon are buried in the chapel) and two chalices that were given to the Fitzroy Community by Archbishop Goold.

A special plaque was unveiled by Eveline Crotty RSM (Institute Leader) and Mary Moloney RSM, which will be permanently affixed to the convent building, and will remain a visible link with and witness to this first Victorian Mercy foundation. This, as well as the establishment of a heritage area inside the convent housing items that reflect the life and ministry of previous Sisters in Melbourne.

Sr Eveline 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). She continued the theme in her address, saying '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.'
Mercy Convent at Academy of Mary Immaculate. Photo by Peter Casamento.

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.

In concluding her reflection, Sr Eveline referenced a poem penned by Sr Mary Wickham RSM:

'Eras begin, new history is ready for the making'.

Among the 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 of 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'.