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140 Years of Mercy

Catholic College Bendigo has a proud tradition dating back to 1876 when Sister Aloysius Martyn and the Sisters of Mercy first arrived in Bendigo. In 2016, we are joyfully celebrating 140 years of education inspired by the spirit and ethos of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

We sincerely thank the Sisters of Mercy for their extraordinary service to the Bendigo community, educating thousands of children and working tirelessly wherever their help was needed, including in prisons, health and aged care.

On 28 July, a Jubilee Mass was held in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Leslie Tomlinson DD. Sisters of Mercy, past Principals and our community of students and staff who gathered to give thanks for the courage, vision and dedicated service of the Sisters of Mercy in Sandhurst for the past 140 years.

The Life and Legacy of Sr M. Aloysius Martyn (1835 - 1899)

M. Aloysius Martyn was an extraordinary woman of faith who founded three convents during her lifetime. From Swinford, Ireland she led a group of pioneering Irish women to Australia. Their mission was to provide a religious, literary and moral education to the children of the Sandhurst Goldfields.

Monica Martyn was born in Galway, Ireland in 1835 and died in Latrobe, Tasmania in 1899. She entered the Convent in Tuam and was professed as a Sister of Mercy on 1 June 1855, taking the religious name of Mary Aloysius. When Sisters were required to establish a Convent of Mercy in Swinford, a district suffering in the wake of the Irish famine, Mother M. Aloysius, aged 20 years, took up this challenge and faithfully and tirelessly ministered to the people of Swinford.

“In 1875, when the Sisters of Mercy were asked to start  a mission at Bendigo, Victoria, she was ready to set out.” Letter from Swinford to Bishop Crane 29 July 1875

In 1875, the Bishop of the new Sandhurst Diocese, Dr Martin Crane asked the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland for help as government grants to denominational schools had been completely removed. Existing schools, established by Dr Henry Backhaus, were overcrowded and understaffed.

Bendigo itself was well-established and wealthy, but still “a city of heat and dust” with stamping batteries crushing ore, water pumps and men working day and night.

Mother M. Aloysius, at age 40, led a party of seven from Swinford. After enduring a terrifying sea journey on the Dunalistair, they arrived in Melbourne in December 1875, where they rested before travelling to Sandhurst (Bendigo) in January 1876.

The founding group consisted of three sisters and four postulants: Mother Aloysius Martyn, Sister M Ligouri O’Hara, Sister de Sales Dooley, Miss Annie J. Woods, Miss Ellen Gough, Miss Eliza Byrne and Miss Bridget McDonald (who parted company with the group in Melbourne).

The Sisters were welcomed by a solemn Mass of “great pomp and ceremony.”

“St Kilian’s Church . . . was crowded in every part, and the altars were profusely decorated with flowers. The choir was in full muster and sang high Mass grandly. The Bishops of Ballarat and Bendigo were present and . . . the Very Rev Dr Backhaus officiated as the celebrant.” Bendigo Advertiser 24 January 1876

The house arranged by Bishop Crane for the convent was only a short distance from the Hustlers Reef Mine and is now known as the Mercy Building.

There was a strong need for the Sisters’ pastoral and teaching skills and with great energy they assumed responsibility for the operation of the infants and girls section of St Kilian’s school, approximately 460 students up to 13 years old.

On 25 April 1876 they opened the fee-paying St Aloysius Select School (later St Mary’s College) next to the convent. “There was a large attendance of young ladies anxious to place themselves under the care of the Sisters.”

Mother Aloysius was known as a dedicated and capable woman who extended the convent, built the Chapel and established the boarders’ accommodation.

Mother M. Aloysuis was a “highly educated and most accomplished lady, well versed in science, arts, music, and languages”. She spent her life “teaching and nursing all in need of her aid, without distinction of creed or country”. A tragic event in her early years fuelled her determination to dedicate her life to the service of God. In the Bendigo Convent Mother M. Aloysuis established a steady rhythm of religious life and her love of Christ was at the core of all her works.

In 1892 Mother Aloysius undertook her third foundation, answering the call to establish a convent and school in Tasmania, where she lived out her life in the service of the people of Latrobe.