The Union

Eventually eight of the congregations chose to do so and in July, 1954 the Congregation of the Australian Union of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (the Union) was formed from the Congregations of Adelaide, Bathurst, Goulburn, Gunnedah, Melbourne, Perth, Singleton and

Delegates to the First General Chapter of the Union with the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Carboni, Cardinal N Gilroy and Father N Jordan MSC i

The Federation

The other nine congregations continued to examine the issue of unity until, on the advice of Archbishop Marella's successor, Archbishop Romolo Carboni, they
held a vote among their sisters to determine whether they would join the new Union, form a separate
union, form a federation, or remain completely independent.

First meeting of the Federation Council, 1957; and the Federation plaque i

They chose the structure of a federation in which each member congregation would maintain its autonomy. Thus, in November 1955 the Congregations of Ballarat East, Brisbane, Cairns, Grafton, North Sydney, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Townsville and West Perth formed the Australian Federation of the Sisters of Mercy.

Mission to Papua New Guinea

In 1955 Archbishop Carboni, whose mandate as Apostolic Delegate extended throughout Oceania, requested the Union to establish a mission in Papua New Guinea. The response was quick and generous and in 1956 four sisters went to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. He made the same request of the Federation and in 1957 seven sisters went to Kunjingini in the Diocese of Wewak and the next year five more went to Torembi.

Leaving for Goroka, 1956Leaving for Goroka, 1956
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i View The Arrival in PNG

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These pioneers in PNG established a long and fruitful tradition of works of mercy through catechetics, primary, secondary and tertiary education, health care and a variety of pastoral services. Over the next few decades many sisters followed them. In all, between 1956 and 2011 about 184 Australian sisters served in various ministries throughout the country.

Growth of Community in Papua New Guinea

By the late 1970s young PNG women were expressing interest in joining the Sisters of Mercy but the fact that there was not a single authority for the sisters was inhibiting. This was a catalyst for the 44 Australian sisters in PNG, whether there on behalf of the Union, the Federation or the Conference (see below), to unite. There were a few years of incremental unification but in July, 1981 they became one community with its own elected leader.


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The most significant advantage of this new unity was that PNG women could now become Sisters of Mercy in their own Melanesian culture. There would be one, cohesive formation programme and membership of one national group. However, because the community was not big enough to have canonical status, the Brisbane
Congregation became the authorising body for such canonical matters as acceptance into the novitiate and profession.

The first PNG sisters were professed in 1983 and there has been a steady increase in membership since then. From 2003, national sisters have been responsible for leadership of the community and in 2006 the Holy See gave it the canonical status of an autonomous region of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia.

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National Conference, 1967

While there were always warm bonds of mutuality
between the Union and the Federation, as seen not least in the sisters from both groups who were ministering in
PNG, in 1967 these two bodies set up the National Conference of Sisters of Mercy of Australia. Its purpose
was three-fold: to promote a tangible spirit of unity among all sisters, to develop a common constitution and to coordinate shared projects and ministries, including some appointments to PNG.

Interim Constitution 1967; Draft Constitution 1972; and meeting of the National Conference of Sisters of Mercy, 1967 i
Choir at the National Assembly, Melbourne, 1977 i

Assembly, 1977

A major initiative of the Conference was an assembly in 1977 at which about 800 sisters focussed on how to integrate the ideals of social justice into their growing understanding of the theology of God's mercy.
The assembly had a number of positive outcomes, perhaps the most influential of which was the incentive for sisters
to pursue deeper unity as a means of responding more
effectively to complex social and spiritual needs calling for
God's reconciling love. So began a more resolute
movement by the congregations towards a new form of being together.