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THE WORK OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH SPECIAL FEATURE Walking in their footsteps: 170 years of mercy commemorated through pilgrimage


On Saturday, 9 April 2016, a large crowd of Sisters of Mercy and their colleagues undertook a pilgrimage in Perth to celebrate the historic arrival of the Sisters of Mercy 170 years ago. Photo: Supplied

To celebrate the work of Women in the Church, The eRecord will throughout the month of May publish a number of articles in each edition – often referred to as the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary – highlighting the active role and witness that a number of women and organisations from across the Archdiocese of Perth provide in spreading the Gospel.

In this first article for the special feature for 2016, we take a look at the recent pilgrimage by the Sisters of Mercy which traced their journey through history.

Pope Francis said “The Holy Door of Mercy” is a journey. This makes of us a Pilgrim.


When Ursula Frayne and her Mercy companions set foot on the Barrack Street jetty on 9 January 1846, they would not have envisaged that when they looked down the panorama of the years, the Sisters of Mercy and their friends would be celebrating their historic arrival 170 years later.

On Saturday, 9 April 2016, a large crowd of Sisters of Mercy and their colleagues were presented with an experience of pilgrimage as part of those celebrations.

The pilgrims met at the Bell Tower in Perth City at 9am where they were presented with a small guidebook outlining the pilgrimage route and containing quotes from Ursula Frayne’s letters written in 1866. The letters contained descriptions of that first pilgrimage journey into Perth so many years ago.

“It was quite a moving experience to see each small group of four or five pilgrims face the river and read the following passage which Ursula had written all those years before,” Sister of Mercy, Mollie Wright, said.

“One of the passages we read went as follows: at length we came to the landing place, a veritable jetty, upon which were assembled a crowd of sightseers, a few of whom hailed us with delight. Others looked on with indifference, and a greater number with positive displeasure”.

At various points along the pilgrimage way, further quotes from Ursula’s Sketches were read and discussed. On arriving at Perth’s Pro-Cathedral, the pilgrims entered and read the following extract from Ursula.

At long last we stopped at the Catholic Church, entered, returned thanks to Almighty God for His watchful care over us during the voyage, and for bringing us safely to our journey’s end. A few minutes sufficed for this duty. We arose from our kneeling position and walked out from the Church expecting to be conducted to the house provided for us, but alas! Our arrival was totally unexpected. We stood in the wilds of Australia on that mid-summer night and we could truly say with our Divine Model “We have nowhere to rest our heads”.

The pilgrims continued on their way and entered the Mercy Convent at Victoria Square through the front door, from where many took advantage of their visit to walk around the Heritage Centre and absorb a sense of what it was like for those early Sisters, in that convent built by the Fenians in 1871.

In the convent’s Music Room, through which hundreds of pupils had passed, pilgrims were met by Mercedes pupils playing on the grand piano.

All those who had participated in the pilgrimage then joined with those who had been unable to walk, in sharing a delicious morning tea. Over 100 persons were involved in the memorable occasion.

The morning tea was followed by a Liturgy for the opening of the Local Door of Mercy, which including a reading from Pope Francis’ Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

A section of the Bull of Indiction especially chosen for the pilgrimage reads as follows:

“With sentiments of gratitude for everything the Church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides the steps of believers. . . lead the way and support the People of God so that they may contemplate the face of Mercy. Today this Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope.”(4)

The morning concluded with a vote of thanks to all those who had contributed to making the 170th celebration such a memorable one.