Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1778. Both her parents died when she was young and she, with her brother and sister went to live with relatives, the Armstrongs who were Protestant in their faith. While members of her family converted, Catherine remained a committed Catholic. When she was 25, Catherine became the live in companion to Mr and Mrs Callaghan, friends of the Armstrongs. Although they too, were Protestant and did not approve of Catherine's Catholic faith, they did support her charitable work.
For almost 20 years she taught young women needlework, gave Catholic instruction to household servants and poor village children from Coolock House, the Callaghan's home.
Before William Callaghan died he became a Catholic as did his wife, and appointed Catherine as his sole heir, which allowed her to provide social services to educate and provide for poor women and young girls. In 1824, Catherine leased a property in Baggot Street, Dublin. Here she began educating young girls and set up a home for poor young women. Catherine also had a group of women who were prepared to help at the house as well as visit the sick and poor at their homes. After a time, there were 12 women living at Baggot Street with Catherine, who adopted a common timetable and dressed simply.
Their lifestyle and dedication led Catherine to consider establishing a religious congregation and in 1930 Catherine joined the novitiate of Presentation Convent in Dublin, with two companions from Baggot Street. They were professed in 1831 and the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy was founded.
Catherines dream was now a reality, she encouraged her Sisters to "educate poor girls, to lodge and maintain poor young women who are in danger and to visit the sick poor". Within 10 years Catherine founded a further nine Convents of Mercy in Ireland and England. Each new foundation was independent of the motherhouse in Baggot Street but they were all linked to Catherine and each other by visits and frequent letters.
Catherine died on November 11, 1841 after a short illness.
Mother M. Xavier Maguire was born in 1819 at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland. She was educated in a convent in France and grew to become a refined, cultured woman of high social standing. On the 1st of May 1843, she entered the Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street Dublin and was professed two years later. She was elected Novice Mistress and later became Mother Superior of the convent, she established two branch convents in Ireland, founded the Mater Misercordiae Hospital in Dublin, sent sisters to Buenos Aries and to the battlefields of England during the Crimean War.
She was a born administrator and organiser, being both practical and thorough. In June 1959, Dr J Goold, the first Archbishop of Melbourne attended the Convent of Mercy in Dublin to request a community of Sisters for the growing township of Geelong. On the 5th of September, Mother Maguire sailed for Australia with 5 Sisters bound for Geelong.
When they arrived, Mother Maguire and her little group were extended hospitality at the Convent of Mercy Fitzroy, after which they continued to their destination, arriving in Geelong on the 3rd of December. With nothing prepared for their arrival, Mother Maguire and the Sisters stayed at St Augustines for 3 months. In March 1860, Mother Xavier Maguire took posession of their new home called 'Sunville', their temporary convent. Over the next 3 years, she paid for the property in installments as well as for extensive repairs and furnishings.
Mother Xavier Maguire envisaged a complex which would include all her intended works of Mercy, under one authority, consisting of a convent, orphanage, boarding school, day school and refuge for poor young women. Lacking space, money and staff for such an ambitious project she began to do what she could with what means and materials she posessed.
On the 18th of April 1860, in the Geelong Advertiser, it was announced that "The Sisters of Mercy beg to announce that they have opened a school for day pupils at their Convent, Mercers Hill, Geelong. They are also prepared to receive a limited number of children as boarders".
In the later part of 1860, Mother Maguire looked to the future needs of the school and convent. She called for tenders and began planning to build a much larger building, similar to the mother house in Baggot St Dublin. She oversaw and paid for through her efforts a program of building from 1863 to 1874, including Our Lady's Orphanage, the quadrangle complex and the convent Chapel that forms the foundation of the College today.
Mother Xavier althogh suffering extreme rheumatism, continued to carry out her duties, including being elected Superior for 20 years. She died aged 60, on the 30th of August, 1879. Her death caused deep personal grief for her community. For 20 years her inspiration, her courage and above all her deep and unfailing trust in God had been the driving force for Mother Xavier Maguire to establish a Mercy foundation in Geelong.