Mercedes College was established in 1954 by the Sisters of Mercy.

Mercedes College History

Mercedes College was established in 1954 when the Sisters of Mercy purchased the property which included the gracious family home, Strathspey.

The purchase of the property brought to fruition a dream to find a healthier and more open environment for the boarding students of St Aloysius College as there was little remaining space at the city site.

Today, Mercedes offers contemporary quality learning facilities with wide open spaces and beautiful gardens.

The Fleur de Lis, Sisters of Mercy and Loyal en Tout

The name 'Mercedes' harks back to the South Australian Mercy Sisters' Foundation in 1880. The Fleur de Lis logo of Mercedes College is also that of the Sisters of Mercy. 

The Fleur de Lis in our logo is joined by the motto 'Loyal en Tout' which translates as 'loyal in all' and is shared with our sister college St Aloysius, which adopted it in 1912. 

The History of Strathspey

The property on which the College stands was originally part of Springfield Estate. It was sold to Sir John Duncan on 22 January 1889, who built the gracious family home, Strathspey, for his family. Planning on Strathspey commenced in 1891 and the building was completed in 1899. 

In 1927 the property became a residential college for the University of Adelaide, and was re-named St Andrew's College. It proved to be too far from the university and was sold to an Adelaide businessman, Mr F Cornell as a private residence just prior to World War II.

The Cornell family restored the house to its original splendour and established it as an artistic centre where many famous artists, actors and musicians were guests. Following the death of her husband in 1947, Mrs Cornell decided to sell the property.

The property was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy in 1953 and they began building their new school. At this time the Sisters were seeking a new day and boarding school for girls as there was little remaining space at St Aloysius College in the city.

Its purchase brought to fruition a dream of finding a healthier and more open environment for the students. The first day scholars accepted were girls from Year 1 to Year 11 and boys from Year 1 to Year 3. A small number of matriculation boarders went into St Aloysius each day to complete their schooling.

A crowd of 5000 people gathered for the laying of the Foundation Stone on 2 August, 1953. On 9 February, 1954 Mercedes College opened as a day and boarding school with 144 students from grades 1 to 11.

In 1975 the boarding school closed due to economic difficulties and in the following year the school became co-educational. Today Mercedes College remains a Reception to Year 12 co-educational school in the Mercy tradition with 1250 students including 70 international students.

The Boarding School 

Mercedes was founded as a Boarding School, and this characterised it during its first years. The boarders lived on the top floor of Strathspey, with the ground floor being the convent, though three Sisters slept upstairs to supervise the students. In 1954, the boarders shared five bathrooms and 18 dormitories – each of about five beds – some on the enclosed verandahs. The beds were close together and privacy was at a premium.

Boarders came from all parts of country South Australia and from the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. The Sisters reserved four beds in the Boarding School for Aboriginal girls whom the Bishop of Darwin believed would benefit from the experience. There were 167 students during 1955 of whom 80 were boarders. The Boarding School continued to operate until it was closed at the end of 1975 when Mercedes became a day school. 

Becoming a Co-Educational School 

Mercedes College always allowed boys up until Year 3, but changed to become a fully co-educational school under Principal Ruth Whiteley, in consultation with parents who largely supported the change, with two male students joining Year 8 in 1976. 

Boys in the Junior School had been permitted to continue into Year 4 from 1974, before the School Board approved the proposal to become fully co-educational for students joining in 1976. A few years later, in 1979, Mercedes had its first male school captains and first male Principal, Mr Peter Wallace. The first male students graduated from the matriculation class in 1980. 

The introduction of boys made Mercedes a truly family school with families able to send all of their children there from Reception, ultimately to matriculation.

Today, the split between male and female students at Mercedes College is approximately 50/50. 

Sport Houses and the Arts

The school was initially divided into two houses for intramural sporting competitions, McAuley and Fitzpatrick. Later this was expanded to four houses with the addition of Dalton (1956) and Barry (1962).

McAuley House won the first Mercedes College Sports Day on 1 May 1954. This first Sports Day was a combined affair with St Aloysius College on Norwood Oval on 28 April 1954, but it had to be abandoned in the early afternoon because of rain. The second Sports Day was held at Mercedes in 1955, despite there being no oval at that stage. 

