Sisters of Mercy North Sydney

Our Story

Elizabeth McQuoin

In those ten years, Mercy Convents were established in Ireland, in England and the Americas. In 1846 the Sisters of Mercy came to Australia and settled in Perth, but it wasn't until 1865 that the North Sydney Mercies established a presence in Sydney under the leadership of Elizabeth McQuoin, who was called Mother Mary Ignatius. Elizabeth McQuoin was born in London in 1819 and entered the Sisters of Mercy, Liverpool in 1848.

Originally, Elizabeth and her companions were to go to Bathurst, New South Wales, but whilst they were on their voyage to Australia, Bathurst was made a separate diocese and the Bishop already had Sisters to minister there. Elizabeth was invited by Bishop Bede Polding to make a foundation in his diocese of Sydney.

In 1865, Church Hill was the part of Sydney where the Sisters eventually settled. They soon began teaching children, and operating a residence for servant girls. Their first 'school' was the crypt under St Patrick's church.

The convent and school were established in Sydney's historic Rocks area with a history reaching back to the very beginnings of Catholic life in Australia. A parish hall and girls' school were opened in 1918. The buildings stand on what was the original site of the cottage owned by William Davis. His home had become a centre of Catholic prayer where the Blessed Eucharist was preserved in Australia's first tabernacle between 1818-1820. The Sisters regarded themselves privileged to have lived there.

St Patrick's Girls High school closed in 1990 after parents, students and staff put up a brave effort to save the school.

The St Patrick’s Girls' Commercial College with secondary and commercial classes was established in Harrington Street in 1928 and eventually became a renowned Business College. It was transferred in 1995 to Centacare, Sydney and was relocated to Surry Hills. While the College continues to operate from various premises, it does so with the Mercy ethos.

Today the Sisters are no longer at St Patrick's, Church Hill. The convent is now occupied by the Marist Fathers. The Chapel has been refurbished and is used as a Coffee shop which contains a bell from the ship which brought Ignatius McQuoin to Australia.

In 1874 at the request of Archdeacon Rigney, some of the Sisters of Mercy, North Sydney went to serve in the parish of Parramatta. The Sisters were responsible for establishing an Infants school. For the fourteen years the Sisters were at Parramatta they lived and taught in sub-standard conditions. It was the Archdeacon's intent that the Parramatta convent be made the Mother House, but Elizabeth McQuoin declined the offer. The Sisters were eventually replaced by the Sisters of Mercy from Callan, Kilkenny in 1888 as Cardinal Moran wanted a suitable location as a foundation for these Irish Sisters.

By 1875 the Sisters at Church Hill had crossed the Sydney Harbour by ferry to its northern side. Elizabeth had taken possession of a cottage at St Leonards as respite for the Sisters. In time, they found that the people in the area wanted instruction for their children. The Sisters began to teach, but a more suitable property was required for the expanding needs. With the help of a friend, "Masalou" in Miller Street, North Sydney was purchased, and the Sisters took possession of it in 1879. They established a day and boarding school for girls. Eventually the convent and college were named "Monte Sant' Angelo" and the convent became the Mother House and Novitiate for the North Sydney Mercies. The buildings became the centre of the many works of the Sisters.

Elizabeth McQuoin


1897 Mother Aloysius Casey established an orphanage at Waitara on what was considered in the early days to be the outskirts of Sydney. The structure changed over the years. At Waitara the Sisters cared for homeless children, orphans and unmarried mothers. Waitara was recognised and registered as a Training School for Mothercraft Nurses.


In 1907 at Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River, the Sisters opened a Home where they cared for young children and adolescents. The Home was rebuilt in the 1960s and later was subdivided to make three group units, thus creating a more 'homely' atmosphere for the children. It became a 'model' Children's Home attracting many visitors from various Institutions and Government Departments. St Catherine's always had the benefit of very committed staff, wide community support and ongoing contacts with past residents. The Home was closed in 1990 due to limited financial resources and the diminishing number of Mercy Sisters who were able to carry on the legacy.

Mater Hospital

The Mater Hospital commenced as a "Cottage Hospital" for women and children in Willoughby Rd., on Northern Sydney in 1906. The building had previously been the North Shore Hospital. In 1911 "Wenona" a large residence situated on Lane Cove Road, (now Pacific Highway), was purchased and renovated and became a fully operational hospital. When demands required that a bigger hospital be built, the Mater General was erected and opened in 1914 adjacent to "Wenona". The Sisters, with an expanding and dedicated medical staff opened a casualty and outpatients department in the public hospital, as well as a pathology department and units representing the developing specialities. The "Cottage Hospital" was closed and "Wenona" became the Mater Private. A training school for nurses had been established in 1912. A maternity hospital was erected in 1939, and the Mater hospital continued to flourish over the years with the acquisition of surrounding properties.

In 1982 when the Mater's closure seemed inevitable, a campaign ensued to keep the Mater open. The Sisters, with a strong band of supporters including the staff and members of the community, fought to save the hospital. The possibility of extra government funding, which had been considered, and which became essential in the re-building of the Public Hospital, was not forthcoming. The Sisters then set in motion, plans for the redevelopment of the Mater Private, which was opened in December 1990 and continues to operate successfully today.

Volunteers and benefactors have played a vital role in the Mater's history.

