Young Mercy Leaders Pilgrimage 2023 – Moving Forward in Mercy


During the Term 2 school holidays, three Year 11 students represented St Aloysius College at the Young Mercy Leaders Pilgrimage in Melbourne. Anjali, Eleanor and Grace joined students and staff from 17 Mercy schools around Australia for the inaugural two-day gathering.

The Pilgrimage was hosted by the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy and Our Lady of Mercy College in Heidelberg. As Catherine McAuley said, “a good beginning is of great importance,” and day one of the pilgrimage didn’t disappoint. Upon entering the grounds of the Academy, murmurs of excitement rippled through the group as they absorbed their surroundings: new to the vast majority of students and staff, yet somehow familiar.

“I thought it was only our school who had Mercy Day!” Exclaimed one student from interstate, indicating to a ‘Countdown to Mercy Day!’ sign displayed on a wall near the gathering hall.

The spirit of Mercy and the shared values of Mercy schools were tangible as well as visible. This is the richness of Mercy; it connects us across borders and oceans to others who are also learning and working in communities inspired by Catherine McAuley’s ethos and vision.

The Academy of Mary Immaculate is itself a significant Mercy landmark. Its chapel is the final resting place of Ursula Frayne, an Irish Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Sisters of Mercy who was sent to Australia in the mid-1800s, where she became the Australian Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy and opened the Academy in 1857.

The first activities of the Pilgrimage encouraged students to reflect, converse, and deepen their knowledge of the history of Mercy in Australia. They discussed some of Catherine’s motives for establishing the Sisters of Mercy, her commitment to serving girls and women, the myriad challenges she encountered, and how, where and why we see Mercy in action today.

The afternoon session took students beyond the Academy walls and into the bustling streets of Fitzroy, a vibrant cultural and arts hub just outside the Melbourne CBD. Many may know the suburb as the home of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. First and foremost, it is the country of the Woiwurrung people of the Kulin nation. Students and staff were divided into groups and followed the Fitzroy Aboriginal Heritage Walk. The trail takes walkers to 16 sites in the suburb, with plaques installed detailing their historical significance.

Fitzroy was the heart of Victoria’s Aboriginal rights movement between the 1960s and 1980s and taking the Heritage Walk helped students to understand more about the struggles First Nations peoples faced at a time in relatively recent history.

On day two at Our Lady of Mercy College Heidelberg, a range of guest speakers from the Mercy community shared stories that were inspiring and entertaining, with each presentation calling students to consider how they, too, can live Mercy in their daily lives. Sister of Mercy, Cathy Solano, has spent more than a decade working in Africa. Her workshop on interculturality challenged students to think about how they interact with people from other cultures and the unconscious biases they have, and left them feeling motivated to move beyond mere tolerance of people from different backgrounds, to build authentic and meaningful understanding and connection.

Students also listened to presentations about Mercy Works and heard from members of Young Mercy Links Melbourne, a group for post-school students who keep the spirit of Mercy alive by raising awareness, funds and volunteering for Mercy-affiliated causes. Young Mercy Links also operates in South Australia and is coordinated by SAC Old Scholar, Gaby Kinsman, and support coordinators, Maya Murali and Isabel Salter, also old scholars. Students were impressed by the work of Young Mercy Links and excited by the thought that, even in several years when they leave their respective schools, they can stay connected to the Mercy community.

It is difficult to imagine how Catherine McAuley and Ursula Frayne envisioned the Mercy ethos taking shape in the 21st Century, but one thing is certain: their example shows that Mercy is applicable to any time or place. The values of Courage, Compassion, Service, Justice, Respect and Hospitality are needed today as much as ever. The symbol for the Young Mercy Leaders Pilgrimage was an artwork of three Sisters of Mercy standing in a row, one Sister looking back to the shores of Ireland, where her roots are and another Sister facing forward to the desert plains of Australia, where her unknown future lay. In between the two stands Catherine McAuley, staring front-on as a sign of the present moment, clutching her Bible and crucifix. Catherine said, “We have one solid comfort amidst this little tripping about: our hearts can always be in the same place, centred in God, for whom alone we go forward – or stay back.” Catherine’s faith and the drive it gave her to serve those in need has transformed lives all over the world.

The Young Mercy Leaders Pilgrimage was a step forward for Anjali, Eleanor and Grace and their peers from Mercy schools around Australia. Catherine and Ursula would undoubtedly be proud to see how these young people are living Mercy today and continuing to be “shining lamps”.

Ms Maddie Kelly
JAM Coordinator