Our History


Mercy Student Conference

After the discussion at the Auckland Conference about the future direction of the Student Conference, the AMSSA Executive made the decision to trial a separate student conference in the alternative year to the staff conference.

Rosa Speranza took the lead and assisted by a team spread across Australia and New Zealand organised an excellent conference which was held in Amberley, Victoria in October, 2014.

When October arrived 75 students from Mercy schools across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea arrived at Amberley to participate in a program that challenged, entertained and encouraged deep thought and reflection. The students were were an excellent example of the calibre of students in Mercy schools.

The positive response to the conference from the students, staff and organisers has led to the planning of the next Mercy Student Conference in Sydney in 2016.


Carmel College Auckland and the New Zealand Mercy schools hosted 148 educators and 52 students from among the Mercy schools and authorities across Papua New Guinea, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. Sister Anne Campbell, leader of the New Zealand Mercy Sisters, met each delegate on arrival. Women from the Auckland schools gave a traditional Maori welcome, and the story of the first Sisters, sought after by the Maori women to teach their children, was retold in the conference opening and in the visit to St Mary’s College Auckland, the Mother House. Delegates visited the current work of the Sisters and their colleagues at Te waipuna puawai, where support is offered to women, children and young men to regain control of lives blighted by poverty, violence or lack of education. During the conference Eucharist at St Patrick’s Cathedral, the site of the first Sisters’ work, Bishop Patrick Dunn recalled the close links between the Sisters, Bishop Pompallier and the Maori people. Mercy students, ex-students and staff gave expression in the conference liturgies to the Maori and Pacifica cultures.

The student delegates attended keynote addresses and took part in their own workshops with the presenters. In their own sessions they shared, learned and planned how they might better lead in Mercy in their schools. In the closing conference session they presented to the assembled delegates their reflections on their time together.

The Biennial General Meeting approved changes to the AMSSA Statement of Purpose and By-Laws, to reflect the changed configuration of the sponsoring Mercy Congregations and to make more appropriate provision for the Association to engage executive staff.

The 2013 - 15 executive committee:

  • Sheena Barber (President)
  • Deborah Brosnahan (NZ)
  • Gilda Pussich (NSW)
  • Julie Ryan (Vic)
  • Lee-Ann Perry (Qld)
  • Paddy McEvoy (SA)
  • Rosa Speranza (WA).


Western Australian Mercy Schools and the Western Australian Sisters of Mercy Congregations welcomed 150 delegates and 40 student delegated from Mercy Schools across Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia for the 10th Conference at Santa Maria College Perth.

In the Opening and Closing Ceremonies participants were led in ritual, dance, song and story by Elder Noel Nannup and members of the Nyoongar People. The Conference theme, of the flowing on us of the spirit of Mercy, was captured in Noel’s story and in prayer that the life-giving spirit of Christ may flow to all. Keynote speakers were Sr Mary Duffy, Sr Sophie McGrath and Anne Kelleher, and Conference Weaver was Anne Fox.

The parallel conference for students enabled them to take part both in some AMSSA Conference sessions and in workshops designed specifically for them. The inclusion of the students in the Conference was a first for AMSSA, and there was widespread recognition that the student Conference was a success, and that their contributions to the AMSSA Conference were an enriching part of Conference proceedings.

The 2011 - 13 executive committee:

  • Jane Holloway (President),
  • Kathleen Deady (NZ),
  • Kitty Guerin (NSW),
  • Mary Moloney rsm (Vic),
  • Lee-AnnPerry (Qld),
  • John Konopla (SA),
  • Rosa Speranza (WA).


Grants from Catholic Church Insurances to the Australian Mercy Congregations funded the WYD Mercy at the Heart gathering at Monte Sant’ Angelo College North Sydney. Ann-Marie Herd convened the gathering, ably supported by the staffs of the five Sydney Mercy schools and colleges. Over nine hundred students and staff gathered for the day, features of which were quality presentations and workshops and access to staff from aid and justice agencies. Students were encouraged to meet and make connections across Australia and the Pacific, and a Post WYD forum was set up on

It was a consequence of the Mercy YWD day for students that the AMSSA Executive decided to propose to the Perth Conference planners that provision be made to include student delegates at the 2009 Conference.


All Hallows School Brisbane welcomed one hundred and twenty delegates from Mercy schools across Papua New Guinea, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia for the Ninth Conference, Mercy in Action. The students from All Hallows and St Saviour's Toowoomba gave creative expression to all that is good in educating through their hospitality and their contributions in musical and dance. The conference prayers and Eucharistic liturgy were deep expressions for us as Mercy educators.

