The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy was founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland. The Sisters took as their special concerns the education of girls, visitation of the sick in their homes, and the protection of distressed women of good character. Their attention was on local needs and they soon came to be called the ‘walking nuns’ as they were often seen on their way to and from their visitations. Before Catherine died in 1841, there were Sisters of Mercy working in 12 towns in Ireland and two in England. The Sisters at that time were involved in school-based and adult education, the care of the sick in hospitals, and the establishment of homes for orphans, the aged and disadvantaged.


Fifteen years later, in 1846, the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Perth from Ireland. One of these pioneering women was Ursula Frayne who brought with her the vision of Catherine that they should be living witnesses of God’s mercy in a new world. The Sisters of Mercy continue to provide education, health care, social services and ministries across 43 countries today. In 1990, Pope John Paul II declared Catherine McAuley "Venerable". Click here for more information on Catherine McAuley and the work under way to have her declared a Saint.

Following the establishment of a Convent at Mansfield in 1846, a branch house was opened in Lilydale in 1896. When the Sisters arrived in January of that year, neither the convent nor school had been prepared for them, but the local Parish Priest vacated his presbytery and, for the first four months, school was carried out in the basement of the presbytery. There were four nuns in charge at Lilydale, namely Mother Patrick Maguire, Mother Agnes Ryan, Sister Brigid Bradshaw and Sister Catherine Ford.

The Parish Priest, Rev A Hennessy bought a property of 33 acres and on 15 November 1896, the foundation stone of the convent and the boarding school was laid. As soon as the first stage of the building was ready, the Sisters took up residence on the site now known as Mount Lilydale Mercy College. The number of pupils increased rapidly and volunteer Sisters from Ireland were soon called for.


In 1905, Mount Lilydale College (as it was called then), was granted primary registration. In 1938, the high school received full recognition as a secondary college. From these beginnings, the College flourished as a primary, secondary, boarding and day school for students. In 1944, a two-roomed junior school was built nearby. Both were later demolished for construction of the existing College.


In April 1962, and in November 1965, the present north and south wings of the McAuley Campus were opened. In February 1964, the tennis courts were laid, and officially opened by His Grace, Archbishop Knox. The Library and Science block were constructed in 1970. At that time, this new building marked the last stage of the development of Mount Lilydale Catholic Girls’ College, which, in 1974, boasted 339 secondary and 95 primary students, including 21 boarders.

During 1973 a committee was formed to address the need for development of a boys’ secondary school to meet the growing demands in the area. The magnanimous and courageous decision was taken by the Sisters of Mercy to retain the presence of the Sisters of Mercy and for Mount Lilydale College to become coeducational.

Boarders ceased living at the College in 1974 and in February 1975 the first boys were enrolled and the primary section of the College began to be phased out.


As we approach our 125th Anniversary in 2021, we are mindful of the major transformation of the College has undergone over the past four decades. The latest development was the launch of the of the new Mercy Learning Centre in August 2019 — a $10 million project that brings together our senior students across Years 10, 11 and 12 into the one space that meets all their needs. This striking new building is the latest development in the College's current masterplan, delivering modern open light-filled spaces that reflect the learning opportunities of the 21st century.