Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1778. Both her parents died when she was young and she, her brother and sister went to live with relatives, the Armstrongs, who were Protestant in their faith. While members of her family converted, Catherine remained a committed Catholic. 

When she was 25, Catherine became the live-in companion to Mr and Mrs Callaghan, friends of the Armstrong's. Although they too were Protestant and did not approve of Catherine's Catholic faith, they did support her charitable work.

For almost 20 years she taught young women needlework and gave Catholic instruction to household servants and poor village children from Coolock House, the Callaghan's home.

Before William Callaghan died he became a Catholic, as did his wife, and appointed Catherine as his sole heir. This allowed her to provide social services to educate and provide for poor women and young girls. 

In 1824, Catherine leased a property in Baggot Street, Dublin. Here she began educating young girls and set up a home for poor young women. Catherine also had a group of women who were prepared to help at the house as well as visit the sick and poor at their homes. After a time, there were 12 women living at Baggot Street with Catherine, who adopted a common timetable and dressed simply.

Their lifestyle and dedication led Catherine to consider establishing a religious congregation and in 1830 Catherine joined the novitiate of Presentation Convent in Dublin, with two companions from Baggot Street. They were professed in 1831 and the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy was founded.

Catherine's dream was now a reality. She encouraged her Sisters to "educate poor girls, to lodge and maintain poor young women who are in danger and to visit the sick poor". Within 10 years Catherine founded a further nine Convents of Mercy in Ireland and England. Each new foundation was independent of the motherhouse in Baggot Street but they were all linked to Catherine and each other by visits and frequent letters.

Catherine died on November 11, 1841 after a short illness.


Mother Xavier Maguire was born Eliza Maguire, in 1819 at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland. She was educated in a convent in France and grew to become a refined, cultured woman of high social standing.

On 1 May 1843, she entered the Convent of Mercy in Baggot St Dublin and was professed 2 years later. She was elected Novice Mistress and later became Mother Superior of the Convent. She established two branch convents in Ireland, sent sisters to Buenos Aries and also to the battlefields of England during the Crimean War. Mother Xavier Maguire was a born administrator and organiser, being both practical and thorough.

In June 1859, Dr J Goold, the first Archbishop of Melbourne attended the Convent of Mercy in Dublin to request a community of Sisters for the growing town of Geelong.

On 5 September Mother Maguire sailed for Australia with five Sisters.

When they arrived, Mother Maguire and her little group were extended hospitality at the Convent of Mercy, Fitzroy after which they continued on to their destination, arriving in Geelong on 3 December. With nothing prepared for their arrival, Mother Maguire and the Sisters stayed at St Augustine’s for 3 months.

In March 1860, Mother Xavier and the Sisters took possession of their new home called Sunville, their temporary convent. Over the next 3 years they paid for the property in instalments, as well as for extensive repairs and furnishings. Mother Xavier Maguire envisaged a complex which would include all their intended works of Mercy, consisting of a Convent, Orphanage, Boarding school, Day school and refuge for poor young women. Lacking space, money and staff for such an ambitious project she began to do what she could with what means and materials she possessed.

In the latter part of 1860, Mother Maguire looked to the future needs of the school and Convent. She called for tenders and began planning to build a much larger building, similar to the Convent in Baggot St, Dublin. Through her efforts, she oversaw and paid for a program of building from 1863 to 1874, including Our Lady’s Orphanage, the quadrangle complex and the Convent Chapel that forms the foundation of the college today.

Mother Xavier, although suffering extreme rheumatism and being confined to a wheelchair for many years, continued to carry out her duties, including being elected Superior for 20 years.

She died aged 60, on 30 August, 1879. Her death caused deep personal grief to her community. For twenty years, her inspiration, her courage and above all her deep unfailing trust in God had been the driving force for Mother Xavier Maguire to establish a Mercy foundation here in Geelong.

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