International guests Sister Carole Rittner rsm and Sister Deirdre Mullan rsm, from Mercy Global Concern, affirmed and challenged Mercy Education as mercy in action in the present local and global context. Professor Erica McWilliam teased out what high equity schooling might be in this conceptual age, and Sister Adele Howard rsm took us into the world of Web 2.0 technology. Sister Jan Gray rsm tapped into biblical and theological themes to consider a spirituality for Mercy educators.

Thanks to Lee-Anne Perry and the All Hallows School community, and to the conference sponsor, Catholic Church Insurances.

The 2007 - 2009 executive committee:

  • Jane Holloway (President),
  • Kathleen Deady (NZ),
  • Kitty Guerin (NSW),
  • Mary Moloney rsm (Vic),
  • Kathleen Park (Qld),
  • Christine Simpson (SA),
  • Loretta Wholley (WA).


2006 co-incided with the Mercy Secondary Education International Forum conducted by the MSEA, our counterpart Association in the Americas. As many of our Australian and New Zealand members were to attend this conference, our own biennial conference was postponed to 2007.

Our newsletter of August 2006 No. 03/06 has a report of the conference.
Conference papers can be found at, via the MSEA icon.

In August 2006 we conducted a conference in Sydney for those in pastoral roles in our member schools: Caring for students- the Mercy way. Participants from eighteen Mercy schools across Australia and New Zealand attended. Margery Jackman and her staff and students hosted a day at Catherine McAuley - Westmead, and Kitty Guerin and her community welcomed participants for the second day at Our Lady of Mercy - Parramatta.

The MSEA Newsletter for October 2006 No. 04/06 has a report of the conference.


Mercy Educators gathered in Melbourne for the Eighth MSEA Conference: What is it to be Mercy in this time and place? The member schools from Victoria and Tasmania were host to some two hundred delegates from thirty nine schools. Kath Tierney rsm opened the conference with the Welcome Address, and Maxine McKew gave the Opening Address. Keynote speakers included Helena O’Donoghue rsm: Mercy and Leadership and Maria McGuiness rsm: Challenges to Mercy Ministry Today. Among the workshops were Darren Egbert’s Bridge Building: engaging adolescent spirituality through film, and Annette Schneider rsm’s The Mercy School Culture Audit. At this conference it was decided to appoint an Executive Officer for the Association.

The Executive Committee:

  • Lee-Anne Perry (President),
  • Mary Moloney rsm (Vic),
  • Kitty Guerin (NSW),
  • Rowena Lambert (WA),
  • Loretta Wholley (WA) following Rowena’s resignation,
  • Christine Simpson (SA),
  • Jane Holloway (NZ),
  • Margaret Lee (Qld).


For the Seventh Conference of the Association, in Sydney, the theme was The Power of Mercy. Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta, Catherine McAuley College, Westmead and Monte Sant’ Angelo College, North Sydney, opened their doors to the 150 delegates, and the Parramatta Sisters made available their Congregational Centre.

Keynote speakers were Geraldine Doogue, who reflected on the Power of Mercy educators in her life and on their potential for influence; Lesley Loble addressed trends in educational policy in Australia and the USA and Sister Ursula Gilbert the challenge to Mercy educators from the founding sisters in Australia and New Zealand, Mothers and the Challenge they present to Mercy Educators and Anne Walsh from Fraynework on harnessing ICT to support Mercy education. Among the workshops were sessions from Maureen McGuirk: What makes a Mercy School? and Margaret Moore rsm: Practical Responses to the Plight of Asylum Seekers.

The Executive Committee:

  • Hilary Johnston-Croke (President),
  • Eugene Lynch (Vic),
  • Lee-Anne Perry (Qld),
  • Denise O’Meara (WA),
  • Christine Simpson (SA).


Adelaide was the venue for The Sixth Mercy Secondary Education Conference, with sessions at St Aloysius’ College and Mercedes College. As part of the conference, participants visited places important in local Mercy history and also places where the sisters were continuing their works of mercy in the city of Adelaide.

Keynote speakers were:

  • Frank Brennan sj,
  • Adele Howard rsm and
  • Eugene Lynch.

Executive Committee members included:

  • Yvonne McKernan (President),
  • Lee-Anne Perry, (Qld),
  • Hilary Johnston Croke (NSW), and
  • Eugene Lynch (Vic).


