Sisters of Mercy arrive in New Zealand

9 April 1850

St Mary's Convent old chapel, Auckland
St Mary's Convent old chapel, Auckland (Auckland Libraries, 1052-J8-32)

Nine Sisters of Mercy arrived in Auckland on the Oceanie with Bishop Pompallier and a number of priests. The Irish nuns of the order were the first canonically consecrated religious women to become established in New Zealand.

The Institute of Our Lady of Mercy had been founded in Dublin in 1831 to educate working-class children, protect and train young women, and care for the sick. It grew into the largest religious society founded by an English-speaking Catholic.

In Auckland the Sisters immediately took in orphans and took over St Patrick’s Girls’ School in Wyndham St. Fees paid by well-off families of pupils at the Select School established in 1851 helped fund the education of the poor. In 1855 they took charge of St Anne’s, a school for Māori girls on ‘Mount St Mary’ in Ponsonby. The sisters also visited the sick at home and in hospital, and prisoners in the city’s gaol.

A convent was built in New St, Ponsonby, in 1862. Its kauri Gothic Revival chapel still stands, the oldest of its kind in the country.

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