The Age reports that Madeleine Johnson, 17, who started her senior secondary certificate year yesterday, said she used to be embarrassed but was now proud of her connection to Mother Ursula, who brought the Mercy nuns to Victoria and who is buried at the Academy.
The order's modern legacies include 11 Mercy hospitals and aged-care homes, seven secondary schools, domestic violence victims services, and co-management of the MacKillop centres for the disadvantaged. It has a non-profit multimedia arm, Fraynework.
Sister Ursula and two other nuns arrived in gold rush Melbourne in 1857.
Archbishop James Goold gave them his bluestone cottage in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy but it came with a 2600 pound mortgage. The Age quotes Sister Ursula's biographer, Catherine Kovesi Killerby, who says the nun "put on her walking boots and begged from door to door". The debt was paid in two years.
The school opened on 20 April 1857, in a bluestone building next to the convent, and advertised itself in The Age (27 May 1857) as offering to teach young ladies English, needlework, French, Italian, music, drawing and painting.
"Particular attention is given to religious instruction," said the ad, "and to that refinement of mind and manner which should characterise persons of superior education."
Daughters of the rich paid fees that subsidised poorer students. The six students had grown to 43 by year's end.
The details of this year's 650 students have been handwritten into a register that has recorded Academy students for 150 years.
The principal, Sister Mary Moloney, said she tried to instil in her girls Mother Ursula's example of compassion, integrity and making a difference.
The Sisters of Mercy are marking the 150th year in Melbourne with a public lecture and Mass in March.
Meanwhile, in another 150th year milestone, Sydney Cardinal George Pell is presiding at a Mass this morning in St Mary's Cathedral to help celebrate the Good Samaritan Sisters' foundation anniversary.
The "Good Sams" is the first Catholic Religious congregation to be founded in Australia. It was formed in 1857 at the instigation of Archbishop John Polding who was anxious to help the destitute women of Sydney.
The order has since spread to Japan, the Philippines and the Pacific island of Kiribati.
"Over 150 years our history has been rich and diverse - from the beginnings in 1857 at the Pitt Street Refuge to now ministering in four countries," congregational leader Sr Clare Condon said, referring to a women's refuge in Carters' Barracks in Sydney.
"It is a history of which we are rightly grateful to God," she said.
A century and a half of history underlines the quality of Mercy (The Age, 2/2/07)
Home-Grown Aussie order celebrates (Good Samaritan Sisters, Media Release, 25/1/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mercy Sisters, Australia
Mercy World | Television and Webcast celebration of 175 years of Mercy
Sisters of the Good Samaritan
John Bede Polding (Catholic Encyclopaedia)
Mercy Sisters launch Christmas charity gift appeal (CathNews, 12/12/06)
2 Feb 2007