With the merger of St Vincent's and the Mater, a new phase of health care began in January 2001.

In October 1985 the North Sydney Council approved the conversion of the Mater Hospital's former nursing quarters to an aged persons' hostel. It was to be named 'Justinian House' after Sr Mary Justinian Scollen who had been associated with the Mater for sixty years. In 2008 many of the Sisters and others who had taken up residency, moved to McQuoin Park at Waitara before Justinian House was demolished. The Poche Centre, a building specifically used as a melanoma clinic and for cancer research, was opened on the site in 2010.


In the 1930s a building programme for "Monte" was commenced and continues to this day. The main purpose of the college has always been to develop qualities in the students that would enable them to take their part in the world as truly Christian women. The college has always been renowned for its achievements.

Many other convents and schools were established in the ensuing years in the suburbs of Sydney, especially in the parishes of the struggling working class. After school and during holiday periods the Sisters continued the legacy of the 'walking nuns' by visiting the sick, the lonely and those experiencing difficulties.

Mercy Family Life Centre

In the 1970s a decision was made to re-establish the Waitara Home into what became the Mercy Family Life Centre where a number of children's, aged care, welfare and counselling services were offered. In 1994 it became incorporated and the name was changed to Mercy Family Centre. In the 1980s, on an international level, it was considered to be a Centre of excellence.

An extended program of Mercy Family Centre served to assist families and the frail aged in the South Sydney area, and operated from an old hotel which was named "The Mercy Arms". This was officially opened in 1994.

In 2001, the Congregation came to a decision that it would not be able to continue to operate some of the services that had been provided at Waitara and alternative providers were sought to continue the provision of the Family, Children's and Disability services. On 1st July, 2001 a transfer of these services was made to Centacare, Broken Bay.

McQuoin Park at Waitara is now operated by Catholic Health Care and continues to provide services for the aged.

The Mercy Foundation Ltd

The Mercy Foundation Ltd was established in 1991, with funds from the new Mater hospital going to disadvantaged groups in the form of seed funding. Today the focus of the Foundation includes major projects for Homeless people in our society as well as seed funding for other smaller projects including indigenous and refugees. The Foundation has operated from a number of places over the years and since May 2010 has operated from the Poche Centre in Crow's Nest.

Also in 1991 The Urban Ministry Movement (UMM) was established for the education and formation of people working in urban areas as well as those in rural communities, with a special focus on those working in marginal ministries. In May of 1998 UMM became a work of the Mercy Foundation but today operates independently. In 2007 "Transforming Practices Inc" was formed as an expansion of the work originally established through the UMM.

One of the North Sydney Sisters went to Chile in the mid 1980s to join others ministering to the people there. She was later joined by two other North Sydney Sisters. When the political and social situation in Chile had improved they moved to the much poorer and needier neighbouring country of Peru. The mission was firstly established by one of the Sisters in March 1995, and then the other two Sisters followed, each being missioned separately. The Sisters have accomplished so much with many donations coming from Australia. Three Womens' houses have been built as well as a Children's Centre and more recently, the Mercy Family Health Service. Besides their individual ministries in these establishments, the Sisters are continually called on for assistance which ranges from the need for food, to listening to very distressed family situations and advocating on a familiy's behalf. The sisters are much loved and appreciated by all.

Today the Sisters, although fewer in number, continue to spread the charism of Catherine McAuley by ministering in various fields - some in the ministry of prayer and others in executive positions, areas of leadership, administration, consultation and supervision, education, formation and retreat work, social welfare, pastoral care, health and aged care, liturgy and other church related services, information technology, areas of social justice, as volunteers and on various Committees and Boards. They are ably assisted by their Mercy co-workers.

Other Ministries

The North Sydney Congregation continued to maintain wide ranging ministries based on the solid foundations laid by Elizabeth McQuoin and her early companions. Some of the other works have included –

  • Papua New Guinea – In 1965 four Sisters from the North Sydney Congregation commenced a mission in Tsak Pumakos, PNG. Eventually, with other Sisters from North Sydney, they were to move to various regions of PNG working in education, health care and pastoral care. Today only one of the Sisters works in PNG and ministers in the Kiunga region for Mercy Works by assisting families in social welfare and in pastoral care.
  • For many years now a number of Sisters have been involved with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, directly, and in the coordination, administration, welfare and pastoral areas.
  • Involvement with the Indigenous has also been an important ministry, and Sisters continue to be involved in various ways. In the 1970s a few sisters ministered in the outback areas of Australia with one Sister having been in Wilcannia since 1979. Also in 1979 the Sisters of Mercy, North Sydney transferred the titles of their premises, which had been a school and convent at Redfern, to the Aboriginal Medical Service Co-operative Ltd.

In 1982 four Sisters went to Cranebrook to become part of the local community. Their style of ministry was different to the traditional roles of religious at the time, pointing the way to a new understanding of Church, where religious and laity worked hand in hand to discover various styles of community, involving outreach, justice and mission, especially to those on the margins of society. In 1989 the Sisters discerned that it was time to move on to other ministries. The local people had grown in confidence and ability thanks to the important initiatives of the Sisters. Four Sisters went to Penrith engaging in hospital chaplaincy, school and parish activities. Sisters were present in the area for over twenty years.

The Story Of The Sisters of Mercy North Sydney