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Mercedes College: First college founded by Mercy Sisters in Australia celebrates 175 years

By Amanda Murthy

More than 100 students participated in a Mass, to mark the 175 anniversary celebrations since Mercedes College was founded. The Mass was held at Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 9 March. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Students, staff, Mercy Sisters, Catholic Education Western Australia representatives and guests of Mercedes College gathered on Tuesday, 9 March, to celebrate their milestone anniversary, which honours 175 years of Catholic Education in the Mercy tradition.

The flame of Mercy education was lit by Mother Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland and carried to Western Australian shores by Mother Ursula Frayne and the founding Sisters on 2 February 1846 in a rented cottage on St George’s Terrace, diagonally opposite Government House. The Sisters were surprised but not discouraged by the arrival of one student after the promise by Bishop Brady of 4000 prospective students.

Mercedes College has the proud distinction of being the first school in Australia founded by a Religious Congregation and WA’s first permanent school, and the present site of the college is of unique historical importance.

The 175 anniversary celebrations since Mercedes College was founded was held at Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 9 March. Photo: Michelle Tan.

The events began with a morning Mass at Saint Mary’s Cathedral celebrated by Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB in honour of the college’s milestone. Episcopal Vicar for Education and Faith Formation Father Vincent Glynn, Cathedral Dean Rev Dr Sean Fernandez, and Monsignor Michael Keating concelebrated.

Before the start of the Mass, students re-enacted the story of the college’s humble beginnings. The college also took the opportunity to perform several ceremonies and blessings. This included the commitment of the new student body, the blessing of students and staff, the blessing of the Candle of Mercy and anniversary badges that were later distributed to all students, and the commissioning of ten candidates as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

During the Mass, the commissioning of ten student candidates as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion took place. The 175 anniversary Mass for Mercedes College was held at Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 9 March. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Candidates Abbey Breust, Sophie Carroll, Anne-Marie Fitzgerald, Ivy Fuentes, Tiara Jones, Annie Kenwery, Joann Lukose, Sarah Mckay, Antonia Palermo and Mutiara Sunarko served for the first time during the Mass. 

During his homily, Archbishop Costelloe offered seven values that the Mercedes College community could use are a shining light to guide them into the future.

“Compassion, justice, excellence, integrity and service: these are the values which your college proudly proclaims to be at the heart of everything you try to do and be together as a Catholic school in the Mercy tradition – but there are two other qualities I’d like to add and that is courage and fidelity,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“It is only by developing these qualities that you will be able to be the compassionate and merciful young women that you want to be, young women who excel in the things that really matter and whose lives are marked by integrity and service.”

Mercedes College Principal Kerrie Fraser lights the Candle of Mercy at the college’s 175 anniversary Mass celebrations, held at Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 9 March. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Archbishop Costelloe went on to explain that as a Catholic community of faith, it is vital to look to the Word of God in the Scriptures, to help understand what God is asking of us, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus “in today’s complex and challenging world.”

The congregation was encouraged to reflect on the courage of the founding sisters of the college, who ‘committed themselves totally to the welfare of others, including young people, in what was then an impoverished, fledging colony in WA.

“It was to be the sisters’ faith in Jesus Christ, and their commitment to Him within the Church, which was to sustain them in their challenges and difficulties - It can be the same for us,” Archbishop Costelloe cited.

“…..that you become these kinds of young women is a fundamental aim of your college. Should Mercedes College succeed in achieving this aim, (and I am confident that the college will for so many of you), it will be a confirmation that the decision by Ursula Frayne and her companions to set sail from Ireland on the good ship Elizabeth in 1846, was a decision which was inspired by God and used by God to bring so much goodness to the Swan River colony - a goodness that you continue to experience and hopefully will share with others as you continue on your journey through life,” Archbishop Costelloe concluded.


At the conclusion of Mass, all present enjoyed a morning tea as students participated in a range of art and fun activities throughout the day. The activities included, taking a ‘selfie’ using an Instagram frame alongside the ‘founding Sisters and original students,’ a papercut timeline providing a visual presentation of the Mercedes College story by Year 8 students, two assemblies to celebrate the college’s rich tradition and history, creating Mercedes memories boxes for a wall art installation, and more.

The day concluded with all students gathering on the school oval to form the numbers 175 which was filmed by a drone.

Mercedes College Principal Kerrie Fraser said the Mercy story is one of great significance across Australia and around the world.

Many of the Mercy Sisters, who are part of the religious congregation who founded Mercedes College, pose for a photograph outside St Mary’s Cathedral at the conclusion of the college’s 175 anniversary Mass celebrations. Photo: Michelle Tan.

“The college has impacted on many West Australian lives including the likes of Bishops, politicians, actresses, and even Lionel Logue, the famous speech tutor to Edward VIII (Prince of Wales), who once taught at the college,” she said.

“From our humble beginnings with ‘one student’, Mercy Education has spread throughout Western Australia and the whole nation, positively influencing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over many generations.”