The first annual school concert occurred at the Unley Town Hall on 20 August 1954. Junior School students performed an operetta, Daisy Darling Dream, while those in the Senior School performed The Princess of Poppy Land. A concert in the Sunken Garden marked the end of the first school year on 8 December 1954.

A Strong History with the International Baccalaureate (IB)

Mercedes College introduced the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme into Years 11 and 12 in 1990, one of only 14 schools in Australia to have the programme at the time, and the only Catholic school to do so, after being accepted by the IB in July 1989. 

The IB Programme continued to be strongly supported by the College community, with teachers, parents and students all embracing its introduction in Years 11 and 12. A working party established in 1995 investigated and recommended that the College adopt the full International Baccalaureate curriculum across the Middle and Primary years in 1998.

The Council endorsed the recommendation. The following year, Mercedes introduced the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) into the Junior and Middle Schools. The Programme at these levels was suitable for all children regardless of their academic ability. In extending the IB Programme, Mercedes became the first school in the Asia Pacific region to be authorised for the PYP, and the only school in Australia using the IB curriculum from Reception to Year 12.

Catherine McAuley

Catherine McAuley established the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland. She was born in Dublin in 1778, the daughter of a successful businessman, James Conway McAuley who used his position to relieve the poor, and his wife Elinor. However, her upbringing was a troubled one. Her father died when she was only five years old, and her mother died in 1798 after squandering the family legacy trying to maintain her social position. Catherine and her two siblings lived for a time with their uncle, Dr Owen Conway, until he was declared bankrupt, then with more distant Protestant relatives, the Armstrongs, until they, too, fell on hard time.

In 1803, she was invited to manage the home of a wealthy childless Quaker couple, William and Catherine Callaghan. Though vehemently anti-Catholic, Callaghan was noted for his philanthropy, and warmed to Catherine and encouraged her to work among the needy, while nursing Callaghan and his wife in their later years. Callaghan's wife predeceased him in 1819 and, when he died in 1822, he left his considerable estate, including the family home Coolock House, to Catherine. She used this considerable fortune to build a house in Baggot Street, Dublin where she provided shelter and education for destitute women and children. The ‘House of Mercy’ was opened on the feast of Our Lady of Mercy on 24 September 1827.

Founding the Sisters of Mercy 

Catherine gathered about her other pious women to help her educate and care for slum children, and in the House of Mercy. She became convinced of the need to establish her work on a more formal basis and establish a religious congregation if it was to continue. She, herself undertook a novitiate with the Presentation Sisters and was professed on 12 December 1831 and returned to her House of Mercy, where the women she had gathered together began to consider themselves as members of the Mercy Institute. Unlike other religious institutions of women at the time, the ‘Mercy Sisters’ considered their apostolate to be among the needy wherever they were, like the Sisters of Charity, rather than confining themselves behind convent walls. This raised criticisms from traditionalists, but attracted other women to the work, and it prospered. Catherine had established 12 other houses — two of them in England — by the time she died on 11 November 1841. Thereafter, bishops in the New World — in the United States, Australia and Argentina — sought Sisters of Mercy.

The feature of the institute that Catherine McAuley founded was that it and its work should be appropriate to the conditions and issues where her sisters worked. The Sisters were renowned for their sense of independence: compromises in their rule and way of life made to conform to accepted notions of female religious life were generally imposed by the hierarchy during the process of establishing the congregation. Even so, there was no central authority and direction with all of the Sisters’ convents being established as independent units. The values and spirit of Catherine McAuley are embodied in six keys to human endeavor: Compassion, Loyalty, Justice, Integrity, Responsibility and Mutual Respect.

History Book

In 2014, Mercedes College celebrated 60 years of Mercy education; its history of a special community, one comprising of students, their families and teachers. In light of the celebration and the College' achievements, Author Peter Donovan wrote The Mercy Way, Mercedes College 1954-2014.

We invite you to take home a piece of the journey by purchasing your copy today, please call 8372 3200 or email to organise your copy.