The Fifth National Conference was held in Auckland New Zealand with 147 delegates in attendance. Keynote speakers were Carol Wheeler rsm (Baltimore USA) on the topic Mercy Secondary Education: What Does it Truly Cost? , John Ozolins, After the Millennium – Mercy Schools in a Post-Modern World , Alice Sinnot rsm Mercy – Ever Ancient, Ever New. It was at this conference that the decision was made to establish a website and conference proceedings were again published in Listen, 1998.

The Executive Committee elected were:

  • Ailsa McKinnon rsm (President),
  • Ann O’Farrell rsm (Qld),
  • Hilary Johnston Croke (NSW),
  • Eugene Lynch (Vic),
  • Lorraine McArthur (NZ),
  • Barrie Harvie (WA),
  • Yvonne McKernan (SA).


The Fourth National Conference was timed to co-incide with the Mercy Festival in Perth celebrating the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia in 1846. Dr Catherine Kovesi-Killerby spoke on the Australian Mercy Foundress Ursula Frayne in her address entitled No Record of these in stone or brick. Ailsa McKinnon rsm spoke on What is meant by the Mercy tradition What does it mean to be part of a Mercy School? Adele Howard rsm screened the documentary Ursula Frayne: A Woman of Mercy. Joan Hendricks spoke about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues and “Mercy”. Helen Marie Burns rsm and Sheila Carney rsm (USA) presented Mercy Challenges for the Twenty-first Century.

The Executive Committee elected were:

  • Ailsa McKinnon rsm (NSW) President,
  • Ann O’Farrell rsm (Qld),
  • Shirley Garland rsm (NSW),
  • Eugene Lynch (Vic),
  • Yvonne McKernan (SA),
  • Ross Richardson (WA),
  • Mary Neven rsm (NZ).

Conference proceedings were again published in Listen, 1996.


The Third National Conference was held in Brisbane. The Association was officially established and an Executive Committee elected:

  • Maureen McGuirk rsm (NSW) President,
  • Ann O’Farrell rsm (QLD) Deputy President,
  • Ailsa McKinnon rsm (NSW) Secretary,
  • John Goodfellow (VIC),
  • John Fanning (SA),
  • Frank Owen (WA), and
  • Mary Neven rsm (NZ).

All who attended the first three conferences were regarded as foundation members of the Association and all continue to receive correspondence.

Chris Gleeson sj gave the keynote address The Australian Church of Tomorrow – the Challenge for Mercy Schools and Jack Darmody spoke on Changing Families: Challenge and Opportunity, both of which were published in Listen Vol 13 No 1 1994.

Read the Statement of Purpose and By-laws


The Second National Conference was held in Melbourne, attended by 100 people including the National Executive Council of ISMA. Keynote addresses were given by Helen Marie Burns rsm, Mercy: the business of our lives and Mercy Education: what it means and Helen Delaney rsm Our Australian Experience: A Reflection.

The conference endorsed a statement of common philosophies and goals was endorsed and established the Mercy Secondary Education Association of Australia and New Zealand.

  • Ann O’Farrell rsm (Queensland),
  • Maureen NcGuirk rsm (NSW),
  • Margaret Dennett rsm (Victoria),
  • John Goodfellow (Victoria),
  • John Fanning (South Australia),
  • Paula McAdam (Western Australia) and
  • Mary Neven rsm (New Zealand)

Were elected to a working party to refine details of the statement of purpose and by-laws, and to set up the Association.

Conference proceedings were again published in Listen, Vol 11 No 2, 1992.


The First National Conference was held in Sydney with 68 people in attendance, including Ethel Bignell rsm from New Zealand.

Keynote addresses were given by Margery Jackman, Biblical Theology of Mercy, Valda Dickinson rsm, Mercy Made Flesh: the Mission of Educators Today and Valda Ward rsm on Appropriate Rituals, Symbols, Structures for Mercy Schools. The proceedings were published in Listen, Vol 9 No 2 1990.


An approach was made to ISMA for a national conference of Mercy secondary education. Maureen McGuirk rsm, Ann O’Farrell rsm and Frances Baker rsm were the conference team.


Ten Mercy Sisters met at Mercedes College Adelaide and looked at the idea of sharing the Mercy ethos among the Mercy schools in Melbourne, Ballarat and Adelaide.


The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy Australia (ISMA) established the Mercy Education Commission and sent Maureen McGuirk rsm, the Commission chairperson, to the Mercy Secondary Education Conference in Madison USA. The Commission looked at the status and extent of Mercy Education in Australia and produced an edition of Listen, the journal of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia, devoted to the findings of the Commission and a report on the conference.