Mercy Sisters visit - Mercy Catholic College Chatswood
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Lima, Peru

Mercy Sisters, who established the Candela Mission, Lima, Peru, visit their former schools of St Pius X College and Mercy College

Three Australian Mercy Sisters, Srs Joan Doyle, Jackie Ford and Patricia McDermott, all former teachers at Mercy College and St Pius X College Chatswood in the 1970’s, together established a Mission in the shanty town of Candela, in Lima, Peru in 1994. This poor shanty town in northern Lima, Peru had no running water and sewerage, no paved roads and high levels of unemployment. Working with the local people and with the support of generous donations mainly from Australia, the Sisters were instrumental in establishing a health clinic, two childcare centres, and three Women’s Houses.

The three Sisters taught when St Pius X College and Mercy Catholic College (previously known as Catholic Girls High School, Chatswood,) was under shared instruction from 1971-1983. During this time classes were mixed, and students and staff from both schools walked across Archer Street daily to attend lessons in Years 11 and 12.

All three Sisters then left Australia to work in the parish of the Australian Columban Fathers in South America. There they helped set up programs to assist local women improve their circumstances through community development. Sister Jacqueline (who had been Principal of Mercy College from 1975 to 1978) said “they entered the program because they felt they had a mission to help the marginalised”. She worked first in Santiago, Chile, then moved to Lima, Peru where she was joined by the other two Mercy Sisters in Candela where they lived and worked tirelessly for almost 20 years.

A key part of their mission was to empower local women to learn new skills and grow in self- esteem. Many of the families had come from the provinces, fleeing years of terrorism and domestic violence. Another aspect of the mission was to help educate women – many of whose children went on to complete secondary schooling – a rare event before the intervention. Although the Sisters completed their time in Candela in 2013, the mission continues today under the auspices of the MSC Sisters in Peru, and the local women who continue to be the driving force in running the facilities and programs in Candela.

For over twenty years, Catholic schools and parishes in Australia have supported hundreds of women through the sale of their beautiful handicrafts that are sold at fair prices. All funds that have been raised go back to the women who have made the goods and, this has been instrumental in helping them educate their children, access health services and build basic facilities such as bathrooms and toilets.

The three Mercy Sisters along with Mary Rajca who is a Mission Educator for the Sisters of Mercy and former student at Mercy (1972), toured both schools on Monday May 3, meeting with staff and students, sharing their stories and memories of their time in Chatswood as well as in South America. Both schools annually hold Mother’s Day stalls to support the women of Candela, but this year will be particularly important as the families of Peru continue to be adversely affected by COVID. The Sisters commented: “We are very grateful to all the school and parishes who have supported the mission over the years through the sale of the women’s goods. Your purchases have truly made a significant change in the lives of the families of Candela.”

For more information on the Mercy Sisters in Candela Peru watch the video below.
A Mercy story in Peru video:
Sydney Morning Herald article 2013