The Mercy sisters have been involved in education in the Coburg district since 1886. Mercy College commenced classes as a regional secondary college for girls in local primary schools in 1965, then opened on the current site in Coburg in 1966. The College was built on the site of the old Mercy Convent which was originally The Young Queen Hotel built in 1846, and used as a watering place for miners on their way to the goldfields. The College was conducted by the Sisters of Mercy until 1978 when the first lay principal, Mr. Frank West (1978-85) was appointed. The Sisters have continued their close association with the College which has maintained the Mercy ethos. The current principal is Ms Lila McInerney.
The story of the Sisters of Mercy in Coburg and Mercy College begins on the other side of the world in eighteenth century Ireland. It begins in 1778 with the birth in Dublin of a remarkable woman named Catherine McAuley. Catherine's Catholic parents were middle class. This was unusual at the time as the penal laws oppressed Catholics and deprived them of an education, leading to many social ills. In her early childhood, Catherine witnessed her father's generosity to the poor and needy. After her father's death, the family's situation changed rapidly and Catherine had many years of deprivation.
Catherine began her work of mercy in a concerted way in 1827 when, after inheriting a large fortune, she chose to build a house for this purpose in Baggot Street, Dublin to address the needs she saw around her. The building was ready for occupancy on September 24. This was also the date of the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy and thus they claimed an identity and a spirit for their building and its works, naming it the House of Mercy. Responding to the critical social needs of the day, Catherine set up a school and a refuge for homeless and destitute women. She also began to gather around her other women who shared her vision of alleviating illiteracy, poverty and sickness, and of bringing into people's lives a profound sense of God.
Catherine did not intend to found a religious order. However, along with two companions, she was persuaded to commence training, thus giving birth to the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine stated that the principal aims of the congregation were:
To educate poor girls, to lodge and maintain poor young women who are in danger...............and to visit the sick and poor."
Within the remaining ten years of Catherine's life, her passion for serving the poor inspired many young women and her charism of Mercy spread across Ireland and England. Today there are Sisters of Mercy in most countries throughout the world.
The Catholic community of Mercy College models its response to the call of Jesus on the legacy and spiritual perspective of Catherine McAuley and the Mercy sisters.